Australian Electoral Commission

Voting within Australia – Frequently Asked Questions

Updated: 27 October 2016

Voting

How does the AEC process multiple marks?

Immediately after each federal election the AEC scans large volumes of pages of voter lists from polling places and compares marked off names. The AEC follows-up every case where a voter is marked off more than once. These are known as instances of 'apparent multiple marks'.

The AEC also examines the list for any substantiated polling official errors. Errors occur at each federal election due to the volumes involved – on election day alone around 10 million voters pass through approximately 7,000 polling places between the hours of 8am and 6pm. After initial examination the AEC writes to all voters on the list and requests they provide a response as to whether or not they voted more than once, and where. This is a comprehensive process that involves AEC further follow-up if no response is received, and continues until the task is complete. Processing of replies is handled by the AEC’s 150 divisional returning officers responsible for each of 150 federal electorates.

For the 2016 federal election, the AEC wrote to 18,353 electors on 12 September 2016 – a similar initial number to the 2013 federal election. Responses are carefully assessed and distilled to the cases where the AEC cannot reasonably exclude the possibility that multiple voting has occurred. The AEC has no authority to prosecute multiple voting in a court of law. These are matters for the AFP and the CDPP to consider. At the 2013 federal election around 7,700 cases were on referred to the AFP as likely cases of multiple voting. Prosecutions did not eventuate due to a lack of corroborative evidence at the standard of proof necessary. Prior experience also indicates that most multiple voting instances are mistakes by voters, including instances of elderly voters casting their vote with a mobile team, and later at a polling place. Severe penalties apply for a successful prosecution of multiple voting.

Recourse exists within the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to take a matter to the Court of Disputed Returns if ever the number of multiple votes exceeded the winning margin in a seat. The AEC prioritises its examination of multiple voting in close seats in the post-election period to ensure that an election result is safe.

Is voting compulsory?

Yes, under federal electoral law, it is compulsory for all eligible Australian citizens to enrol and vote in federal elections, by-elections and referendums.

For further information see Compulsory Voting.

Why isn't electronic voting used at federal elections?

The AEC conducts federal elections in accordance with the Electoral Act, as legislated by the Australian Parliament.

If the legislation was to be changed to provide for voting, or aspects of voting, by electronic means, the AEC would be ready and able to implement this change.

The AEC trialled electronic voting for identified groups, including blind and low vision voters at the 2007 federal election. This evolved into the current method of telephone voting for blind and low vision voters.

On 18 September 2013, the Electoral Council of Australia and New Zealand released the paper: Internet voting in Australian election systems.

On 18 November 2014, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters released its Second interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 federal election: An assessment of electronic voting options.

How is the AEC using technology to conduct federal elections?

The AEC has a history of effectively implementing legislative change that requires the use of technology, while maintaining the integrity of the electoral system.

The AEC trialled electronic voting for identified groups, including blind and low vision voters at the 2007 federal election. This evolved into the current method of telephone voting for blind and low vision voters.

At the 2013 federal election, the AEC piloted the use of electronic certified lists (ECLs) in selected locations to introduce efficiencies into the process of finding and marking voters off the electoral roll.

At the 2016 federal election, the AEC deployed up to 1 500 ECLs that were used in high volume early (pre-poll) voting centres, at large polling places (also referred to as super booths) on election day and by remote mobile voting teams in over 40 electoral divisions around the country. ECLs are currently also being used in all electoral divisions to undertake and streamline the required checks against the electoral roll for voters who cast declaration votes.

For the first time at the 2016 federal election, the AEC scanned millions of Senate ballot papers and recorded voter preferences electronically.

What is a postal voter?

Where is my postal vote ballot papers envelope?

Postal voters will receive an envelope which they must use to return their postal vote ballot papers. The envelope may be either blue in colour, or white on one side and light blue on the other, and will be attached to the green House of Representatives ballot paper.

