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Donkey Votes

Donkey votes are one of the most misunderstood features of the compulsory preferential voting system. It should not be confused with informal voting.

Definition: A donkey vote occurs when an elector simply numbers the ballot paper from top to bottom (or bottom to top) without regard to the logic of the preference allocation.

A donkey vote is counted as a valid vote because it contains a number “1” and has numbered every square in sequential order.

For example, an elector who votes in the following manner would be regarded as a donkey voter because it is not logical that a first preference for the ALP would be followed by preferences for the Liberals and One Nation ahead of the Democrats and Greens:

1  ALP
2  Liberal
3  One Nation
4  Democrats
5  Greens

Alternatively, an elector may vote in the following manner:

1  Greens
2  Democrats
3  ALP
4  Liberal
5  One Nation

In this case, the choice of preferences is logical, given that Greens and Democrat voters would be likely to vote ALP ahead of Liberal and would definitely put One Nation last. However, an elector may also have cast a vote in this manner out of apathy, so it is impossible to tell for sure whether it is a donkey vote or a thoughtful and considered vote.

Reasons people cast donkey votes:

  • Apathy – the voter does not care who wins, but votes in order to avoid a fine.
  • Ignorance – the voter does not understand the voting system.
  • Protest – the voter objects to voting or to the choice of candidates

Many political parties and candidates believe the donkey vote can be worth up to 2% in any electorate but this is difficult to establish.

Prior to 1984, when political party names did not appear on ballot papers and candidates names appeared in alphabetical order, it was not unknown for parties to choose candidates with names beginning with a letter early in the alphabet, particularly in marginal seats, in order to secure a higher position on the ballot paper.

The effect of donkey votes has been lessened due to:

  • candidates names listed in random order on the ballot paper.
  • political party names appearing on the ballot paper.
  • electoral education programs conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission.

The effect of donkey votes should not be over-estimated. It is just as likely that a voter who objects to voting will leave the ballot paper blank or write scribble on it.


Many people believe that donkey votes are informal. This is not true.

A donkey vote is counted as a valid/formal vote. Provided the voter has marked the number “1” against a candidate and numbered the other candidates in order of preference, the vote will be counted.
Malcolm Farnsworth
© 1995-2024