1996 Election Report: Polling Arrangements

Updated: 4 December 2007

Polling Arrangements

Preparations for an election are an ongoing function of the AEC. At the conclusion of one election the AEC reviews the conduct of that event and begins planning and preparing for the next.

Once an election is called a large number of tasks need to be completed in the five weeks leading up to and including polling day. Many of these tasks are dependent on the successful completion of key stages of the election timetable, for example, close of rolls and nominations, and all are time-critical.


The AEC is a service organisation, dedicated to helping eligible Australians fulfil their legal obligation to vote and enabling them to do so with a minimum of fuss and delay. Training of polling officials plays a significant role in this process.

At the announcement of an election DROs have responsibility for recruiting and training polling officials. This is to ensure that voting at polling places runs smoothly and the conduct of the scrutiny (the counting of votes) is carried out quickly and professionally in accordance with the legal requirements of the CEA.

The AEC has developed a comprehensive training package for polling officials which includes videos, workbooks and practical exercises. Some polling officials are also required to attend face to face presentations conducted by the DRO.

At the 1996 election:

  • 31 000 polling officials attended face to face training
  • 35 450 training videos were produced
  • 185 210 workbooks were printed.

Polling places were staffed by the following:

  • an Officer in Charge (OIC)
  • a Second in Charge (2IC) at large polling places
  • a declaration vote issuing officer
  • ordinary vote issuing officers
  • a queue controller.

In the lead-up to the election and on polling day some 60 000 casual staff were employed by the AEC around Australia.

Not all voters are able to attend a polling place on polling day. To enable every eligible voter to cast a vote the AEC provides a number of alternative arrangements.

Pre-poll and postal voting

Electors unable to get to a polling place on polling day are able to cast a vote before that day at a pre-poll voting centre or by post.

For this election pre-poll voting centres were set up:

  • in all capital cities
  • in major regional centres in each electoral division
  • in remote areas of Australia (e.g. Broome, Jabiru, Goondiwindi, Antarctica)
  • at airports around the country for Australians travelling interstate or overseas
  • at Island resorts (e.g. the Whitsundays and Great Keppel Island)
  • for defence personnel (e.g. at HMAS Stirling).

Electors who have difficulty getting to a polling place on polling day can register as a General Postal Voter (GPV). GPVs include people with a disability, silent electors, prisoners, those in remote areas, and people who have religious objections to attending a polling place on polling day. As soon as the DRO receives the ballot papers for an election, GPVs are sent postal ballot papers and certificate envelopes.

The navy patrol boat HMAS Wollongong berthed briefly at the Cocos Islands in the week leading up to the election to enable 20 sailors on board to cast a pre-poll votes


Australians living or travelling overseas are able to cast a vote at Australian embassies, consulates and high commissions or they can vote by post.

At the 1996 federal election:

  • there were 99 overseas posts at which Australians could vote
  • some 3.3 tonnes of equipment was air-freighted between 13 and 15 February 1996 to supply these posts with election related materials
  • training materials were provided to assist staff at overseas posts to conduct polling including a training video and supplementary Consular Instructions
  • a total of 46 307 votes were cast overseas
  • the most votes, 13 926, were cast in London
  • the least votes, 6, were cast in Caracas (Venezuela) and Fukuoka City (Japan)
  • a full list of votes cast overseas is found at Appendix B.

An increase in the number of votes was anticipated in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, two of the largest overseas posts. As a result, an AEC officer was sent to London, Manchester and Hong Kong to assist with polling.