The envelope will have three parts:

  • One side will have the postal address of the voter and the postal address of an AEC 'Divisional Returning Officer'.
  • The other side will have the AEC logo and the words 'Postal vote' in the top left hand corner with the declaration details below (including an area titled 'elector details' and an area titled 'authorised witness to complete').
  • The envelope will also have a small flap. The flap will be blank on one side and have four steps listed on the other side, as well as a sticky strip used to seal the envelope.

Electors concerned about their privacy may return their correctly completed postal vote envelope (with ballot papers sealed inside) inside an outer envelope of their own.

Postal voters who are overseas will also receive a separate white outer envelope.

Why are my details on the outside of the postal vote ballot papers envelope?

Unlike voters who vote in person on election day and have their name marked off the 'certified list' (the official electoral roll used on election day to mark off the name of each voter), postal voters and people voting in person before election day must complete a declaration so that their entitlement to vote can be checked before their vote is added to those to be counted.

For postal voters, this declaration is on the outside of the postal vote envelope.

We have strict procedures that allow us to both check that an elector is entitled to vote, and to ensure that there is no way a voter's vote can be identified.

Electors concerned about their privacy may return their correctly completed postal vote envelope (with ballot papers sealed inside) inside an outer envelope of their own.

The outer envelope can be addressed to the reply paid address printed on the postal vote envelope. It will not require a postage stamp if posted within Australia.

Non-voting

Why did I receive a letter about failing to vote?

You will receive a letter from the AEC if, according to our records, you did not vote at the 2016 federal election. If you did vote, you should advise the AEC and provide details by the due date. If you didn’t vote, you will need to provide a valid and sufficient reason why, or pay the $20 penalty.

If you do not either reply to the notice or pay the penalty by the due date, the matter may be referred to a court. There is a maximum fine of $180 (plus court costs) if the matter is dealt with by the court, and a criminal conviction may be recorded against your name.

If you have concerns about the legitimacy of the letter, you can view a copy of the letters that have been issued to voters. If you still have concerns, please contact the AEC.

What is a ‘valid and sufficient’ reason for not voting?

It is at the discretion of the AEC’s Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) for each electorate to determine whether you have provided a valid and sufficient reason for not voting. The DRO will make a determination in accordance with section 245 (5) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The DRO will consider the merits of your individual case and take into account any specific circumstances at the polling places within their division in making a determination.

See electoral backgrounder – compulsory voting for further detail on ‘valid and sufficient reasons’ for not voting.

I voted at the 2016 federal election, why is the AEC saying I didn’t?

If you voted at the 2016 federal election, but received a letter from the AEC that says you didn’t, you need to respond by providing the details of where and how you voted in the relevant section of the notice.

Please provide the location of the polling place where you voted, or if you didn’t do it in person, the method by which you voted including if you sent a postal vote or used the AEC’s telephone voting service for people who are blind or have low vision. You should then return the letter to the AEC by Monday 17 October 2016 using the reply paid envelope supplied (a stamp is not required).

The AEC will then re-check its records. If the DRO for your electorate is still not satisfied that you voted, you will be notified by the AEC.

I tried to vote but was unable to. What should I do?

Please provide details of the reasons why you were unable to vote in the relevant section of the notice, and return this to the AEC by Monday 17 October 2016 using the reply paid envelope supplied (a stamp is not required). The DRO will consider the merits of your individual case and take into account any specific circumstances at the polling places within their division.

If the DRO is not satisfied that the reason you have provided is valid and sufficient, you will be notified by the AEC.

I don’t believe in compulsory voting, I chose not to vote on this occasion or I don’t have a valid excuse. What should I do?

Voting is compulsory in Australia. Failure to vote at a federal election without a valid and sufficient reason is an offence under section 245 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. You are required to pay the $20 penalty by Monday 17 October 2016.

At the polling place

What happens if my name cannot be found at the polling place?

