Electoral Pocketbook 2011 - 3 The electoral process

Updated: 15 June 2011

3.1 Events in Australian electoral history

Events in Australian electoral history
Year Australia's major electoral developments Changes to the Franchise (Who can vote) Changes to voting methods (How votes are cast)
1788 Prior to European settlement Australia was occupied by groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people led by elders and subject to traditional laws. European settlement occurred in 1788. Australia became a penal colony run by a governor (Autocratic Government).    
1829 British sovereignty extended to cover the whole of Australia – everyone born in Australia, including Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, became a British subject by birth.    
1835 The Australian Patriotic Association, Australia's first political 'party', was established under W. C. Wentworth. It demanded democratic government for NSW.    
1840 Adelaide City Council was established and Australia's first election was held on 31st October 1840. Nearly 600 people cast votes in Adelaide City Council election.  
1843 First parliamentary elections in Australia (NSW Legislative Council). Men with £200 free-hold or £20 annual value householders were allowed to vote.  
1850   Men with £100 free-hold, £10 annual value householders, three year lease of £10 annual value, or depasturing licence were allowed to vote.  
1855 NSW, Vic. SA and Tas. are granted limited self government.    
1856 The Australian version of the secret ballot was introduced in Vic., Tas. and SA. Its main defining feature was the government supplied voting paper containing candidates' names. It was adopted around the world and became known as the Australian Ballot. Men over 21 years allowed to vote (SA). 'Secret ballot' introduced in Vic., Tas. and SA.
1857   Men over 21 years allowed to vote (Vic.).  
1858   Men over 21 years allowed to vote (NSW). 'Secret ballot' introduced in NSW.
1859 Qld received self government.   'Secret ballot' introduced in Qld.
1872   Men over 21 years allowed to vote (Qld).  
1890 WA received self government.    
1891 Draft Constitution Bill for proposed federation of colonies.    
1893   Men over 21 years allowed to vote (WA). 'Secret ballot' introduced in WA elections.
1895   Women over 21 years allowed to vote (SA).  
1896   Men over 21 years allowed to vote (Tas.).  
1899   Women over 21 years allowed to vote (WA).  
1901 Federation. In 1901 the colonies formed a new level of government known as the Federal Government.
The first federal elections were held under State legislation with a coalition government between the Protectionist and State Labour parties being formed and Edmund Barton becoming Australia's first Prime Minister.
Federal Parliament met for the first time in Melbourne, on 9 May 1901, with 75 Members of the House of Representatives (MPs) and 36 Senators (6 for each State).
State franchises applied at the first federal election (NSW, Vic., Qld, Tas. men over 21 years; SA and WA men and women over 21 years). First past the post system used in all states except SA where a block voting system was used and Tas. where a single transferable voting system was used.
Enrolment and voting voluntary.
1902 The first Commonwealth Parliament passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902 which was progressive for its time in granting universal adult suffrage (most men and women over 21).
The Electoral Branch of the Home Affairs Department was established to conduct federal elections.
Most men and women over 21 were allowed to vote at federal elections.
However, it specifically excluded any Aboriginal native of Australia, or the Torres Strait and South Sea Island of the Pacific (except New Zealand) from Commonwealth franchise unless already enrolled in a State.
The Aboriginal franchise was further reduced in practice by admitting only those Australian Aboriginals already enrolled in a State in 1902.
1903 First federal elections under federal law held on 16 December: 46.86% voter turnout.
Divisional Returning Officers conducted first election under Commonwealth law in each electoral division.
1905 Electoral subdivisions created.    
1906     Postal voting available for the first time
1908 Permanent electoral rolls established.    
1911 Legislation changed so that elections are to be held on Saturdays only.   Compulsory enrolment (effective from 1912).
1914 Full time Divisional Returning Officers appointed.    
1915 Qld State elections became the first to have compulsory voting.   Compulsory voting for referendums.
1918 Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (followed by Commonwealth Electoral Act 1919).
First use of preferential voting at Corangamite by-election 14 December 1918.
  Preferential voting systems for the House and Senate.
1919 First general election using preferential voting, 13 December 1919 (i.e. first Senate election under preferential voting).    
1920 Nationality Act 1920. British subjects bestowed with 'all political and other rights', but South Sea Islanders still ineligible to vote despite being British subjects.  
1921 Edith Cowan becomes first woman elected to any Australian Parliament after being elected to Legislative Assembly as member for West Perth in WA State selection.    
1922 Grouping of names on Senate ballot papers introduced.
The NT granted a Member of the House of Representatives with limited voting rights.
Final general election in which voting was voluntary: 59.38% of electors voted.
1924 Private member's bill to amend the Electoral Act and introduce compulsory voting was passed.   Compulsory voting introduced.
1925 Compulsory voting first used at a federal election: 91.31% of electors voted. Natives of British India living in Australia allowed to vote.  
1927 Parliament met in Canberra for the first time, 9 May 1927.    
1934     Senate system of voting altered to require all preferences to be shown.
