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Call for more engagement with CALD voters after dozens of invalid votes in Western Sydney seats

For Thai Australian Kanokwan Ngamlertnapaporn, voting in past elections has been a difficult process.

Due to her limited English proficiency, she has trouble filling out the ballot correctly.

“It’s so confusing [there are] There are so many papers, so many numbers, and I don’t know what to do,” she said.

Ngamlertnapaporn said he used to vote only to avoid fines.

“I had no idea [what I was doing],” she said.

“I just ticked [the boxes] I was wondering who would be better, but I really had no idea.”

In preparation for this week’s NSW state elections, she attended a voting class for people from non-English speaking backgrounds in Sydney.

Classes are part of the NSW Electoral Commission programme, which aims to reduce unofficial turnout. In informal balloting, ballots are declared invalid because they are filled out incorrectly or left blank.

With elections expected to be close and Western Sydney set to be a key battleground, Andrew Jakubowicz, a professor of sociology at the University of Technology Sydney, said every vote counts.

“There are a large proportion of voters who come from non-English speaking backgrounds,” he said.

“Their understanding and participation in the entire electoral process will have a huge impact on what happens to the outcome of the election.”

Voters from non-English speaking backgrounds learn how to vote in classes in Sydney.(ABC News: Hauznia Shams)

Ethnic Communities Council NSW Chair Peter Doukas said it was important to ensure that their voices were heard, as almost one in three people across the state were born abroad.

“Many people from non-English speaking backgrounds are fined for not voting…and others simply don’t understand how to properly engage,” he said.

The 2019 NSW elections recorded the highest proportion of informal voters in the culturally diverse seats in Sydney’s West and South West.

More than 6% of Legislative Assembly votes were deemed invalid in the Bankstown, Lakemba and Auburn constituencies.

This figure was almost double the state average of 3.46%.

Fairfield and Liverpool rounded out the top five districts for unofficial voter turnout, with more than 5% of votes not counted in each region.

Lisa Hill, professor of political science at the University of Adelaide, said the complexity of the voting system poses challenges for the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community.

“The criteria for the format of state elections are different than the criteria for federal elections … which contributes to unintended informal voting,” she said.

“One of the things we can do is match all the criteria.”

Woman standing in an office leaning against a bookshelf full of thick folders
Lisa Hill says the complexity of the voting system poses challenges for CALD voters.(ABC News)

Of the 162,897 informal Legislative Assembly ballots cast in 2019, more than 85% remained blank.

Professor Hill said blank ballots are often recorded as “intentional” informal ballots, but language barriers may cause some people with CALD to unintentionally vote in this manner. Stated.

“It could indicate that the person is looking at the ballot and thinking, ‘I don’t know what to do,'” she said.

“It could just mean resignation, giving up, or despair.”

A similar trend was observed in the 2022 federal elections, with seats in Sydney West and South West recording the highest informal rates in the country.

In Blaxland, Fowler, and McMahon, about 1 in 10 votes were invalid, double the national rate of 5.19%.

In both the NSW constituency of Bankstown and the federal seat of Braxland, more than 70% of people had parents born abroad and more than 75% spoke a language other than English at home.

“It’s really important to talk [CALD] Please explain how to formally vote so that their votes are not lost,” said Professor Hill.

An elderly woman in a black top and glasses standing in a hall smiling at the camera
Mary Zhang has struggled with voting in the past and wants to be an active voter.(ABC News: Hauznia Shams)

At a Mandarin voting class for members of Eastwood’s Chinese community, voter Mary Zhang said she used to vote with the help of her husband.

“I don’t know how [ballot paper] We have to fill the box,” she said.

“If you just know how to fill out the boxes, you can be independent and not get lost without your husband by your side.”

The NSW Electoral Commission Voting Talks program includes a podcast and a series of voter awareness videos translated into seven languages.

But Professor Hill said the “digital divide” would prevent most CALD voters from accessing translated materials available online.

The Electoral Commission said more than 6,000 bilingual staff will be working at polling stations on Saturday.

“We strive to have staff fluent in languages ​​in addition to English at vote centers in communities requiring language support,” the commission said in a statement.

“These staff will be identified by badges in the language they provide assistance to voters.”

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-03-23/call-for-education-to-improve-western-sydney-informal-votes/102133246 Call for more engagement with CALD voters after dozens of invalid votes in Western Sydney seats

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