If your name cannot be found on the certified list, you will be asked to spell your name or to print your name on a piece of paper and the certified list will be rechecked. You may also be asked if you could be on the roll for a different name (do you have a former name?). If your name still cannot be found, or your name on the list has been marked in some way, you will be directed to cast a declaration vote.

There are a number of reasons why your name may not be on the certified list for the division:

  • your name may have been removed as a result of an electoral roll review.
  • you may be enrolled for an address in another division.
  • you are not 18 but have provisionally enrolled.
  • you applied for enrolment after the rolls had closed
  • there has been a redistribution and your address is now in a different electoral division

What happens if my name is incorrect at the polling place?

This situation can sometimes occur when:

  • misspelling of your name;
  • your name is on the certified list twice; or
  • your name has changed by marriage, deed poll, etc.

If this is the case, the polling official will record the correct information in an elector information report. They may also ask you to complete a new enrolment form to update your details on the electoral roll. The polling official cannot change the details on the certified list.

What happens if my address is incorrect at the polling place?

If the address is different, you will be asked for your previous address. This ensures that it is you that is being marked off and not someone with the same name. You will also be asked to complete a new enrolment form so that your enrolment details can be updated on the electoral roll.

If you have 'silent' enrolment (you have applied to not have your address listed on the electoral roll) you will be referred to the polling official in charge for the issue of a declaration vote.

What is a declaration vote?

A declaration vote is when an elector makes a declaration about their entitlement to vote.

Declaration Votes are issued when the elector casts an Absent, Pre-Poll, Postal or Provisional vote.

See What is a Declaration Vote at a polling place?

What if I need assistance completing a declaration envelope?

You may make your mark as a signature if you are unable to sign your name. In such cases you must make your mark in the presence of a polling official acting as a witness. The polling official will then identify the fact that the you made your mark by:

  • adding the words 'his mark' or 'her mark' above your mark; and
  • printing your given name(s) to the left of the mark, and your surname to the right of the mark
  • the issuing officer then signing as the witness.

A person who holds a power-of-attorney for you is NOT permitted to sign any electoral form on your behalf.

Figure 1: Elector making their mark

Elector making their mark

 

Assisted voting

I have Power-of-Attorney for a person. Can I vote on their behalf?

A person who holds a power of attorney for a voter is not permitted to vote for an elector, as there is no provision for proxy voting in federal elections in Australia.

What if I need assistance to vote?

Assistance is provided if the polling official in charge of the polling place is satisfied that you are unable to vote without help. The following electors may seek help:

  • the elderly;
  • people with a disability (including visual impairment);
  • non-literate people;
  • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Polling staff are trained on how to assist you.

You can nominate any person (except a candidate) to assist. This person could be a friend or relative, a Scrutineer or a party worker. If you do not nominate someone, then the polling official in charge will provide assistance.

If the polling official in charge is the one providing assistance, Scrutineers have the right to be present while the ballot papers are filled in.

If assistance is being provided by a person nominated by you, you and the nominated assistant enter an unoccupied polling booth. The assistant helps to complete, fold and deposit the ballot paper in the ballot box. In this situation Scrutineers ARE NOT allowed to enter the polling booth while the ballot paper is being completed.

My relative or friend requires assistance to vote. Am I allowed to assist them?

If an elector requires assistance, they are able to choose the person who assists them, whether they vote at a polling place or are having a postal vote.

If the elector cannot sign, they must make a mark and it must be appropriately witnessed. The witness must identity the fact that the elector made the mark by adding the words 'his mark' or 'her mark' above the elector's mark; and printing the elector's given name(s) to the left of the mark, and the elector's surname to the right of the mark. The person acting as witness must then sign as the witness.

Can I tell an official that someone I know will not be able to vote?

