Scrutineers Handbook: Voting

Updated: 1 June 2018

The Act

  • Part XV, 'Postal voting'
  • Part XVI, 'The polling'

The Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984

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

For more information on voting procedures, please visit the AEC website or phone the AEC on 13 23 26.

Voting is compulsory in Australian federal elections, by-elections and referendums. The AEC puts a great deal of effort into ensuring every qualified elector has the opportunity to vote. As a scrutineer, you will need to know about the voting process, including the different types of votes that can be cast and the various issues involved in the management of polling during an election. This chapter discusses these matters in depth.

Scrutineers are in a trusted position, so it is particularly important you are aware of your legal obligation to observe the secrecy of the vote. You must also observe the prohibition on recording any aspect of the voting process.

Remember, you must wear an official badge identifying you as a scrutineer at all times when you are in a polling place.

Certified list of voters

Before polling begins, each issuing officer at a polling place is supplied with a copy of the certified list of voters for the division in which the polling place is located. The certified list is used in issuing votes to electors enrolled for that division.

If a voter's name is not found on the certified list, they may cast a provisional vote. Their entitlement to vote in the election will be verified before their ballot paper is added to the scrutiny.

Ballot papers

An elector is issued with a green ballot paper for the House of Representatives election or by-election, and a white ballot paper for the Senate election. Referendum ballot papers are a different colour for each question if the circumstances in subsection 25(3a) of the Referendum Act are met. Otherwise, the questions are printed on one piece of paper.

Any elector who makes a mistake or 'spoils' a ballot paper before it is placed in the ballot box or in the declaration vote envelope may receive a new one when they return the spoilt ballot paper to the issuing officer.


Section 206 of the Act requires polling compartments be equipped with pencils. However, an elector may mark his or her ballot paper with a pen if they so wish.

Methods of voting

As a scrutineer, you will observe electors using various methods to record their votes. You should therefore be aware of the different categories and methods of voting, as the rules differ slightly in the observation of each:

  • ordinary voting
  • declaration voting; including
    • absent votes;
    • provisional votes;
    • interstate votes; and
    • early votes, which can be cast in person or by post.

Ordinary voting

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 a certified list of voters.

Ordinary votes may be cast on, or in certain circumstances before, election day. Most of these votes are counted on election day, after the close of voting.

At the polling place, the elector must answer three questions:

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

If the issuing officer is satisfied with these answers, the elector is entitled to vote and receives a ballot paper for each election. The issuing officer initials the ballot paper and marks the name of the voter off the certified list. Issuing officers may ask other questions to identify particular electors.

The elector must then proceed alone to a voting booth and, in private, for each ballot paper:

  • mark their vote on the ballot paper
  • fold it so the vote is concealed
  • place it in the ballot box and leave the polling place.

Declaration voting

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

A declaration vote can be cast as:

  • an early declaration vote prior to election day either in person or by post
  • an absent vote prior to and on election day
  • a provisional vote prior to or on election day.

Absent voting

The Act, s.222(1) & s.227 (8)(b)(i)

An elector who is away from the division for which they are enrolled but still within the same state or territory may, upon making a declaration, vote via a mobile polling team or, vote on election day at any other polling place in that state or territory.

Interstate voting

Electors who are out of their own state before election day may make an early vote at any divisional office, early voting centre, or via a mobile polling team. Some early voting centres are also open on election day for the casting of interstate votes.

Provisional voting – eligibility

An elector may be issued with a provisional vote if:

  • their name cannot be found on the certified list of voters for the division (the Act, s.235(1)(a)), or
  • their name is on the certified list of voters but their address does not appear on the list (these may be silent electors who for reasons of personal or family safety do not have their address shown) (the Act, s.235(1)(b)), or
  • the officer in charge has asked the person one or more questions under subsection 229(4) about matters shown on the certified list of voters for a particular person to establish whether the person is that particular person and one of the following applies:
    • their answers do not accord with the relevant information shown for that particular person on the list (the Act, s.235(1)(c)(i)),
    • their answers accord with the relevant information shown for that particular person on the list but the officer is not satisfied that the person is that particular person (the Act, s.235(1)(c)(ii)),
    • they refused to answer fully (the Act, s.235(1)(c)(iii)), or
  • their name has been marked on the certified list of voters as having already voted at the polling place (and the voter claims not to have voted before) (the Act, s.235(1)(d)), or
  • the person is provisionally enrolled as a new citizen (the Act, s.235(1)(e)).

