Candidates Handbook: About this handbook

Updated: 18 May 2016

Are you thinking of standing or assisting someone to stand for election to the Commonwealth Parliament in either a federal election or a by-election? If so, you will need a clear understanding of the legislative requirements you must meet, and of your role and responsibilities under the law.

Remember, you and your supporters can play a significant role in helping to ensure, as far as possible, that every vote cast in an election counts.

The Candidates Handbook

This handbook is published by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), the Commonwealth agency which maintains the electoral roll and conducts federal elections, by-elections and referendums. The handbook covers the stages for the electoral process relevant to candidates.

Each chapter in the handbook lists the relevant parts of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act), detailing how the electoral law applies to candidates and those assisting them.

The AEC suggests that you consult the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (the Constitution), the Act and other legislation, including the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 referred to for the exact provisions.

Candidates must satisfy themselves about their own legal position and, if necessary, refer to the exact provisions of the Constitution and the Act, and consult their own lawyers.

You can access this handbook, the Constitution and the Act via the AEC website.

Offences relating to the election, whether they occur before or during the election, are listed in Appendix 1. Some electoral offences apply at all times, while others apply to specific periods.

The AEC can assist you by providing information of a general nature about the nomination process and campaign activity. However, we cannot provide you with formal or informal legal advice.

Abbreviations and acronyms have been kept to a minimum. However, seven are used throughout this handbook:

  • AEC – Australian Electoral Commission
  • AEO – Australian Electoral Officer
  • ARO – Assistant Returning Officer
  • DRO – Divisional Returning Officer
  • the Act – Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
  • HoR – House of Representatives
  • CSS – the Central Senate Scrutiny

The words 'voter' and 'elector' are used interchangeably.

At the end of this handbook you will find a glossary which explains terms that may be unfamiliar to you.

How this handbook can help you

The handbook explains the steps you will need to take to qualify as a candidate and to comply with the law before, during and after an election.

At the end of this introductory section you will find a checklist that takes you through important details you will need to know and the activities you will need to undertake as a candidate, and indicates where in the handbook you can find more information.

Again, the handbook is intended to assist candidates standing for election by explaining relevant processes and procedures. It is not, however, a substitute for the law.

Public inspection

You need to be aware that many of the documents you submit in relation to your candidacy will be made available for public inspection. These include your nomination form and your financial disclosure return. Exceptions may apply in certain circumstances.

AEC website

Because information can change during the life of a publication, the AEC website is the best source of up-to-date information.

All forms and publications referred to in this handbook are available from the website or by contacting the AEC on 13 23 26.

AEC National, State, Territory and Division Office contact details

You will find office contact details on the AEC website.

What's new at this election?

Changes to Senate voting that will apply at this election

The Parliament has recently passed legislative changes to the voting method for electing Senators.

The changes impact on how voters complete their Senate ballot paper and how the Senate ballot papers are counted.

These changes are explained in detail below in the section on Ballot Papers.

Counting of Senate votes

The counting of Senate votes will also be different.

As a result of the recent changes passed by the Parliament, the scrutiny of Senate votes will be carried out by the AEO at the CSS centre in each State or Territory.

On polling night, at each polling place, the ARO is required to count the total number of Senate ballot papers and the number of first preferences above the line (ATL). It is AEC policy for the ARO to also count the number of first preferences below the line (BTL) for each group and ungrouped candidate and to also count the obviously informal ballot papers.

After polling day, the DRO repeats the count process undertaken by the ARO before forwarding the ballot papers to the CSS.

This means that while ballot papers where a first preference cannot be determined will be separated from those where it can, it is only the AEO who determines formality. The AEO will be assisted in determining formality by a computerised scrutiny process.

Scrutineers have the opportunity to object to the formality of a Senate ballot paper at the CSS.

Political party logos

HoR and Senate ballot papers will look different at this election. Political parties that have registered a logo with the AEC before the issue of writs for the election can request to have their party logo printed on the ballot papers. The inclusion of a party logo is intended to reduce the confusion that may arise where political parties have similar names.

Handling of declaration votes

A further change arising from the recent Senate reforms relates to the handling of declaration votes.

Declaration vote ballot boxes will no longer be opened at polling locations. Instead they will remain sealed and transported to a divisional outpost where they will be stored securely until they can then be opened, fully reconciled and the declaration vote envelopes within forwarded to the relevant DRO for processing.

Feedback welcome

The AEC welcomes your views on the usefulness of the Candidates Handbook and any specific information provided in these pages. We invite you to send your feedback via the AEC website.

The AEC also publishes Electoral Backgrounders on specific aspects of electoral law. Copies of these AEC publications can be accessed by visiting the AEC website or by phoning 13 23 26.

Timing of the election

Federal elections

The constitutional and legislative frameworks that govern Australian federal elections determine both the election timetable and electoral processes.

Both Houses of Parliament have separate provisions reflecting their different constitutional roles. A House of Representatives term expires three years from its first official meeting, but can be dissolved earlier. Once the term expires or is dissolved, the Governor-General will issue the writs for an election.

The Senate is a continuing body with senators for each state elected for a six-year term. A rotation system ensures that half the Senate is retired or up for election every three years. Two senators represent the Australian Capital Territory and two senators represent the Northern Territory. These senators are elected concurrently with the members of the House of Representatives. The duration of their term of office also coincides with the members of the House of Representatives.

Usually the House of Representatives and the half Senate elections are held at the same time. However, the Governor-General may dissolve both Houses simultaneously upon certain conditions having been met under section 57 of the Constitution, resulting in a general election for the House of Representatives and all of the Senate. This is known as a double dissolution.

The key dates in the election timetable are available on the AEC website.


Whenever a vacancy occurs in the House of Representatives because of the death, resignation, absence without leave, expulsion, disqualification or ineligibility of a member, a writ may be issued for the election of a new member. A writ may also be issued when the Court of Disputed Returns declares an election void.

The guiding principle in fixing the date of a by-election has always been to hold the election as early as possible so that the electors are not left without representation any longer than is necessary.


  I am aware of key dates in the election period following the issue of the writs The writ
  I have familiarised myself with the law relating to electoral offences Appendix 1
  I have confirmed that I am qualified to nominate Nominations
  I have obtained the endorsement of a registered political party; or I have obtained the signatures of eligible electors (for candidates who are not endorsed by a registered political party only); or I am an incumbent independent and have obtained the signature of an eligible elector Nominations
  I have appointed an agent (optional) Nominations
  I have made a request to be included in a group on the Senate ballot papers (optional) Nominations
  I have provided all my personal information required on the nomination form Nominations
  I have requested on the nomination form that the word 'Independent' be printed on the ballot paper next to my name (this is optional for ungrouped Senate candidates who are not endorsed by a registered political party) Nominations
  I have lodged my nomination form by the required deadline Nominations
  I have lodged my nomination deposit by the required deadline Nominations
  I am aware of my responsibilities with regard to electoral advertising, particularly in relation to How to Vote Cards Voting
  I have nominated a Candidate Agent or assume this responsibility myself Election funding & financial disclosure
  I have, or my agent has, lodged my financial disclosure return by the due date (within 15 weeks after election day) Election funding & financial disclosure
  I have appointed scrutineers (optional) by completing and signing the form Scrutineers
  I am aware of the circumstances and procedures that may lead to a recount of votes in an election Recounts & disputed returns