Jump in no-show voters at ACT poll
There was a 14.5 per cent increase in failure to vote notices in the ACT this year. Photo: Karleen Minney
More than 19,000 voters were recorded as failing to take part in the recent ACT election, an increase of almost 15 per cent from 2008 figures.
Following a tight election in October, a total of 19,097 apparent failure- to-vote notices were posted throughout the capital last week.
The figure is up approximately 14.5 per cent from the 16,673 notices posted in the wake of the 2008 election.
However, the trend is not limited to the capital according to Ian McAllister from the Australian National University, who said turnout for the previous federal election also fell slightly from 2007.
"It's not just the ACT election, it's declining everywhere," he said.
Professor McAllister said there were some widely acknowledged reasons behind voter apathy, including voters failing to see significant differences between candidates or believing that there will be a clear winner.
He also said the past few decades had recorded a decline in voter turnout among young people, whose views on political involvement had changed in the context of the internet and social media.
"Their idea of political involvement is GetUp!, social media, blogs," he said.
"… A lot of it comes back to the fact that political parties don't make their product as attractive as it could be."
At 89 per cent the turnout at the recent election was considerably below the national average, according to Robin Tennant-Wood from the University of Canberra.
"My gut feeling is that it's being treated as just another local government," she said.
"If you look at the recent NSW local government elections, voter turnout was surprisingly low. It was as low as 72 per cent in some electorates."
Dr Tennant-Wood said the figures did point towards voter apathy, possibly driven by a lack of engagement with local issues and politicians. "There's a lot more hype and coverage in Federal Elections," she said. "People feel more involved in the issues. Perhaps at a territory level, there's not that engagement."
She said the figures also failed to acknowledge that the electoral roll had increased by more than 13,000 people from the 2008 vote, but ACT Electoral Commissioner Phil Green said the increased chance for human error played no role in growing number of failure-to-vote notices.
"The turnout was slightly poorer this election," he said.
There were also concerns raised by voters who did take part on October 20, but were sent apparent failure-to-vote notices.
One man contacted Fairfax Media with fears his vote was not counted in the overall tally, but Mr Green said it was most likely that the polling official incorrectly marked another person with the same first name and surname.
"This is an easy mistake to make," he said.
"In this case, the elector's vote would still of course be counted, as there is no link between a ballot paper deposited in a ballot box, or an electronic vote being recorded, and the marking of an elector's name on the electoral roll."
Mr Green said the recent election used a new electronic system with netbooks borrowed from the Tasmanian Electoral Commission, which networked "back to base" across the capital so that names marked off at one location.
Polling officials had in 2008 used a different electronic system borrowed from the Queensland Electoral Commission, while all earlier elections were conducted with printed paper rolls.
Mr Green said it was too soon to calculate how many errors were made with the 2012 process, but 2008 recorded 307 responses from electors who were sent apparent non-voter letters but claimed to have voted.
"By contrast, in 2004 - the last time paper rolls were used - 873 electors sent non-voter letters claimed to have voted," he said.
"These results would indicate that fewer mistakes were made using the 2008 electronic system compared to the 2004 paper system."