Scrutineers Handbook: Glossary

Updated: 1 June 2018


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Assistant Returning Officer (ARO)

The Officer in charge of each polling place is officially called the 'presiding officer' during polling but is called the ARO during the scrutiny (see also 'Officer in charge').

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)

The independent statutory authority established in 1984 to maintain and update the Commonwealth electoral roll, raise public awareness and conduct federal elections and referendums.

Australian Electoral Officer (AEO)

The AEC's chief manager in each state and the Northern Territory. An AEO for the Australian Capital Territory is only appointed for each election period. The AEO is the returning officer for the Senate in their state or territory.



A by-election is held whenever a vacancy occurs in the House of Representatives. A supplementary election must be held if a candidate for a House of Representatives election dies in the period between close of nominations and election day.



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

Certified list of voters

The official electoral roll used to mark off electors' names. Polling officials place a mark against an elector's name when the elector is issued with a ballot paper at a polling place, or where appropriate during early voting, to indicate that the elector has voted. The certified list can be in paper or electronic format.

Close of rolls period

The roll closes on the seventh day after the issue of the writ.

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

The legislation governing the Commonwealth electoral process. Referred to as 'the Act' in this handbook.


Commonwealth of Australia constitution Act.

Counting centre

Any site at which a scrutiny or counting of votes is to be, or is being, conducted.

Court of Disputed Returns

A candidate, an elector or the AEC may dispute the validity of an election or return by a petition to the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. The court has wide powers to resolve the matter.


Declaration vote

A declaration vote is recorded by a voter whose entitlement to vote cannot be confirmed at the place of voting. The voter makes a signed declaration on an envelope and then puts their completed ballot paper inside. These votes are counted after election day if the voter's entitlement to vote is verified using the information provided on the declaration envelope.

Divisions (electorates)

For representation in the House of Representatives, Australia is divided into Electoral Divisions. The number of these divisions is determined by population. To ensure equal representation, the boundaries of these divisions have to be redrawn or redistributed periodically. (For representation in the Senate, each state and territory is one electorate. All states are multi-member electorates and have the same number of Senators. Territory representation is determined by the federal parliament).

Divisional Returning Officer (DRO)

The AEC officer responsible for conducting the election in each division. The DROs are the returning officers for the House of Representatives in their divisions and are also responsible for electoral administration within that division, in particular, the maintenance of the electoral roll, providing information sessions to schools and community groups and preparations for the next election.


Early vote

A postal vote or a vote cast at an early voting centre, an AEC divisional office or via a mobile polling team in the lead-up to election day. They are cast by electors who will not be able to get to a polling place on election day.

Electoral Act

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

Election Management System

The AEC system which centrally calculates election results, displays those results and is the interface to the Tally Room.

Electoral and Referendum Regulation 2016

Regulations that support the operation of the Act.

Electoral Commissioner

The person nominated as the electoral commissioner in accordance with section 18 of the Act.


Financial disclosure return

A document detailing information on the receipts and expenditure of participants in the political process. There are specific return forms for candidates, their donors and political parties. Financial disclosure return forms for candidates are made public 24 weeks after election day.


A ballot paper is generally considered formal if it is filled out correctly in accordance with the Act and the instructions on the ballot paper. It is therefore included in the scrutiny.

Fresh Scrutiny

A re-check of votes cast in a House of Representatives election, conducted by the DRO in the days following election day.


How-to-vote cards

Cards provided to voters by candidates showing how a party or candidate would like voters to fill in their ballot papers.



A ballot paper is generally considered informal if it is not filled out correctly in accordance with the Act and the instructions on the ballot paper. It cannot therefore be included in the scrutiny.

Issuing Officer

Polling officials who issue ordinary ballot papers to electors whose names are found on the certified list of voters, mark the certified list, complete the account of ballot papers and assist with the count of ballot papers after the close of poll.

Issuing point

The part of the polling place where ballot papers are issued to electors.


Mobile polling team

A team of polling officials who bring the polling to the elector. They visit electors in locations including nursing homes, prisons and remote locations to enable them to vote.


