Australian Electoral Commission

Voting within Australia – Frequently Asked Questions

Updated: 20 November 2013

Voting

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

What happens if I do not vote?

After each election, the AEC will send a letter to all apparent non-voters requesting that they either provide a valid and sufficient reason for failing to vote or pay a $20 penalty.

If, within the time period specified on the notice, you fail to reply, cannot provide a valid and sufficient reason or decline to pay the $20 penalty, then the matter may be referred to a court. If the matter is dealt with in court and you are found guilty, you may be fined up to $170 plus court costs and a criminal conviction may be recorded against you.

Why did I receive an apparent failure to vote notice?

You will receive a letter from the Australian Electoral Commission if according to our records you did not vote at a federal election. If you did vote, you should respond to the letter before the due date.

What is a valid and sufficient reason for not voting?

It is at the discretion of the Divisional Returning Officer for each electorate to determine what is a valid and sufficient reason for not voting.

See Electoral backgrounder – compulsory voting

What is a postal voter?

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

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 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.

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 results are counted on election night?

On election night, all first preference votes will be counted at the polling place where they are cast.

Prior to polling day, the AEC determines the names of the two candidates expected to come first and second in the election. The ballot papers for each of the other candidates are then sorted to the next available preference for either of the two candidate preferred figure (TCP) which provides an indication of the likely outcome of the election. This count does not replace the full distribution of preferences which is conducted later, but gives a preview of the results of that count.

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.

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 is a Senate Group Voting Ticket?

Within 24 hours after the declaration of nominations for the Senate, parties or groups may lodge a Group Voting Ticket (GVT) which shows the order in which they want their preferences distributed. If you choose to put the number '1' in one of the boxes above the line on the Senate ballot paper, all the preferences will be distributed according to that group's GVT. You may choose to vote below the line according to your own preference.

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.