You may advise a polling official of the illness, death or other circumstances of another person. These details will be recorded in an elector information report. Under no circumstances will you be allowed to vote for another person. Although the polling official will record all the information you have given them, they are unable to tell you whether that person will be fined for not voting. This decision can only be made by the returning officer for that division.

Counting the votes

What's counted on election night?

Polling officials are required to complete three main tasks when polls close, in the following order:

  • count the first preferences on the House of Representatives ballot papers
  • conduct a two-candidate-preferred (TCP) count of the House of Representatives ballot papers, and
  • count the first preferences on the Senate ballot papers.

Only ordinary votes are counted on election night. That is, the ordinary votes that are cast at an early voting centre or polling place where the voter's name is marked off the electoral roll at the time of voting.

What happens if a TCP selection is incorrect?

Prior to election day, the AEC predicts who the two candidate preferred (TCP) candidates will be in order to enable the TCP count for each of the 150 divisions across the country to be conducted on election night.

The TCP prediction is often based on previous election results within the relevant division. If at any point during the count it becomes clear the predicted TCP candidates are incorrect, the AEC will stop the TCP count. This is referred to as a TCP Exception.

A fresh TCP count will be conducted and preferences distributed to the correct two leading candidates in the days following the election night count.

How long will the Senate count take to return a result?

The Senate has always taken longer to count than the House of Representatives. This reflects the size and nature of the task and the legislative timeframes for the return of postal and declaration votes to home electoral divisions. Under the previous voting rules for the Senate, final results were often not known until three or four weeks after election day.

At the 2016 federal election, the Senate count will be conducted under the new voting method for the first time. The date of the final distribution of preferences to determine the Senators-elect will be pre-publicised, as has been the practice at previous elections.

How does counting of House of Representatives votes progress after election night?

The initial count of House of Representatives ballot papers conducted on election night is followed by a 'fresh scrutiny'. Declaration votes are then progressively counted in the days and weeks following election night.

When clear, the result of a House of Representatives contest can be declared by the Divisional Returning Officer for that division prior to the full count being completed.

How does the Senate count work after election night?

The final results for Senate contests will not be known until several weeks after election night. Below is an indicative timeline for the Senate count.

After the first preferences are counted on election night, an additional Senate count is undertaken at the office of each Divisional Returning Officer in the days following election day.

The ballot papers are then sent to a central location for what is known as Central Senate scrutiny. When all preferences are captured, a computerised scrutiny system is used to calculate the quota, distribute preferences and determine the results.

The quota for a Senate contest cannot be calculated until the state or territory-wide total of all votes is known. This must include at least 13 days after election day, which is the timeframe provided by legislation for the AEC to receive postal votes.

What is the 'fresh scrutiny' count for the House of Representatives?

The initial scrutiny (count) of HoR ballot papers conducted at the polling place on election night is followed by a 'fresh scrutiny' conducted at a divisional out-posted centre in the days following election day.

The fresh scrutiny is a re-check of all ordinary House of Representatives ballot papers received from every polling place, pre-poll voting centre and mobile polling team within a division.

The fresh scrutiny is an important step, required by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act), to further ensure the accuracy of the counting process. The fresh scrutiny is a process managed by permanent AEC staff.

When does counting finish?

Counting in a federal election continues for some time after polling day. On election night, both ordinary ballot papers, and pre-poll ballot papers completed by voters within their division, are counted to first preferences. The AEC also conducts a Two Candidate Preferred (TCP) count of House of Representatives ballot papers on election night, which helps give an indication of the likely outcome of the election.

After polling day, the AEC declaration votes (absent and pre-poll votes) are sent to their home divisions. Home divisions are the electoral division in which the voter lives. During the first week after polling day, scrutiny (checking of voter eligibility and counting) of absent pre-poll, provisional and postal votes begins.

The AEC is obliged under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to wait 13 days for postal votes mailed before polling day to arrive. In the case of a close seat, this may mean that a result may not be available until after the 13 days have elapsed.

More details about counting the votes.

