Australian Electoral Commission

Candidates Handbook: 3. Ballot papers

Updated: 3 August 2012

3. Ballot papers

The Act

  • Part XVI, 'The polling'

The final form of the ballot paper for the election in which you are a candidate will be of particular interest to you. While the laws relating to ballot papers are set out in detail in the Act, there is scope for candidates to request certain options in relation to the way their affiliation with a registered political party, or status as an independent, appears on the ballot paper.

This section explains the law as it relates to ballot papers and the procedures that determine how candidates, or groups of candidates, are listed on the ballot paper. It also sets out the time frame in which requests can be lodged, such as a request for a preference order of candidates on a Senate ballot paper.

Ballot paper format

Ballot papers show the name of a candidate as specified on the nomination form and, if applicable, the name or abbreviation of the registered political party that endorsed the candidate.

If two or more candidates have similar names and this is considered likely to cause confusion, the AEC may add an additional description to distinguish them.

House of Representatives and by-election ballot papers are green. They have boxes with the names of every candidate and their party or 'Independent' where applicable printed to the right of the boxes.

Voters must number every box by putting the number '1' in the box next to the candidate who is their first choice, the number '2' in the box next to their second choice, and so on until every box is consecutively numbered.

The How to make your vote count fact sheet demonstrates how electors should complete both the House of Representatives and Senate ballot papers to ensure their vote counts. In a House of Representatives only election, voters who reside in states of Australia will receive a green ballot paper only. Voters in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory will receive both a House of Representatives ballot paper and a Senate ballot paper, which is white.

Candidates should carefully consider the information contained in this fact sheet when developing how-to-vote cards.

Senate ballot papers are white. They have two parts: an upper section and a lower section, separated by a thick black line. A row of boxes above the line relate to parties, incumbent independents and groups. If an elector marks a '1' in a single box above the line, then the elector's preferences will be allocated in accordance with the group voting ticket of the relevant party, independent or group.

The lower section contains boxes with the names of every candidate and their parties (if applicable) or the word 'Independent' (for some ungrouped candidates) printed to the right of the boxes. If an elector chooses to vote below the line, that is, in the lower section, they must number every box by putting the number '1' in the box next to the candidate who is their first choice, the number '2' in the box next to their second choice, and so on until every box is numbered.

How to make your vote count fact sheet

See the How to make your vote count fact sheet.

Political party names on ballot papers

Only a political party registered with the AEC can have its registered party name or registered party abbreviation printed on the ballot papers next to the names of its candidates. Parties, however constituted, that are not registered with the AEC are not entitled to have a party name printed next to their candidates' names on the ballot paper.

The request to have a registered party name or abbreviation printed on a ballot paper may be made on the nomination form.

Alternatively, the registered officer of that party may make the request in writing to the relevant AEO or DRO before the close of nominations.

Endorsed House of Representatives candidates

An endorsed candidate of a registered political party may have either the registered name or the registered abbreviation of that political party printed next to their name on the ballot paper.

Only one candidate can be endorsed by a registered political party for any House of Representatives division. If a party attempts to endorse more than one candidate all nominations for that division will fail.

Endorsed Senate candidates

A group of endorsed Senate candidates of a registered political party who propose to register a group voting ticket may have either the registered name or the registered abbreviation of that party printed next to their group voting square on the upper section of the ballot paper, and next to each of their names on the lower section of the ballot paper.

A composite group of candidates endorsed by more than one registered political party that proposes to register a group voting ticket may have a composite party name printed next to their group voting square on the upper section of the Senate ballot paper. Each single endorsed candidate will, however, have their own registered party name or registered abbreviation printed next to their name on the lower section of the ballot paper.

Independent candidates

If you are not endorsed by a registered political party you may request on the nomination form that the word 'Independent' be printed on the ballot paper next to your name.

If you do not make this request you will have nothing printed next to your name.

Grouped Senate candidates may not use the word 'Independent' next to their name or next to the group voting square.

