Electoral Newsfile 86: Referendum 1999: The Votes and the Count

Updated: 5 December 2007

This edition of Newsfile focuses on the release of results on referendum night. It is also designed to provide a general overview of the way in which votes are cast on the day and how the results are communicated to the Australian media and public on referendum night.

THE VOTES

The nation actually votes in several different ways.

Ordinary votes

Most Australian electors (approximately 82%) cast an ordinary vote at their local polling booth, on polling day. All ordinary votes, for both the House of Representatives and the Senate, are counted on election night.

Postal votes

Electors who cannot attend a polling place anywhere in the State or Territory for which they are enrolled on polling day can apply in writing for a postal vote. The Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) will then send them their ballot papers which must be posted back to the DRO before the close of polling.

Pre-poll votes

Electors who cannot attend a polling place on polling day can vote beforehand at an AEC office, or one of the special pre-poll voting centres set up before polling day.

Some of these special centres stay open on polling day to take the votes of those electors travelling interstate.

Approximately 11 % of the total number of votes cast at the last elections were pre-poll, postal and provisional votes.

Mobile Polling

Mobile polling is carried out during the 12 days up to and including polling day. Mobile polling teams visit selected hospitals, prisons and remote areas so that electors can cast a vote in these locations.

Absent votes

Electors who are out of their division on polling day but still within their State or Territory may cast an absent vote at any polling place in that State or Territory. At the last election approximately 7% of the total votes cast were absent votes.

(If a voter is interstate on polling day, they will have to visit a special pre-poll voting centre or an AEC office.)

NOTE: When casting a postal, pre-poll or absent vote, electors must do more than simply fill in a ballot paper. They must first complete a declaration giving their personal details which are used to ascertain the person's entitlement to vote. This is done to ensure the integrity of the voting system. Thus these votes are often referred to as 'declaration votes'.

AEC WEBSITE

visit the AEC's referendum website at referendum.aec.gov.au.

Referendum materials which will be available on the AEC website at referendum.aec.gov.au include:

  • the questions
  • Yes/No case pamphlet in English plus 14 other languages
  • The Constitution showing the textual alterations proposed
  • election timetable
  • enrolment statistics (as at close of rolls)
  • postal vote application forms
  • pre- poll facilities
  • electorate search incorporating polling place locations
  • AEC contact numbers including telephone typewriting services; and interpreting services
  • links to Referendum Task Force site
  • overseas posts which have voting facilities
  • what happens at a polling place
  • Scrutineer's Handbook
  • Newsfiles
  • Electoral Backgrounder no.10: Referendum Advertising
  • Electoral Atlas (1998)
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • video and audio of advertising campaign

YES/NO CAMPAIGNS

Information about the Government run public information activities can be obtained from the Referendum Taskforce website at www.dpmc.gov.au/referendum. The Referendum Taskforce is part of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

THE COUNT

At 6pm on polling night the doors to all the 7711 polling places close. There are no 'late votes'. Each polling place manager closes the doors at the stroke of 6pm local time and the counting of ordinary votes begins in each polling place.

Counting of declaration votes is carried out by the Divisional Returning Officer and staff in the Divisional Office as soon as practicable in the week following polling day. This count is conducted in two stages:

  • the checking of postal votes certificates or declaration envelopes containing pre-poll, absent or provisional votes to determine whether the claimant is entitled to vote; and
  • the further scrutiny when the ballot papers are removed from the certificate envelopes and counted in the same way as ordinary ballot papers.

All stages of the count may be observed by scrutineers. Scrutineers can be appointed by either the Governor General, Governor of a State, the Chief Minister of the ACT, the Administrator of the Northern Territory or persons duly authorised by them. The registered officer of a registered political party can also appoint scrutineers.

Scrutineers have the right to be present when the ballot boxes are sealed and opened and when the votes are sorted and counted so that they may check any possible irregularities, but they may not touch any ballot papers.

The election night computer system

After the votes are counted at each polling place, the results are telephoned through to the divisional office where they are entered into the AEC's computer system. Data from the AEC's election night management system is then provided by electronic feed to the various television networks, AAP and the AEC's own website. The website will be the main means of disseminating results.

THE VIRTUAL TALLY ROOM

There will not be a tally room for referendum 1999. Referendum night and post referendum results will be available on the AEC's website at referendum.aec.gov.au.

There will be a direct feed to the website from the AEC Referendum Night Results System. Updates to the website will be done approximately every hour.

