What I learned from Scrutineering an Election

I scrutineered the 2006 Victorian State Election. Comments are made in the context of the voting systems used there: Preferential for the lower house, and Single Transferable Vote for the upper house. I was in a very safe Labour seat.

  1. HTV cards seem to hold quite a sway over voters; about two thirds of them vote as per the HTV card. In the upper house, HTV cards are unnecessary – the preferences are built in to the system. The informal rate is still disturbingly high.

    Because of this, I think the lower house ticket should allow a single “1”, tick or a cross to be entered – just like the upper house. It would eliminate the need for HTV cards.

  2. How To Vote (HTV) cards don’t affect upper house results. The Democrats were handing out HTVs at my booth. The Democrats weren’t running a lower house candidate, only upper house. The DLP and People Power were in a similar boat, but weren’t handing out HTVs. They all got the same number of Above The Line (ATL) votes.
  3. The ALP don’t care about the upper house. After the lower house count finished, the ALP scrutineers left. No Liberal scrutineer ever showed. The Labour guys said they were there “to make sure the Liberals don’t pull one of their dirty tricks” – no, they wouldn’t elaborate.
  4. Donkey voting is alive and well. I didn’t capture the rate, but I have been told 1%. I think it might even be 2% or more, looking at my figures. But in my booth, a donkey vote could easily have been classified as a “Not the sitting candidate – I hate major political parties” vote.
  5. The preferential voting system is not well understood.

    The VEC has made it as easy as they could for voters to vote formally.

    While the general process of numbering from one to the number of candidates is broadly understood by Election staff, even they don’t get the finer points of what constitutes a formal vote. The general gist for this election was “do as much as you can to make the vote valid” – so if the last digit was missing off a lower house ballot, it was clear what the voter’s intentions were; if the upper house ticket had marks both above the line and below it, the more specific (i.e., BTL) vote was taken. In addition to a “1”, a tick or a cross was acceptable; digits other than 1 didn’t invalidate a formal ballot. Basically, within the voting rules, great allowances were made for what counted as a formal vote. I spent a lot of my scrutineering time adjudicating as to what a formal ballot looked like. Which brings me to:

    • What does a valid “1” look like? Some fonts put a bar at top, or top and bottom. And it seems some people write them like a seven, and others like an upside-down square-mirror-imaged J. Is a half-cross a “1”, or enough of a cross to make a formal vote?
  6. Some people object to compulsory voting.

    Nearly half of the informal votes I saw were completely blank. They suggest a decision to not vote. From my read of this AEC research paper on informal voting, 1.5% – 3.5% points of informal voting are by people who don’t want to vote (something like 25% of people don’t want to vote). These figures correlate to what I saw.

    15% of voters didn’t bother turning up to vote. Another 9% shouldn’t have bothered – their votes were informal. So the election was decided by the 75% of voters who could (both willing and able to) vote.

  7. People are idiots

    Apparently there are some other correlated predictors for informal voting: English as a second language (ESL), little education and too many candidates. The ESLers have no excuse, election materials are provided in the twenty or so dominate foreign languages. Too many candidates for your little brain? Boo hoo. My booth had a stunning four candidates – most people can count to three. Didn’t go to school? Doesn’t preclude you from counting to three. The only reasonable explanation is People Are Idiots.

    This observation is also made in the context of the first point in my list.

I scrutineered to confirm my last point (it’s not that hard, I really couldn’t believe the informal rate was that high), and to challenge my assumption about HTV cards – they don’t work. Wrong. They work wonderfully. I also couldn’t believe that so many people vote “1” for a major party – but I was wrong, nearly 90% of valid votes cast were for the majors. I still don’t know why, but at least I’ve seen with my own eyes that it happens.

Perhaps we should just let our kids vote.

2 thoughts on “What I learned from Scrutineering an Election

  1. daniel

    Interesting. I’ve often wondered how effective HTV cards really are. No wonder the parties put so much effort into producing them and handing them out.

  2. Anonymous

    Someone very close to me who I won’t name still managed to stuff up her vote, even with the HTV card. She only put the number 1 in one box for the lower house, rather than numbering 1, 2, 3, 4…

Comments are closed.