Senate group voting tickets

Boxes to vote above the line are provided to the following groups or candidates who submit a preference statement or group voting ticket to the AEC within 48 hours after the close of nominations:

  • registered political parties
  • incumbent independents that have advised the AEC of an intention to lodge a voting ticket
  • unendorsed candidates that requested that their names be grouped at the time of nomination.

Notice of intention to lodge must be given to the relevant AEO before close of nominations. Within 48 hours after the close of nominations, a Senate group may lodge a written statement setting out a preference order of all candidates in the election with the AEO for the state or territory. This is referred to as a group voting ticket.

The preference ordering must be a fully formal vote meaning that all candidates must be numbered. In addition, the candidates in the group lodging the statement must be ordered ahead of any other candidate.

The preference statement or group voting ticket must be signed by:

  • the registered officer of the party, where all the members of the group have been endorsed by the same registered political party, or
  • the registered officers of all relevant parties, where the members of the group have been endorsed by different registered political parties, or
  • the candidate whose name first appears in the group on the ballot paper, in a case not covered by either of the above, or
  • a person authorised by all the members of the group to sign such a statement on behalf of the group.

The preference ordering may be specified in the form of a how-to-vote card.

A group may lodge up to three group voting tickets, provided that the preference order shown places the candidates in the group lodging the statement ahead of any other candidate, and gives the same order of preference for the members of the group on each ticket.

When a group lodges one or more group voting tickets, a square will be printed above the line on the Senate ballot paper. Voters wishing to vote according to the group voting ticket simply fill in that square with the number '1' and their preferences will be allocated according to the group voting ticket during the scrutiny process.

Where two tickets are lodged, half of the votes are allocated to each of the preference orders.

Where three tickets are lodged, one-third of the votes are allocated to each of the preference orders.

Booklets setting out copies of all group voting tickets that have been lodged in a state or territory are available at every polling place on election day. Early voting centres and interstate voting centres will also have copies of group voting tickets for all states and territories and they will be published on the AEC website.

Incumbent independent senator voting tickets

An incumbent independent senator may lodge a written statement setting out up to three preference orders of all candidates in the election. The statement must be signed by the candidate and lodged with the relevant AEO, and must show a first preference for the incumbent senator. The preference ordering may be specified in the form of a how-to-vote card.

Incumbent senators must signal their intention to lodge an individual voting ticket before the close of nominations.

Order of names on ballot papers

A system called 'double randomisation' – two random draws – is used for determining the order of groups and ungrouped candidates on Senate ballot papers and the order of candidates on House of Representatives ballot papers. All candidates and members of the public are welcome to attend these draws.

House of Representatives ballot papers

The DRO declares the House of Representatives nominations received for their division at 12 noon, 24 hours after the close of nominations. Following the declaration the DRO conducts two draws for ballot paper positions.

The first draw assigns a number to each candidate and the second draw determines the order in which candidates appear on the ballot paper.

Senate ballot papers

The AEO declares the nominations received for the Senate in their state or territory at 12 noon, 24 hours after the nominations close. After the declaration, the AEO conducts the draws for positions on the ballot paper.

In Senate elections, the names of candidates included in groups are placed on the ballot paper to the left and ahead of the names of candidates not included in groups.

For the purposes of the Senate draw and ballot paper printing, individual incumbent senators who have given written notice of an intention to lodge a voting ticket are treated as a group.

The AEO determines the order of groups and ungrouped candidates on the ballot paper by conducting a public draw for positions. This draw is conducted in two parts, with each part consisting of two draws:

  • in the first part, the first draw allocates a number to each group and the second draw determines the order in which the groups appear on the ballot paper.
  • in the second part, the first draw allocates a number to each ungrouped candidate and the second draw determines the order in which ungrouped candidates appear on the ballot paper.

Ungrouped candidates do not lodge a group voting ticket and so do not have a box above the line on the Senate ballot paper.