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Some Chinese-speaking voters 'won't ink 4'

AAP logoAAP 17/11/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Chinese-speaking Australians had their federal election ballot papers rejected because they declined to write the number "4" on them.

The invalidation of 20 ballot papers in the West Australian seat of Cowan has led to a call for changes to the House of Representatives voting system.

WA government adviser Jeremy Buxton has told the federal parliament's electoral matters committee in a written submission the system needs changing in order to reduce informal voting.

WA's state electoral act was changed in 1996 to ensure voters who make an error in their numerical sequencing can still have their ballot paper accepted if there is a clear first preference and they have filled in all, or all but one, square on the paper.

Mr Buxton said the change had vastly improved the operation of elections in WA and should be mirrored at the federal level.

He said the federal act may discriminate against Chinese-speaking voters.

At one polling station in the seat of Cowan at the 2016 election, 20 votes were invalidated because the number 4 was not recorded against any of the seven candidates, he said.

"I have subsequently been informed that in Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka, the number 4 is pronounced as 'si', a homonym for 'die', 'dead' or 'death'.

"Presumably for this reason, some blocks of inner city apartments have 3A in place of 4 as a unit number. Although the majority of electors of Chinese origin evidently ignore this superstition and successfully complete their ballot papers, it should be of concern that any votes are invalidated for this reason."

He said in some seats where 20 or more candidates were standing for election, informal voting could get close to double figures because of ballot paper errors.

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