Australian Electoral Commission

Glossary

Updated: 25 June 2015

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

A

Absent vote

A declaration vote cast at a polling place outside of a voter's electoral division, but still within their state or territory.

Absolute majority

More than half of the formal votes in a House of Representatives election.

The Act

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 is the legislation governing the Commonwealth electoral process. See CEA.

Augmented Electoral Commission

An augmented Electoral Commission is established for each state or territory in which a redistribution is occurring. The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 requires that the augmented Electoral Commission consists of the following people:

  • the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission
  • the third member of the Electoral Commission, and
  • the members of the Redistribution Committee for the state or territory

The augmented Electoral Commission considers any objections to the Redistribution Committee's proposed redistribution and makes the final determination about the boundaries and names of electoral divisions for a state or territory. The augmented Electoral Commission is supported by a small secretariat of staff from the Australian Electoral Commission.

The final report of the augmented Electoral Commission is tabled in Parliament.

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)

The Commonwealth agency responsible for providing Australians with an independent electoral service and enhancing their understanding of, and participation in, the electoral process.

Australian Electoral Officer (AEO)

The AEC's manager in each state and territory. The AEO is the returning officer for the Senate election in their state or territory.

B

Ballot

A method of secret voting, normally in a written form.

Ballot box

The sealed container into which an elector places a completed ballot paper.

Ballot paper

A paper that shows the names of the candidates who are standing for election and on which voters mark their vote.

By-election

An election held to fill a single vacancy in the House of Representatives.

C

Candidate

A person standing for election to the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Casual vacancy

A vacant seat in the Senate caused by a Senator resigning or dying.

Certified list of voters

The official electoral roll used to mark off the names of voters. The list contains the names and addresses of all eligible voters in a division.

Close seat

A seat where the results are tight. On election night, this is where the two-candidate-preferred (TCP) result is between 47 per cent and 53 per cent and more than five per cent of the vote has been counted. After election night and until counting is completed, this is where the TCP result is between 49.5 per cent and 50.5 per cent and more than five per cent of the vote has been counted.

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (CEA).

The legislation governing the Commonwealth electoral process. See CEA.

Compulsory enrolment

If you are 18 years and over and an Australian citizen you are required by law to enrol.

Compulsory voting

Australian citizens 18 years and over are required by law to vote in federal elections.

Constitution

The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 provides the basic rules for the government of Australia.

Constitutional referendum

A vote by all eligible Australian voters on any proposed changes to the Constitution.

Court of Disputed Returns

The jurisdiction established by the Act to determine disputes and the validity of elections.

D

Declaration vote

Any vote that requires the voter to sign a declaration instead of being marked off the certified list.

Declaration of poll

A formal statement of the result of an election.

Democracy

Government on behalf of the people by their elected representatives.

Distribution of preferences

The process used to determine the winning candidate when no candidate wins an absolute majority of first preference votes.

Division

A geographical area of Australia (known as an electoral division or electorate) represented by a member of Parliament elected at a House of Representatives election.

Division Finder

The division finder is an alphabetical listing of all localities within a state or territory. It is used to determine which division any address within a state or territory belongs.

Divisional Returning Officer (DRO)

The AEC officer responsible for maintaining the electoral roll and conducting the election in each division. The DRO is the returning officer for the House of Representatives election in their division.

Donkey vote

A ballot paper marked 1, 2, 3, 4 straight down (or up) a ballot paper.

Double dissolution

Occurs when both the Senate and the House of Representatives are dissolved by the Governor-General. This is the only situation where all House of Representatives and Senate seats are declared vacant at the same time.

Double majority for referendum

To alter the Constitution, a majority of all formal votes cast in a referendum, as well as a majority of votes in a majority of states must be gained to authorise the change to the Constitution.

E

Election

The choosing of representatives by the voters.

Election Results Code

The election results code is a short code allocated to each registered political party. It is primarily for internal use but is also used in some AEC publications, including election results, to assist with brevity.

Electoral Commissioner

The officer who performs the functions of the chief executive officer of the AEC.

Electoral roll

The list of people entitled to vote in an election or referendum.

Electoral Roll Review

A house to house survey conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission in each division to check that electors are correctly enrolled.

Electorate

See Division.

Electors

All those people entitled to vote at an election.

Enfranchise

To give a person the right to vote.

