What Happens To Donkey Votes?

One of the most frequently-asked questions I notice in the search queries on AustralianPolitics.com is about donkey votes.

For example, as I began to write this post the real-time log showed someone had searched for: “Where do donkey votes go?”

There is much confusion about donkey votes. You often hear it when someone says something like this: “I’m not happy with any of them so I’m voting donkey this time.”

For some reason, many people think that a donkey vote is the same as an informal vote. IT’S NOT!

Definition of a donkey vote: A donkey vote occurs when a voter numbers every box on the ballot paper in order from top to bottom, without regard to the logic of the preferences. In some cases, a voter might start at the bottom of the ballot paper and number them in order to the top.

A DONKEY VOTE IS A FORMAL VOTE. IT WILL BE COUNTED AND IT WILL GO TO WHOEVER IS MARKED NUMBER 1.

It’s as simple as that. A donkey vote is just another vote. It counts. It’s not informal.

Definition of a formal vote: A formal vote must have the number 1 against a candidate’s name and must number the other candidates in numerical order.

For a vote to be informal, it might:

  • be blank
  • not have a number 1
  • have defective numbering – that is, numbers are not sequential
  • use ticks and crosses instead of numbers
  • identify the voter in some way
  • not have been initialled by an Australian Electoral Commission worker

In practice, most informal votes are either blank, only have the number 1 marked, use ticks and crosses, or have some kind of defective numbering.

In other words, even if you have cast a donkey vote and your preferences don’t look very logical, as long as you have put the number “1″ against one candidate and numbered the others in sequential order your vote will be counted and will go to whoever got the number “1″.

Many people also don’t seem to understand that it’s not always possible to tell whether a vote is a donkey vote.

For example, if the ALP candidate is first on the ballot paper, followed by the Liberal candidate, Family First and the Greens, it’s probably a donkey vote because it’s not very logical for an ALP voter to give their second preference to the Liberal and Family First candidates ahead of the Greens.

However, if the order of candidates on the ballot paper is Greens, ALP, Liberal, One Nation, then it’s perfectly logical for a Greens voter to give their second preference to the ALP ahead of the Liberals and also perfectly logical to put One Nation last.

In truth, we can never be sure whether someone has cast a donkey vote on purpose or not. What might look illogical to one person could actually reflect how the elector intended to vote.

For the political parties, being first on the ballot paper is regarded as a good thing because they get the benefit of the donkey vote. Opinions vary but the donkey vote could be worth 1 or 2 per cent to the candidate at the top of the ballot paper. It can be more important when there are a lot of candidates contesting the election. However, most Australians use the how-to-vote cards issued by candidates at the polling booth and these are far more important than donkey votes.

So, if you really want to express your disgust or disappointment and not vote for anyone, don’t cast a donkey vote because if you do you will be voting for someone!

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Comments

  1. I don’t remember whom but I had someone last election that worked a polling station tell me that the donkey votes there were placed in the informal pile. Is this audited after the intial count?

    • I simply don’t believe that. The AEC procedures would detect an error like that. The scrutineers for the various candidates would pick it up. An unusually high informal count would also trigger a check.

      In any case, they don’t “count” donkey votes because donkey votes are just formal votes with a number one at the top – there’s no reason to place them with the informals because they obviously belong to a particular candidate.

      The AEC procedures for monitoring the count and reconciling the number of votes are world’s best practice.

      There have been cases where a bundle of votes has been accidentally placed in the wrong pile but this will always be detected. In the event of a very close result, it would be rectified in the recount.