1940     Horizontal ballot papers first used in Senate election.
1943 Dame Enid Lyons becomes first woman elected to House of Representatives.
Sen. Dorothy Tangney becomes first woman elected to the Senate.
1948 Nationality and Citizenship Act established that all Australian born people are citizens of Australia rather than British subjects.
The number of Senators increased to 60 (10 for each State), and Members of the House of Representatives to 121. (The figures exclude ACT and NT).
ACT granted one Member of the House of Representatives with limited voting rights.
1949 Industrial ballots were first conducted by the Industrial Branch. Australian Aboriginals were given the right to enrol and vote at federal elections provided they were entitled to enrol for State elections (NSW, SA, Vic., Tas.) or had served in the Defence Forces. Proportional representation using the single transferable vote was introduced for Senate elections.
1962   Voluntary enrolment and voting at federal elections and referendums extended to all Australian Aboriginals.  
1966 ACT – Member of House of Representatives granted full voting rights.    
1967 A Constitutional Referendum overwhelmingly approved the amendment of the Constitution with more than 90% of Australian voters in all States voting in favour of:
  • The words 'other than the aboriginal race in any State' were struck out of Section 51 xxvi so that the Commonwealth Parliament could now make special laws for Australian Aboriginals.
  • Section 127 was struck out in its entirety.
1968 NT – Member of House of Representatives granted full voting rights in the House of Representatives.    
1971 Neville Bonner AO becomes first Indigenous person appointed to Federal Parliament in Australia.    
1973 The Australian Electoral Office was established as a statutory authority. The qualifying age for enrolment, voting and candidature for all federal elections was lowered from 21 years to 18.  
1974 ACT gained second Member of Parliament (with full voting rights).
Senate (Representation of Territories) Act 1973 – two Senators each for the ACT and two for NT (put into effect 1975).
1977 Following the 1977 referendum the constitution was altered to provide for:
  • Filling of Senate casual vacancies.
  • Territory voting in referendums.
Note: A referendum on simultaneous elections for the Senate and House of Representatives was not carried.
1978 NT granted self government.    
1983 The number of senators was increased from 10 to 12 per state, ie from 60 to 72 (total: 76 including ACT and NT).
(Representation Act 1983 – assented to 8 December 1983, commenced 21 February 1984). Consequently, the number of members of the House of Representatives increased to 148.
1984 An independent Australian Electoral Commission established to administer the federal electoral system.
Registration of political parties introduced to permit the printing of party names on ballot papers.
The time polling places close changed from 8pm to 6pm.
Public funding of election campaigns and disclosure of political donations and electoral expenditure introduced.
Compulsory enrolment and voting for Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders introduced.
Franchise qualification changed to Australian citizenship. However, British subjects on the roll immediately before 26 January 1984 retained enrolment rights.
Group voting ticket introduced for Senate.
Mobile polling first used in remote NT and WA for Commonwealth elections.
1989 ACT granted self government.
Rosemary Follet becomes first female head of government in Australia in ACT.
1990 First election conducted for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).    
1992 AEC's mandate widened to include provision of international electoral assistance.    
1997 Constitutional Convention Election conducted as a voluntary postal ballot.    
1998 The introduction of computerised scrutiny for Senate votes.    
1999 Referendums to determine whether Australia should become a republic with a President appointed by Parliament and the insertion of a Preamble to the Constitution is defeated.    
2004 Electoral Roll no longer sold. Prisoners serving a sentence of three years or more no longer entitled to enrol or vote.  
2006 Close of Rolls changed from seven days after the Issue of Writ to three days after Issue of Writ. Prisoners serving full time sentences of imprisonment were no longer entitled to vote.  
2007 On 30 August, the High Court ruled that prisoners serving a full time sentence of less than three years were entitled to enrol and vote. Prisoners serving a full time sentence of less than three years were entitled to enrol and vote. Electronic voting trials were conducted at the 2007 federal election for people who were blind or vision impaired.
Remote electronic voting was also trialled for certain ADF personnel serving overseas.
2010 Julia Gillard becomes Australia's first female Prime minister.
Changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 legislated.
Provisions include:
  • Electronic voting for vision impaired voters.
  • A single mobile polling provision to ensure that it can be delivered where and when it is needed.
  • Extended eligibility for early voting to electors who will be outside their home division on polling day and electors who fear for their safety.
  • Pre-poll votes cast within a voter's own division counted on election night rather than as part of declaration votes.
  • Electronic Enrolment Updates.
  • Electoral roll information in electronic form.
  • Removal of need for witness signature on postal vote applications.
On 6 August, the High Court ruled that the provisions of the Act dealing with close of rolls were unconstitutional, and that the former period of seven days for all enrolment claims should apply with immediate effect.
  Electronic voting for vision impaired voters allowed secret and independent ballots to be cast for the first time.
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