Australia

Why more than one in ten votes cast in these seats at the federal election didn’t count

More than 600,000 votes cast at the did not count towards the final result, and more than one in ten in two NSW divisions.
The western Sydney seats of Blaxland and Fowler both had more than 10 per cent of all votes in the House of Representatives deemed as informal — a term used to describe instances .
The two divisions were also top of the list of informal voting in 2019, where more than one in eight ballots in each division did not make the final tally.

The anonymity of the vote makes it difficult to determine the reason, but unfamiliarity with English and the electoral system have both been cited as potential causes.

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‘Institutional knowledge lacking’

Former councillor for Bankstown and Fairfield, Nhan Tran, said some voters in these electorates have weaker spoken and written English skill and cannot understand the specific way they’re required to vote for the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“If they cannot understand English, they cannot understand how to vote properly,” he said.
However, it’s not simply a language barrier that can contribute to higher rates of informal voting in multicultural communities.
It can result from a lack of community engagement to properly outline the voting system by government institutions and local candidates, according to Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre policy officer, Dr Archana Preeti Voola.

“There’s a whole sort of institutional knowledge that’s lacking,” she said.

Voters outside an early voting centre.

Voters attend an early voting centre at Edensor Park in the federal electorate of Fowler in Sydney, on Thursday, 19 May, 2022. Source: AAP / Dan Himbrechts

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) translates its advertising campaigns into over 33 different languages, translate voting instructions at voting centres, and contact community groups.

“We try to make it as simple as possible, and we try to get as much guidance as possible out there as well,” the commission’s Director of Media and Digital Engagement Evan Ekin-Smyth said.
“I suppose at a certain point people have to invest as well and want to access that information.”
But Dr Voola said there is a call for more direct community engagement from such government institutions. The digital divide present in many refugee and migrant communities presents an even stronger need for personal interactions, she said.
“If the resources are online, how are they going to jump the gap?”
“There’s a real puzzle piece missing,” she said, “which is the last-mile delivery, coming to the ground and providing your resources.”

While the electorates of Fowler and Blaxland continue to have the highest proportion of informal votes, there was a reduction in the proportion of informal votes compared to the 2019 election.

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Professor of Sociology at the University of Techology Sydney, Andrew Jakubowicz, said this could indicate “people are more anxious to have an opportunity or more willing to take the opportunity provided” to cast their vote.
On the system itself, he said there was an “added layer of difficulty for individuals from non-democratic countries or countries which don’t use the preferential voting system”.
He added: “If you come from a society in which the way you vote is to indicate a single vote for a preferred candidate, rather than having to think about all your votes on screen, then then it’s more likely that you will vote informally.”
For former President of the NSW Chapter of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, Paul Ngyuen, political engagement in the Vietnamese community has vastly improved in the past five or so years. Mr Nguyen believes language radio stations and newspapers are adequate in providing information to communities.

“People are aware of politics, and more active and engaged in politics,” he said, “Younger people are getting more involved when they fully understand the implication each and every party has on their well-being”.

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