Scrutineers Handbook: During the polling

Updated: 1 June 2018

The Act

  • Part XV, 'Postal Voting'
  • Part XVA, 'Pre-poll voting'
  • Part XVI, 'The polling'
  • Part XXI, 'Electoral offences'

The Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984

  • Part III, 'Voting at a referendum'
  • Part IV, 'Postal Voting'
  • Part IVA, 'Pre-poll Voting'

In this chapter, you will find a description of what you are entitled to do during the polling on election day, and a summary of what you and others cannot do under the law. A full list of offences under the law, and the penalties these incur, is at Appendix 1.

The permissible behaviour of party workers and others who are likely to be in the vicinity of the polling place, such as photographers or media representatives, is also described.

Note: When a building used as a polling place is situated in enclosed grounds and the officer in charge, with the authority of the DRO, displays a signed notice at each entrance stating that the grounds are part of the polling place, those grounds are considered to be part of the polling place for purposes of an offence under section 340 of the Act.

Rights of scrutineers

As a scrutineer, you have certain rights under the Act, whether you are within the polling place or performing your duties as a scrutineer elsewhere. These rights are outlined below, along with the sections of the Act that specify them.

Coming and going

The Act, s.218(2)

You may enter and leave the polling place at any time during the polling. If you leave, you can be replaced by a relieving scrutineer who has been properly appointed.

Remember, on election day only one scrutineer for each candidate at each issuing point can be present in the polling place at any one time and you must return your Identification Badge if you leave the polling place at any time.

At the sealing of the ballot boxes

The Act, ss.200DP(1), 200DQ, 217(1), 220(a), 220(d) and 227(10)

You have the right to observe the officer in charge sealing the empty ballot box and recording the seal numbers before the poll commences at 8am. You may also observe the sealing of the ballot box at the conclusion of any polling that extends over more than the one location or day.

Note: Section 220(d) of the Act – sealing ballot boxes – does not apply at counting centres.

Questioning of electors

The Act, ss.200DI(1) and 229(1).

You may observe the questioning of electors by the issuing officer. Every person claiming to vote must be asked at least the following three questions:

  1. What is your full name?
  2. Where do you live?
  3. Have you voted before in this election?

If a person is claiming entitlement to apply for an early vote (prior to election day), the issuing officer will also ask the person the additional question below.

Are you entitled to apply for an early vote?


The Act, s.231(2)

You may object to the right of any person to vote. The officer in charge must record all such objections by scrutineers.

Helping voters

The Act, ss.234 and 234A

You may assist any voter if they ask you. You may observe and accompany the officer in charge when they are requested to assist a voter who is blind or has low vision, has low literacy skills or is otherwise incapable of marking the ballot paper without assistance. These voters may however, appoint another person to enter the voting booth with them to mark, fold and deposit the ballot paper in the ballot box. In this case, neither the officer in charge nor the scrutineer accompanies the voter into the voting booth.

You may also be present during the issuing of votes outside the polling place to any voter who has satisfied the officer in charge that they are unable to enter the polling place itself due to physical incapacity.

What about other situations?

The Act, s.200DA(1)

You have the right to be present during the polling at an early voting centre.

The Act, s.227

Mobile polling teams conduct mobile polling at any time on any of the twelve days preceding polling day, on polling day or on a day to which polling is adjourned.

You have the right to be present during the conduct of mobile polling at locations including, but not limited to hospitals, prisons and remote areas. In hospitals that are polling places, polling officials take the ballot boxes and necessary voting equipment to patients during polling hours on election day. Mobile polling teams may carry how-to-vote material, but not openly display it. They must advise voters that the material is available and may distribute it at the request of a voter.

You have the right to be present during the conduct of mobile polling in prisons in accordance with arrangements made with prison authorities.

You have the right to be present during the conduct of mobile polling in remote areas. However, you must arrange your own transport.

Offences by scrutineers

The Act and the Criminal Code are specific about what constitutes an offence by a scrutineer. See Appendix 1 for more information. Penalties can involve a fine or imprisonment or both. This section summarises the various types of offences you need to be aware of as you perform your role as scrutineer.

If you are in any doubt about what constitutes an offence, you should seek independent legal advice.

Scrutineers must not use any image-recording device (including cameras, video recorders and camera or video-enabled mobile phones) to record images of ballot papers or declaration envelopes, or any other images that might identify an elector and how they have voted, in a polling place or counting centre.

Behaviour in the polling place

The Act, ss.348 and 218

A scrutineer must not interfere with a voter, or attempt to influence any voter within the polling place. You must limit any communication you have with a voter to what is necessary for you to discharge your function as a scrutineer.

If the officer in charge considers you have committed a breach, or that you are guilty of misconduct, they may request that you be removed from the polling place by the police or by another authorised person. You may also be removed if you fail to obey the lawful directions of the officer in charge.

You must not disclose to anyone else any knowledge you may acquire as a scrutineer about how an elector has voted.

You must not exhibit or leave in the polling place any printed material – card or paper – that directs, instructs or is intended to influence an elector on how to vote.

You must not wear or display a badge or emblem of a candidate or political party in the polling place, s341, the Act.

Other offences on election day

Scrutineers, party workers and other supporters of a candidate should also be aware of various other acts and omissions that constitute an offence on election day.

The Act, Part XXI

In summary, these offences include:

  • knowingly making a false or misleading statement about an elector's enrolment to them on election day,
  • marking a vote or making any other mark on any other person's ballot paper without authority,
  • impersonating someone with the intention of securing a ballot paper to which the impersonator is not entitled,
  • impersonating someone with the intention of voting in their name,
  • fraudulently doing anything that results in a nomination paper or ballot paper being defaced or destroyed,
  • fraudulently putting any ballot paper or other paper into the ballot box,
  • fraudulently taking any ballot paper out of any polling place or counting centre,
  • supplying ballot papers without authority, and
  • interfering with or doing anything that results in the unlawful destruction, taking, or opening of the ballot boxes or ballot papers.

Other offences include:

  • voting more than once in the same election, and
  • defacing, mutilating, destroying or removing any kind of material displayed by or under the authority of the DRO.

Party workers, other than those appointed as scrutineers, may only enter the polling place once – to record their own vote. There is only one exception: when an elector who is blind, has low vision, is physically incapacitated, or has low literacy skills, nominates a party worker to help them vote.

The six metre limit

The Act, s.340

Special prohibitions apply to the area within six metres of the entrance to a polling place (in the case of mobile polling locations, these provisions apply not only on polling day, but any of the twelve days preceding polling day or a day to which the polling is adjourned).

Party workers and supporters must not:

  • canvass for votes
  • solicit votes
  • induce any elector not to vote for any particular candidate
  • induce any elector not to vote at the election
  • exhibit any notice or sign (other than an official notice) relating to the election.

Prohibitions also apply to any of these acts that are broadcast by electronic equipment and are clearly audible within six metres of the entrance to a polling place.

The general prohibition on canvassing within six metres of an entrance to a polling place means that party workers and supporters who are distributing how-to-vote cards and other non-AEC notices can only hand out or display this material outside the six metre limit.

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