NSW 2015 – voters shift away from election day and postal voting


The recent NSW state election saw a continuation of the long-term trend of less and less people casting ordinary election-day votes. In addition, in 2015 we saw the trend of increasing numbers of voters casting absentee votes or postal votes reversed, with those categories of voting becoming less popular, as pre-poll voting and iVote continue to increase in popularity.

For this analysis, I’ve been able to collect the figures on how many people voted using each different type of voting at every election since 1999.

In 1999, 84.6% of votes were cast as ordinary election-day votes. In 2015, this number dropped to 67.2%. In raw numbers, there has been a drop of 168,282 ordinary votes cast, despite the total number of votes cast increasing by 742,743.

As you can see, there was a slight decline in the proportion of ordinary votes from 84.6% in 1999 to 81.1% in 2007, although the raw numbers increased during this time. This trend has accelerated significantly since 2007, dropping to 74.2% in 2011 and 67.2% in 2015.

Below the fold, I’ll show how those people who aren’t casting ordinary votes are now voting, and how that has shifted over time. We’ve seen the acceleration of a trend that has seen large numbers of people cast absentee, postal and pre-poll votes, and how big surges in absentee and postal votes in 2011 have ebbed away while pre-poll voting continues to increase in size.

The following table shows the total number of votes in each category.

Vote type19992003200720112015
Declared institution14,84112,81615,03914,88014,345

A few definitions are in order for these categories. I assume that ‘postal voting’ and ‘iVote’ are clear enough for voters, and ‘ordinary’ covers all those who vote at a polling place in their home electorate on election day and don’t need to sign a declaration.

  • Pre-poll – vote cast at a polling place prior to election day.
  • Absent – vote cast at a regular polling place on election day, but outside of the voter’s electorate.
  • New enrolment – vote cast at a regular polling place on election day by a voter who enrolled to vote immediately before voting.
  • Declared institution – vote cast at a place like a hospital or a retirement home, usually before election day.
  • Provisional/silent – vote usually cast on election day, but because the voter is a silent elector, or if there is some other problem, they have to cast a vote in a separate envelope to be verified later.

The overall number of people casting a vote at a polling place since 1999 has also declined, but not quite as fast. Absent votes (cast on election day outside a voter’s home electorate) have remained roughly steady since 2015, with a big spike in 2011 disappearing in 2015. In addition, 48,000 people cast new enrolment votes in 2015 (a category that didn’t exist prior to 2011) and the number of provisional/silent voters has tripled. Overall, this suggests that the number of people voting at an election-day polling place has dropped from 93% in 1999 to 75% in 2015.

So where have these votes gone? The following chart shows how the various ‘special vote’ categories have changed since 1999.

The biggest surge has been in pre-poll votes, increasing from 3.8% in 1999 to 14.1% in 2015. iVote has also become a big category. In 2011, iVote was responsible for 1.1% of votes, and this increased to 6.2% in 2015.

Absent voting remained roughly steady around 300,000 voters from 1999 to 2007, but jumped from 7.4% in 2007 to 9.5% in 2011. In 2015, absent votes dropped back to 6.4%, the lowest figure in the period that this data covers.

Postal voting experienced a steady growth from 1999 (3.2%) to 2011 (5.7%). This time around, postal voting numbers dropped to a level lower than in 2007 or 2011.

iVote is now a larger vote category than either absent votes or postal votes.

As mentioned above, there are now 48,000 people casting new enrolment votes. This is more than twice as many as in 2011, when the service was available for the first time.

Provisional/silent voting has more than tripled from 4000 in 1999 (then called ‘section’ voting) to over 15,000 in 2015, but this is actually a drop from the almost 19000 provisional/silent voters in 2011.

Altogether, these stats suggest a growing trend of people choosing to vote away from election day, either at a pre-poll booth at home, or over the internet.

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  1. Postal voting is certainly the way to go for all local, state and federal elections. Who want to line up for protracted period in a 19th century que? Also postal voting is more efficient, less cost to the electoral commissions and more democratic if a candidate statement and photo booklet accompanies the ballot paper. Imagine if there had been attendance voting in NSW yesterday during the cyclone and flooding.

  2. Unfortunately Adrian, there would be a dismal turnout if people were forced to fill out a form, put a stamp on it and take it to a postal box in time for a count on the nominated day.

    However, Howard may have scraped home if we were postal voting as the Kelly Gate scandal would not have had any impact in 2007!

  3. Not true. In Victoria in council election of 79 councils only about 12 have attendance voting (mostly inner city left wing councils). The postal voting councils have a higher turn out. In my council Port Phillip which includes Port Melbourne, Albert Park, St Kilda & Elwood the voter turn out with attendance voting for the last 20 years has only been about 50% of enrolled voters. I never vote on election day in any election and early vote (no ques) but postal would be better. More time to think particularly with the state and federal upper houses with usually have many candidates.

  4. Ten years ago I thought it was a waste of time manning pre-poll voting centres for handing out HTV. I certainly do not think that today.

    Pre Polling Centers have the advantage that How TO Vote Cards are public 1 week before the election. A consequence of this is that negotiators can not promise one thing and not deliver on these promises.

    The danger with playing with the electoral, system is that change for the sake of economy will become more important than change for the retention of democratic considerations.

    The unwillingness to employ staff by electoral commissions will lead to computer voting. We need to ensure that we retain the “Australian Ballot” rather than replace it with the “Microsoft Ballot” with Chicom Unit 61398 vote rigging.

    IT is not beyond the realms of possibility that Australian Political Parties could start paying to have election results adjusted by external agencies.

    THE WA Senate fiasco showed up a need for bureaucratic process with government controlled logistics. Government controlled warehousing has been sold off by Liberal governments and in the case of Queensland just shut down and not sold. Government Printers have been shut down everywhere. Public Service Bureaucracy protected ballot papers which was clearly not the case in the 1950’s Union Ballot Paper processes. Communist’s gained control of Trade UNions by means of printing press over runs.

    WE need to protect the Ballot from those who want to destroy it.

  5. Agree. Postal and pre polling are widely used now.

    Incidentally centres are spelt the British/Australian way in Australian not the Yankee way – Centers. The Yankee spell check does not help either.

    Sometimes the HTV at pre polling can be different (numbering order) to the ones on election day as candidates can register more that one HTV with the electoral commission.

  6. The fluctuation in absent voting could be due to the number of booths shared between districts. Sydney Town Hall is the extreme example, but there seemed to be more dual district booths this election and quite a few triple district booths.

    The decline in postal voting in 2015 is probably best explained by the increase in iVote, but it still surprises me that postal votes (+iVote) have increased alongside the steep increase in pre-poll numbers. There must be more than changes to employment going on in the shift away from voting on election day.

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