What is the difference between two candidate preferred or two party preferred?

These are different terms, though they can often, but not always be interchanged.

The term 'two candidate preferred' (TCP) refers to a distribution of preferences (votes) between two candidates who are expected to come first and second in the election. Often the two candidates for the TCP process will be from the ALP and the Coalition, but it could also be candidates from minor parties or independent candidates depending on who is expected to gain the majority of votes.

The term 'two party preferred' (TPP) refers to a distribution of preferences (votes) between the two major parties – the ALP and the Coalition (Liberal/National parties). This comparison is usually used to try to predict the possibilities of forming a government. It is a tool that examines the proportion of votes that will go to the major parties after all preferences have been taken into consideration.

Why does the AEC conduct a full distribution of preferences where a candidate has won an absolute majority?

A distribution of preferences takes place in every division and is used to calculate the two party preferred statistics for divisions that have ALP and Coalition as the final two candidates. In divisions that do not have the ALP and Coalition as the final two candidates, a Scrutiny for Information is conducted to determine the two party preferred result. A scrutiny for Information in such cases is a notional distribution of preferences to find the results of preference flows to the ALP and Coalition candidates.

When does a recount occur?

A recount may be undertaken, approved or directed at any time before the result of an election is declared.

In the case of a House of Representatives election, if the margin of votes between the first and second ranked candidates at the completion of the distribution of preferences is less than 100 votes, a full recount of all formal and informal ballot papers is conducted as a matter of course.

A recount is not the same as the routine re-check (fresh scrutiny) of the House of Representatives votes that were counted on election night.

What is the distribution of preferences count?

The distribution of preferences is the final result of the House of Representatives election and consists of a series of candidate exclusions. The distribution is achieved by progressively excluding candidates with the least number of votes. The exclusions continue until only two candidates remain.

An example of a distribution of preferences is available.

The distribution of preferences takes place in every electoral division as required by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The distribution of preferences does not commence until the counting of all ballot papers has been completed.

Travelling in Australia

How do I vote before election day if I'm travelling in Australia?

You can vote early in person or by post, if you are eligible. See eligibility information.

Voting early in person

You can vote in person at any early voting centre or AEC divisional office before election day.

Voting early by post

If you are unable to vote on election day you can apply for a postal vote.

Postal vote application forms are also available from post offices and AEC offices. The AEC will send you your ballot papers after your application has been processed.

How do I vote on election day if I'm travelling in Australia?

If you are travelling in your home state or territory

You can vote at any election day polling place in the state or territory where you are enrolled. This is called an absent vote.

If you are travelling in another state or territory

You can vote at an interstate voting centre.

After polling day

What happens after polling day?

The votes that are cast at polling places on polling day are counted on polling night. At the 1998 federal election 82% of the votes were cast this way. The result of the election is by no means finalised at this stage, even if a particular party has claimed victory or the government has conceded defeat.

The AEC is obliged under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to wait 13 days for postal votes mailed before polling day to arrive. In the case of a close seat, this may mean that a result may not be available until after the 13 days have elapsed.

Following polling day, declaration votes (absent and prepoll votes) are sent to their home divisions. Home divisions are the electoral division in which the voter lives. During the first week after polling day, scrutiny (checking of voter eligibility and counting) of absent prepoll, provisional and postal votes begins.

Will electoral material be recycled?

The Australian Electoral Commission arranges for cardboard voting equipment to be recycled after an election. (A large amount of the equipment is made out of recycled cardboard.)

Advertising

Why have I received a postal vote application from a political party?

Electoral law allows political parties or candidates to mail postal vote applications to you along with candidate and political party election campaign material.

If you have received a postal vote application sent by a political party you do not have to use the application. If you complete the application and return it to the party or candidate, they must then forward your form to the AEC for processing. However, you are not required to send the application back to the party or candidate. Instead you can return it directly to the AEC by mailing it to:

Australian Electoral Commission
Reply Paid 9867
[your capital city]

Or by using our scanned postal vote upload facility.

