Federal Election 2016: Young voters driving rise in intentional informal ballots, research shows

A rise in the number of people deliberately voting informally is likely being driven by the young, many of whom feel disaffected with the mainstream political process, new research suggests.

A paper by University of Adelaide researchers, soon be published in the Australian Journal of Political Science, charted the rise of informal voting at recent elections and cross-referenced those trends with other data.

Lead author, politics professor Lisa Hill, said the focus was on the proportion of voters who deliberately handed in blank or defaced ballots, as opposed to those that had made mistakes filling the papers out.

"[The Australian Electoral Commission] can see when someone has tried to vote informally and with intention, it's either blank or it's scribbled on," Professor Hill said.

"They count how many wrote profanities, how many wrote 'I don't like compulsory voting' or 'I'd like another candidate' or 'not enough choice'."

Figures show that at the 2013 federal election, 5.9 per cent of votes were informal - the highest level since 1984.

But, more significantly, the proportion of informal votes that were deemed deliberate jumped from 34 per cent in 2001 to almost 49 per cent in 2010.

"The rise is due to increasing disaffection and alienation among the young," Professor Hill said.

"We found that seems to be the case by using a combination of census data and survey data."

Part of the evidence was the fact that the more people aged 18 to 24 there are in an electorate, the higher "the proportion of intentional informal votes", the paper found.

"Young citizens... are more cynical about and less satisfied with the state of Australian democracy, have lower levels of party allegiance and value voting less than the average citizen," it concluded.

Professor Hill said part of the problem was a perceived lack of difference between the major parties, and expected intentional informal voting to rise again at Saturday's poll.

'At least give us a message', SA politician says

While a greater proportion of young voters are dissatisfied with electoral politics, the paper found it would be a mistake to regard them as apolitical.

"They are moving towards alternative, more protest-based, individualised, sporadic and direct forms of engagement like signing online petitions, participating in internet campaigns [and] consumer boycotts," it stated.

Professor Hill said there was a need for other options on ballot papers, such as a 'none of the above' box or a comments section in which voters could offer feedback.

"We could get that information about what's bothering them and so the politicians can react," she said.

"People that are thinking of forming a minor party can see 'well, here's a constituency for me that I could capture'."

But the danger with a 'none of the above' option, Professor Hill said, was that it could receive the most votes.

"That has happened. Russia did it for a while, and in some places it got the highest vote," she said.

South Australian Deputy Opposition Leader Vickie Chapman, who has scrutineered in the past, told 891 ABC Adelaide recently it was a shame that informal votes now came with fewer explanations written on them.

"What I miss is people writing on ballot papers. They don't do that anymore," she said.

"If people are going to protest by not voting formally, at least give us a little message, a little bit of feedback."

Professor Hill agreed, saying she would rather "see a scribbled-on ballot than a blank ballot".

"Blank votes seem like a sign of despair to me. There's something quite sad about it."

Source: ABC News

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