By-elections factsheet

Updated: 15 April 2014

A by-election is held when the voters in a single federal electorate need to elect a new member of the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament.

A by-election can occur between federal elections when a vacancy occurs in the House of Representatives. This can happen because of the death, resignation, absence without leave, expulsion, disqualification or ineligibility of a member. A by-election may also be held when the Court of Disputed Returns declares an election void.

There are a number of similarities between a by-election and a federal election.

The issue of a writ (setting the election timetable) triggers each election process.

It is compulsory for all Australian citizens aged 18 and over to enrol and vote in federal elections. In a by-election, voting is compulsory for all voters who live in the electorate for which the by-election is being held.

The enrolment deadline for people enrolling for the first time, re-enrolling, or updating their name and address details, is 8pm on the seventh day after the issue of the writ for a by-election.

As with a federal election, a by-election always takes place on a Saturday. People who can't vote on the day set for the by-election can vote beforehand at an early voting centre or apply for a postal vote.

Voters can apply for a postal vote on the AEC website (www.aec.gov.au) following the announcement of an election, or collect a form from any AEC office or Australia Post outlet. Ballot papers for postal voters are delivered following the declaration of candidates for the by-election. Voters must complete their ballot papers by the close of polling and should return them as soon as possible.

There are a number of differences between a by-election and a federal election.

Differences between a by-election and a federal election
By-election Federal election
Issue of the writ
  • the Speaker of the House of Representatives issues the writ for the electorate and sets the by-election date.
  • the Governor-General and State Governors issue writs for each State and Territory covering each of the 150 House of Representatives electorates.
Voting
  • only people enrolled in the electorate where a by-election is being held can vote.
  • electors are only voting in a House of Representatives election.
  • people enrolled in each of the 150 electorates Australia-wide are required to vote.
  • electors are voting in a House of Representatives election and usually also in a half Senate election.
Ballot papers
  • voters only complete one ballot paper, a green House of Representatives ballot paper.
  • voters usually complete two ballot papers, a green House of Representatives ballot paper and a white Senate ballot paper.
Voting outside electorate on election day
  • voters who will be interstate on election day can vote at any AEC divisional office prior to election day only, or they may apply for a postal vote or vote early at an early voting centre before they go away.
  • on election day, there are no facilities for voters outside the electorate to vote.
  • voters who will be interstate on election day can vote at an AEC divisional office or early voting centre prior to election day or an interstate voting centre on election day, or they may apply for a postal vote before election day.
  • voters outside the electorate on election day, but within the same state or territory, can cast an absent vote at any polling place.
Overseas voting arrangements
  • voters who are overseas can apply to the AEC for a postal vote. Australian diplomatic posts do not provide voting services for by-elections.
  • voters who are overseas can vote in person or apply for a postal vote at one of numerous Australian diplomatic posts around the world. They can also apply direct to the AEC for a postal vote.