If you do not want to fill out forms provided by a party or candidate, you can apply to the AEC directly. The AEC does not include political party material with any of the forms or printed information that we send to voters.

What is a "how-to vote" card?

Political party workers outside the polling place may give voters a how-to-vote card, suggesting you vote for a particular candidate or party. You do not have to accept these cards. How you choose to vote is your decision. While electors may choose to follow a how-to-vote card, the final decision regarding preferences is in the hands of each elector.

Can we set up a stall outside the polling place?

Yes. Stalls can be set up outside a polling place as long as they are 6 metres from the entrance to the booth and they do not obstruct voters access to the booth.

Ballot papers

Why do they supply pencils in polling booths and not pens? Doesn't using pencils allow votes to be tampered with?

The provision of pencils in polling booths is a requirement of section 206 of the Electoral Act. There is, however nothing to prevent an elector from marking his or her ballot paper with a pen if they so wish. The AEC has found from experience that pencils are the most reliable implements for marking ballot papers. Pencils are practical because they don't run out and the polling staff check and sharpen pencils as necessary throughout election day. Pencils can be stored between elections and they work better in tropical areas. The security of your vote is guaranteed as the storage and counting of ballots is tightly scrutinised.

How is the order of the candidates determined on the ballot paper?

For the House of Representatives ballot paper, please see Draw for positions on the House of Representatives ballot paper.

For the Senate ballot paper, please see Draw for positions on the Senate ballot paper.

What happens if candidates standing for election 'resign' after ballot papers are printed?

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) does not permit any changes to candidates named on the ballot papers, following the close of candidate nominations.

Nominations for the 2016 federal election closed on 12 midday 9 June 2016. The nominations were publicly declared at 12 midday 10 June 2016. The ballot papers for the election were required to be printed and distributed to pre-poll voting centres for early voting to commence on 14 June 2016. It is not possible to change the ballot papers after the nominations were declared.

Where a declared candidate states they have resigned and/or have been disendorsed by their political party after the close of nominations, the AEC is unable to make changes to ballot papers and is required to continues the conduct the election as though the change of circumstances had not taken place.

Under these circumstances, the ballot paper remains the same for voting, results are counted as normal, and should the candidate win and be elected, they are entitled to take their place in Parliament. Public funding is also paid to the candidate's nominated agent should the candidate achieve more than 4% or more of the first preference vote, the same as for any other candidate.

Such changes in circumstances frequently occur at federal elections and the above operation of the Electoral Act has been consistently applied.

How secure are the ballot boxes/papers?

Prior to the ballot box being used, the empty box is shown to any Scrutineers and other people present before it is closed and sealed. Numbered security seals are used to secure the ballot boxes. The seal number will be recorded by the polling official in charge and will be witnessed. The ballot boxes in use are visible at all times during the poll and are guarded by a polling official. Ballot boxes which are full remain sealed and are stored in a secure place.

Polling officials take every precaution with ballot papers in their care. Ballot papers are kept secure at all times and are never left unattended.

How is a declaration vote secret when my details are on the envelope?

Your name and other details are required on the envelope so that your entitlement to vote can be confirmed and your name can be marked off the electoral roll as having voted.

The AEC maintains strict procedures in handling Declaration Votes to first check that you are entitled to vote, and secondly to ensure that there is no way your vote can be identified.

Envelopes are kept face down when ballot papers are removed so that no one can see your name or details. The ballot papers are kept folded and are placed in a ballot box.

Once the batch of envelopes has been processed, the envelopes are put away, the ballot box is opened and the ballot papers are sorted and counted. This process stops any ballot paper from being matched to the information on the envelope and ensures an elector's vote remains secret.

To ensure its integrity, this process is also closely observed by scrutineers.

Further information is available from the Scrutineers Handbook.