Enrolment

You cannot vote at an election unless your name is on the electoral roll. Australian citizens 18 years of age and over (with a few exceptions) must enrol to vote.

Enrolment form

Application form to enrol to vote or to change your address in Federal and State/Territory elections. Enrolment forms are available at all post offices, postal agencies, AEC offices and on our Home Page.

Enrolment rate

The enrolment rate (known as the participation rate until December 2014) is calculated by dividing the number of electors on the electoral roll by the estimated eligible population.

Exhausted vote

A ballot paper which shows no further valid preference for any candidate and must be set aside from the count.

F

Fairly safe seat

A seat where the elected candidate received between 56 per cent and 60 per cent of the vote.

Federal election

A vote by all eligible Australians to elect members of parliament to represent them in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Federation

The unification of Australian Colonies which formed the Australian nation on 1 January 1901.

First past the post

A voting system in which the candidate with the most votes is elected whether or not that person has more than half the votes counted. This system is still used in many countries such as UK, USA, NZ, Canada. It is also used in some local shire or council elections in Australia.

Formal vote

A vote cast in an election or referendum that has been marked according to the rules for that election or referendum and can be counted towards the result. A ballot paper that does not meet the rules for formality is called informal and cannot be counted towards the result.

Franchise

The right to vote.

Fresh scrutiny

The check and recount of ballot papers after election day by AEC staff.

Funding and Disclosure

The Commonwealth funding and disclosure scheme established under the Act to deal with public funding of federal election campaigns and the disclosure of detailed financial information.

G

General election

An election for all the seats in the House of Representatives.

General Postal Voter

A voter who is registered to have postal ballot papers sent to them automatically by post.

Gerrymander

The drawing of electoral boundaries in a way which gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections.

Government

The political party or coalition of parties which has won a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives forms the government. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are always Members of the House of Representatives.

Group voting ticket (GVT)

A written statement that sets out the order in which a Senate group wants its preferences distributed.

H

Half senate election

Held every three years to elect half the Senators for a State. Unlike State Senators, Territory Senators face re-election at every general election of the House of Representatives.

House of Representatives

One of the two houses of the Commonwealth Parliament. It is the house in which the Australian Government is formed.

How-to-vote cards

Printed materials offered to voters by party workers at polling places displaying how a party or a candidate would like voters to cast their vote.

Hung parliament

A term used to describe a parliament in which no political party or coalition of parties has a majority in the House of Representatives. The term is becoming more applicable to modern parliaments, as minor parties and independent candidates are increasingly holding the balance of power in minority governments.

I

Independents

Candidates or members of Parliament who do not belong to a registered political party.

Informal vote

A vote cast in an election or referendum that has not been marked according to the rules for that election or referendum and cannot be counted towards the result.

Itinerant elector

A voter with no fixed address.

M

Malapportionment

A term used to describe an electoral system where different electorates have large differences in the number of voters in them.

Marginal seat

A seat where the elected candidate received less than 56 per cent of the vote.

Member

Any person elected to parliament, but more commonly used for those elected to the House of Representatives.

Mobile polling team

A team of polling officials that travels to some hospitals and nursing homes, prisons, remand centres and remote locations to collect votes.

N

Nomination

Candidates must be nominated before they can be elected to the Senate or House of Representatives. Qualifications for nomination are set out in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Constitution. Nominations can be made once the writ for an election has been issued and before the time and date specified as the close of nominations. For each nomination a financial deposit must be lodged.

O

Opinion poll

A survey conducted by private organisations between and before elections to get an idea of how people would vote if an election were held.

Opposition

The major party, or coalition of parties in parliament which has the next highest number of votes.

Ordinary vote

A vote cast on election day at a polling place within the electoral division for which a voter is enrolled.

Overseas elector

An elector who is going overseas for three years or less can apply to be an overseas elector within 3 months before leaving Australia or within 1 year after the day on which they ceased to reside in Australia.

P

Parliament

The political assembly in which elected representatives talk about and vote upon proposed laws.

The word 'parliament' comes from 15th century English, and from a French word meaning 'talking place'.

Parliamentary democracy

A system of government where the people exercise their political power by electing representatives to parliament to make laws. Australia is a parliamentary democracy.

Participation rate

The participation rate (known as the enrolment rate from December 2014) is calculated by dividing the number of electors on the electoral roll by the estimated eligible population.

