“A vote is deemed informal on the House of Representatives ballot paper if a voter has only marked one box with the number ‘1’ and left the rest of the boxes blank,” the spokeswoman said.
While Ryan’s how-to-vote cards do not mark each box, they do include a message – written in red and marked as “IMPORTANT” – reminding voters to allocate preferences. But some voters seem to be absorbing the voting cards visually and missing the written message.
ABC election analyst Antony Green said independents including Indi MP Helen Haines and former New England MP Tony Windsor did not list preferences on their voting cards. There was no evidence of a higher-than-average number of informal votes in their seats.
However, he said it was a potential problem for independents if voters were not clearly informed, both on the how-to-vote card and verbally by volunteers at polling stations, that all boxes must be marked.
“Independents really need to take account of his. They need to make it extremely clear that voters must number all the squares,” he said.
Four teal volunteers in Kooyong told The Age they heard voters indicate they voted for Ryan without marking any other boxes. One campaigner said it was difficult to gauge how many people were making the error because some might not have realized they had lodged an invalid vote.
“It could be as few as a couple of hundred, or it could end up being in the thousands. We don’t know,” one said.
Since learning of the issue, dozens of Ryan volunteers at the Kooyong early voting center in Hawthorn have been instructed to prioritize informing voters to mark each box. The Age observed Ryan campaigners diligently carrying out this task on Friday.
The thousands-strong campaign team which says it has door-knocked more houses in one electorate than any Australian political outfit in history has canvassed options to ameliorate the problem.
Options included printing a group of how-to-vote cards with randomised preference allocation, which could be laminated and handed to voters as they enter the polling booths, before being returned to a volunteer.
Another option was to copy the Climate 200-backed independent in Wentworth, Allegra Spender, whose voting cards feature a question mark in her opponents’ boxes. A source who campaigned alongside Spender last week said multiple voters indicated they failed to number each box.
One passionate supporter of Ryan, the former Royal Children’s Hospital director of neurology, entered the candidate’s campaign office in an upset state after realising they only marked one box.
Zoe Daniel, journalist turned independent candidate for Goldstein in Melbourne’s south-east, said her volunteers were reminding people to fill in every square. “They appear to have got the message,” she said in a written statement.
Australians have been required to number each box in House of Representatives elections since World War I, Green said.
In South Australian elections, ballots with only one box filled out are still counted because parties decide where to send preferences. In NSW state elections, voters are only required to select one candidate.
About 5.5 per cent of voters in the 2019 election incorrectly completed their lower house ballot. Green expected this would rise on May 21 because a greater number of candidates would lead to more mistakes. About a third of informal ballots are those with only a “1” marked.
On Saturday, Ryan’s supporters flooded the Kew Junction site where a Ryan-themed mural was painted over after the building owners on Friday claimed permission was never granted. Ryan’s campaign disputes this.