The virtual tally room will show live results tables containing a range of results statistics. Three results screens will be available: a national results screen, a state results screen, and a national graph screen. There will be separate tables for each question.

The national results table

The national results table will contain the following statistics on a state by state and national basis:

  • enrolment
  • the number and % of yes votes
  • the number and % of no votes
  • the number and % of formal and informal votes
  • an indicator of whether the overall result for that state is yes or no
  • total votes counted

The state results table

The states results table will contain the following statistics on a state and divisional basis:

  • enrolment
  • the number and % of yes votes
  • the number and % of no votes
  • the number and % of formal and informal votes
  • an indicator of whether the overall result for that State is yes or no
  • total votes counted

The national graph screen

The national graph screen will show a live graph illustrating the results on a state by state and national basis.

Questions from the 1984 referendum have been used as the basis for sample screens which are now available for viewing on the web site.

FINAL RESULTS

After each Australian Electoral Officer receives results from every division in their State or Territory the AEO will send a signed statement to the Electoral Commissioner showing the following information for their State or Territory:

  • the number of votes in favour of the proposed law;
  • the number of votes not in favour of the proposed law; and
  • the number of ballot papers rejected as informal.

The AEC will publish the official results of the referendum in both hard copy and CD ROM formats. The CD ROM version will also contain referendum results since 1906.

What is needed for a referendum proposal to be passed?

For the referendum to produce constitutional change there must be a double majority. This means that a majority of Australian voters and a majority of voters in a majority of the States must agree to the changes.

The votes of people living in any of Australia's internal or external territories only count towards the national majority.

KEY WORDS

Double majority

For the referendum to produce constitutional change there must be a double majority. This means that a majority of Australian voters and a majority of voters in a majority of the States must agree to the changes. Note that this means a majority of formal votes.

DRO

The Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) is the AEC officer responsible for conducting the referendum in each Division and maintaining the roll.

Informal

A ballot paper is considered informal if it is not filled out in accordance with the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984. Informal votes cannot be counted.

Ordinary vote

A vote cast at a polling place in the elector's home division on polling day.

Referendum

A proposal to alter the Constitution put to the vote. The Constitution can only be altered by a majority of electors and a majority of electors in a majority of states passing the proposed amendment.

Referendum period

Means the period commencing the day the writ is issued for the referendum and ending at the latest time on polling day at which an elector in Australia could enter a polling booth for the purposes of voting in the referendum.

Roll

The list of electors eligible to vote at the referendum.

Scrutineers

Scrutineers can be appointed by either the Governor-General, the Governor of any state, the Chief Minister of the ACT, the Administrator of the Northern Territory or persons duly authorised by them or the registered officer of a registered political party.Scrutineers have the right to be present when the ballot boxes are sealed and opened and when the votes are sorted and counted so that they may check any possible irregularities, but they may not touch any ballot papers.

Scrutiny

The counting of votes which leads to the referendum result.

The percentage of enrolled electors who vote in the referendum.

AEC Contacts

Central Office

Electoral Commissioner (02) 6271 4400
Bill Gray

Deputy Electoral Commissioner (02) 6271 4410
Andy Becker

Director, Information (02) 6271 4415
Brien Hallett

Assistant Director, Information (02) 6271 4431
Silvana Puizina

Assistant Director, Information (03) 9285 7114
Anthea Wilson

Editor, Newsfile (02) 6271 4505
Margaret Meneghel

State/Territory Head Offices

The administration of the 1999 referendum in each State and Territory is under the control of the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for that State or Territory. An AEO for the ACT is temporarliy appointed for each referendum.

Australian Electoral Officers may be contacted on the following numbers.

New South Wales
Frances Howat Ph. (02) 9375 6333 Fx. (02) 9281 9384

Victoria
David Muffet Ph. (03) 9285 7171 Fx. (03) 9285 7178

Queensland
Bob Longland Ph. (07) 3834 3400 Fx. (07) 3831 7223

Western Australia
Andrew Moyes Ph. (08) 9470 7299 Fx. (08) 9472 3551

South Australia
Geoff Halsey Ph. (08) 8237 6555 Fx. (08) 8231 2664

Tasmania
Alex Stanelos (Acting) Ph. (03) 6235 0500 Fx. (03) 6234 4268

Northern Territory
Kathy Mitchell (Acting) Ph. (08) 8981 1477 Fx. (08) 8981 7964

Australian Capital Territory
Roger Rankin Ph. (02) 6249 7908 Fx. (02) 6248 7559