Nomination form

The approved form which must be used by a candidate nominating for election. There are also five forms for the Senate, and three forms for the House of Representatives, one of which is the bulk nomination form.


Officer-in-charge (OIC)

The officer who is in charge at a polling place. They are called 'Presiding officers' during polling (8am to 6pm). From 6pm, during the scrutiny, they are called the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO).

Ordinary vote

An ordinary vote is recorded by an elector whose entitlement to vote is verified at the place of polling and whose name is marked off on a certified list of electors. Ordinary votes may be cast on, or in certain circumstances, before election day. These votes are counted on election day after the close of voting.


Polling Official

There are two categories of polling officials, those who are required to work in the period before election day to assist with mobile and early voting, and those who are required to work in a polling place on election day only.

Polling Place

A place appointed to take the votes of electors on election day.

Postal Vote Certificate

The AEC uses this term to describe the declaration vote envelope specific to postal voting on which the elector declares their entitlement to vote.

Preferential voting (full and optional)

A system of voting in which the voter completes the ballot paper by putting the number '1' in the box next to the candidate who is their first choice, the number '2' in the box next to their second choice, and so on until every box is numbered. This is called Full Preferential Voting and is the method used in the House of Representatives.

Preferential voting systems can also operate with further rules/minimum thresholds. This is the method of voting in a Senate election, where the voter completes the ballot paper above the line by putting the number '1' in the box next to the group of candidates who is their first choice, the number '2' in the box next to their second choice, and so on up to at least 6. Below the line voting is for individual candidates and the voter must preference at least 12 candidates. The voter can indicate further preferences both above the line and below the line if they so wish.

Proportional Representation

The term used that describes a group of electoral systems used to elect candidates in multi-member electorates. In such systems parties, groups and independent candidates are elected to the parliament in proportion to their support in the electorate.

Provisional votes

Are votes cast at a polling place where the elector's name cannot be found on the roll, or where the elector's name has been marked off the roll as having voted, or where the elector has silent enrolment, or where, after questioning, the elector has failed to satisfy the OIC that they are a particular person on the certified list.



To be elected to the Senate, a candidate needs to gain a quota or proportion of votes. The quota is determined by dividing the total number of formal ballot papers in the state or territory by one more than the number of Senators to be elected and adding 'one' to the result.



A vote to consider a proposal to alter the Australian Constitution. The Constitution can only be altered by a 'double majority' – a national majority of electors from all states and a majority of electors in a majority of states passing the proposed amendments.

Referendum Act

Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984

Registered officer

A person nominated by a registered political party to be the registered officer for the purposes of the Act.

Registered political party

A party registered with the AEC under Part XI of the Act.



People appointed by candidates to be their representatives at polling places, or at any place at which the scrutiny of votes is being conducted. Scrutineers have the right to be present when the ballot boxes are sealed and opened and when the votes are sorted and counted so that they may check any possible irregularities, but they may not touch any ballot paper.


The counting of votes, which leads to the election result.

Silent elector

An elector who has applied to have their address not appear on the roll for reasons of personal safety or safety of their family members.

Surplus Votes

The number of votes in excess of the quota required to be elected in Senate elections.


Transfer Value

A fractional number between 0 and 1 that is calculated and applied as part of the Senate voting system.


These figures show where preferences have been distributed to the likely final two candidates in a House of Representatives election.


These figures indicate results where preferences have been distributed to the major sides of politics – the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal and National Party Coalition. In most cases two-candidate-preferred and two-party-preferred are the same because the final two candidates are ALP and the Liberal and National Party Coalition. In an electorate held by an independent or another party, the counts will differ.


'Vote saving' provisions

'Vote saving' provisions at sections 268A and s269 of the Electoral Act allow some Senate votes that have not been marked in accordance with voting instructions in section 239 of the Electoral Act to still be included in the count.



In an election context, a writ is a document which commands an electoral officer to hold an election and contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, the day of the election and the return of the writ. The issue of the writ triggers the election process.