Platform

The policies or plans that the candidates and parties say they will carry out if elected.

Plebiscite

A ballot of all eligible voters that does not affect the Constitution.

Political party

An organisation representing a group of people with similar ideas or aims. Parties registered with the AEC are eligible to have the party affiliation of their endorsed candidates printed on ballot papers.

Poll

Another word for an election.

Polling place

Polling places are set up in each division to take the votes of the local people.

Postal vote

A vote cast by post because the voter cannot attend a polling place in their state or territory.

Preferential voting

A system of voting that requires a voter to indicate their order of preference for each candidate on the ballot paper.

Pre-poll vote

A vote cast at an early voting centre or an AEC divisional office before election day.

Preselection

The choice by a political party of its candidates for an election.

Proportional representation

An electoral system used in multi-member electorates. Parties, groups and independent candidates are elected to the parliament in proportion to their support in the electorate.

Provisional vote

A vote cast when a voter's name cannot be found on the certified list, the voter's name is already marked off the certified list as having voted, or the voter is registered as a silent elector.

Q

Quota – Enrolment

The current or projected average divisional enrolment figure for a state or territory.

Quota – Population

The figure used to determine the number of parliamentary representatives to which a state or territory is entitled.

Quota – Senate

The number of votes a Senate candidate needs to receive to be elected.

R

Re-check

When ballot papers for the Senate or House of Representatives are returned to the Divisional Returning Officer from all polling places for that division. A fresh scrutiny is conducted to re-check the counting done on election night.

Recount

A second or further count of votes in an election.

Redistribution

The redrawing of electoral boundaries to ensure that there is approximately the same number of electors in each division.

Redistribution Committee

A Redistribution Committee is appointed for the state or territory in which a redistribution has commenced.

The Redistribution Committee consists of the Electoral Commissioner, the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for that state or territory (except for the ACT where the senior Divisional Returning Officer for the territory is a member), the Surveyor-General and the Auditor-General for that state or territory.

The Redistribution Committee is supported by a small secretariat of staff from the Australian Electoral Commission.

Referendum

The Australian Constitution can only be altered with the approval of a national majority of electors in States and Territories and a majority of electors in a majority of States.

Representative

A person elected to parliament to represent the people of a division (House of Representatives) or State (Senate).

Roll

The list of voters eligible to vote at an election.

Run (in an election)

To stand as a candidate in an election.

S

Safe seat

A seat where the elected candidate received more than 60 per cent of the vote.

Scrutineer

A person appointed by a candidate to observe the voting and counting of the votes.

Scrutiny

The counting of votes which leads to the election result.

Seat

Another term for an electorate or division – used because the candidate elected then has a seat in parliament.

Secret ballot

A vote made in secret – first introduced in Victoria in 1856. Sometimes called the 'Australian ballot'.

Senate

One of the two houses of the Commonwealth Parliament.

Senate election

An election of Senators for a state or territory.

Senators

A person elected by the voters of a State or Territory to represent them in the Senate.

Silent elector

An elector who has applied to have their address not appear on the electoral roll because their safety or that of their family is at risk.

Suffrage

The right to vote at elections i.e. all Australian citizens 18 or over have suffrage.

Surplus

Votes gained by a Senate candidate which are surplus to the quota required for election.

Swing

The difference between a candidate or party's vote at one election in comparison to another.

Swinging voter

An elector who does not have a steady pattern of voting for the same party.

T

Transfer Value

In a Senate election a candidate's surplus is transferred at a fraction of its value to the next available candidate.

Turnout

The number of enrolled electors who voted in the election.

Two-candidate-preferred (TCP) count

An indicative distribution of preferences between the two likely leading candidates for a House of Representatives election.

Two-party-preferred (TPP) count

An indicative distribution of preferences between the two major sides of politics in Australia (the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition).

V

Virtual Tally Room (VTR)

An AEC website that displays official election results.

Vote

The formal act of an elector in an election to choose the candidate the elector most wants to be the representative for that division. Australia has a secret vote, and enforces compulsory voting.

Voting screen/compartment

A small compartment or cubicle at the polling place where people fill in their voting papers in secret at elections.

W

Writ

A document commanding an electoral officer to hold an election. The writ contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, the election day and the latest day for the return of the writ.