Provisional voting – completion and return

The Act, s.235

The following procedures apply to provisional voting:

  • the issuing officer must show the voter a written statement (either as a separate card or on the back of the declaration envelope) explaining provisional voting and the procedures followed.
  • the provisional voter must answer in writing the questions put to any ordinary voter (with the exception that an elector with their address suppressed from the electoral roll is not required to publicly disclose their address).
  • the provisional voter must sign a declaration on an envelope provided for the purpose, in the presence of the issuing officer, who must then sign as witness to the declaration and add the date.
  • on receipt of a ballot paper, the provisional voter casts their vote in the ordinary manner.
  • the provisional voter returns the folded ballot paper to the polling officer, who then places it in the signed and witnessed declaration envelope, seals it and puts it in the ballot box for later dispatch to the DRO.

Early voting

An elector may apply in person for an early vote at an early voting centre or at an AEC divisional office on any of the grounds applicable to postal voting, and cast either a pre-poll declaration or pre-poll ordinary vote. Alternatively, they may apply for a postal vote or cast their vote with a mobile polling team.

Electors who are blind or have low vision will be able to cast a secret vote via special call centre arrangements. Further information for candidates and scrutineers about the locations and hours of operation of call centres will be placed on the AEC website.

Scrutineers have the right to be present during the conduct of early voting.

The Act, ss.231(2) and 200DJ(2)

At the request of a scrutineer, the officer in charge must make a note and keep a record of any objection by the scrutineer to the right of the voter to vote by pre-poll declaration or pre-poll ordinary vote.

On election day some early voting centres become interstate voting centres for electors from interstate.

Postal voting

You may observe the preliminary scrutiny of declaration envelopes (postal vote certificates) containing postal votes and the subsequent scrutiny, including counting of postal votes.

Electors who may be eligible for postal voting include those who will not be in their home state or territory on election day, are seriously ill, infirm or unable to leave work, or for religious reasons are unable to attend a polling place. The conditions for entitlement to a postal vote are given in detail in Appendix 2.

Voting at mobile polling places

Mobile polling provides the opportunity for electors who are unable to go to polling places to vote at an election. Mobile polling services may be delivered at any place where the Electoral Commissioner determines they may be needed, and may commence up to 12 days before polling day, on polling day, or on a day to which polling is adjourned. Once determined, the places, days and times of mobile polling arrangements are published on the AEC website. Mobile polling can take place at locations including, but not limited to hospitals, prisons and remote areas.

Assisted voting

Voting inside the polling place

As a scrutineer, you may assist any voter if they ask you. Assisted voting is available at all polling places including areas visited by mobile polling teams, such as hospitals, prisons and remote areas.

The officer in charge may permit any voter who is blind or has low vision, is physically incapacitated, or has low literacy skills, to be accompanied by a person appointed by the voter so that the person (in accordance with the voter's wishes) can mark, fold and deposit the voter's ballot paper in the ballot box on behalf of the voter.

Where no such person is appointed, the officer in charge may perform this role in the presence of scrutineers or, if no scrutineers are present, in the presence of a polling official or another person appointed by the voter.

The officer in charge at a hospital will inform the elector of their right to be assisted in casting a vote when necessary.

In any situation where a voter requires assistance, the voter may indicate a voting intention to the officer in charge with a written statement, including a how-to-vote card.

Voting outside the polling place

If the officer in charge is satisfied that an elector is unable to enter the polling place because of physical disability, illness, advanced pregnancy or other conditions, they may allow the elector to vote outside in close proximity to the polling place.

The officer in charge must inform any scrutineers at the polling place that an elector will vote outside the polling place and that one scrutineer per candidate is allowed to be present when the elector votes. As a scrutineer, you are entitled to observe the process (though not the marking of the ballot papers, unless the officer in charge is called on by the voter to assist in marking the ballot papers). The voter must mark their ballot papers in the presence of a polling official and then hand them, folded, to the polling official so that their vote is concealed.

The polling official must ensure the folded ballot papers are immediately returned to the polling place and put in the ballot box in the presence of any scrutineers who were present when the elector voted.

If the voter also satisfies the officer in charge that they are unable to vote without assistance, the officer in charge may, with the voter's consent, allow a polling official to mark and fold the ballot papers as the voter indicates. The voter may indicate a voting intention to the officer in charge with a written statement, including a how-to-vote card.

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