List of overseas posts and votes cast
Almaty Kazakstan 20 Madrid Spain 114
Amman Jordan 72 Malta Malta 195
Ankara Turkey 41 Manchester UK 354
Apia Western Samoa 121 Manila Philippines 664
Athens Greece 470 Mexico City Mexico 52
Atlanta USA 106 Milan Italy 69
Auckland New Zealand 1 036 Moscow Russian Federation 91
Bali Indonesia 179 Nagoya Japan 0
Bandar Seri Begawan Darussalam 119 Nairobi Kenya 85
Bangkok Thailand 724 Nauru Nauru 50
Beijing China 300 New Delhi India 270
Beirut Labanon 271 New York USA 675
Belgrade Yugoslavia 69 Nicosia Cyprus 483
Berlin Germany 86 Noumea New Caledonia 73
Berne Switzerland 99 Nuku'alofa Tonga 69
Bombay India 139 Osaka Japan 146
Bonn Germany 195 Ottawa Canada 166
Brasilia Brazil 17 Paris France 404
Bridgetown Barbados 11 Phnom Pehn Cambodia 307
Brussels Belgium 116 Pohnpei Micronesia 25
Budapest Hungary 115 Port Louis Mauritius 69
Buenos Aires Argentina 65 Port Moresby Papua New Guinea 853
Butterworth Malaysia 205 Port Vila Vanuatu 103
Cairo Egypt 136 Pretoria South Africa 187
Caracas Venezuela 6 Rangoon Burma 70
Colombo Sri Lanka 154 Riyadh Saudi Arabia 205
Copenhagen Denmark 97 Rome Italy 304
Damascus Syria 23 San Francisco USA 319
Dahka Bangladesh 62 Santiago Chile 321
Dubai United Arab Emirates 93 Sao Paulo Brazil 0
Dublin Ireland 255 Sendai Japan 0
Frankfurt Germany 84 Seoul Korea 140
Fukuoka City Japan 6 Shanghai China 200
Geneva Switzerland 133 Singapore Singapore 2 036
Guangzhou China 134 Stockholm Sweden 117
Hanoi Vietnam 254 Suva Fiji 452
Harare Zimbabwe 163 Taipei Taiwan 336
Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam 1 228 Tarawa Kiribati 23
Hong Kong Hong Kong 7 661 Tehran Iran 18
Honiara Solomon Islands 204 Tel Aviv Israel 241
Honolulu USA 131 The Hague Netherlands 214
Houston USA 139 Tokyo Japan 862
Islamabad Pakistan 89 Toronto Canada 289
Istanbul Turkey 46 Vancouver Canada 429
Jakarta Indonesia 931 Vienna Austria 182
Kathmandu Nepal 99 Vientiane Laos 128
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia 1 121 Warsaw Poland 120
Lagos Nigeria 7 Washington DC USA 827
London UK 13 926 Wellington New Zealand 810
Los Angeles USA 402 TOTAL   46 307

Mobile polling

Mobile polling teams bring the polling place to the elector. Mobile polling is carried out around Australia during the 12 days before polling day and on polling day.

Hospitals and nursing homes

  • mobile polling teams visit electors who are patients in hospitals and nursing homes to take them a ballot box, ballot papers, and anything else necessary to enable them to vote.


  • prisoners serving a sentence of five years or less are entitled to enrol and vote
  • prisoners can vote by post or, if visited at the prison, by a mobile polling team.

Remote mobile polling

  • Mobile polling teams visit remote locations by air, sea or road in the 12 days leading up to and including polling day. Remote locations include Aboriginal communities and their outstations, pastoral properties, small towns, tourist resorts and mine sites with a minimum enrolment of 8 to 10 people.
  • In accordance with AEC policy, local Aboriginal people are recruited to identify, interpret for and assist voters at each remote mobile polling location. The majority of these assistants are Aboriginal people trained under the AEC's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Electoral Information Service (ATSIEIS) program.

Apart from cars, mobile polling teams used a variety of transport to bring the polling place to the elector:

  • 21 4WD vehicles
  • 31 light aircraft
  • 6 helicopters and
  • a boat.

At the 1996 election teams visited locations in the following divisions: the Northern Territory; Kalgoorlie in Western Australia; Grey and Wakefield in South Australia; Mallee in Victoria; Leichhardt in Queensland and Parkes in New South Wales.

In the Northern Territory:

  • polling was deferred until after polling day in 10 remote polling places due to extreme wet weather conditions
  • voter turnout for remote mobile polling increased from 11 369 (at the 1993 election) to 12 348 at the 1996 federal election
  • mobile polling teams visited 200 remote locations over 8 days using 4WD vehicles, light aircraft and helicopters.

In Western Australia:

  • remote polling was only conducted in the division of Kalgoorlie which is 2 265 050 square kilometres
  • because of the size of the division, Kalgoorlie is split into two sub-divisions, Dampier and Kalgoorlie
  • remote polling was organised from AEC offices in Karratha and Kalgoorlie
  • 13 teams visited 54 locations in the 12 days before polling day
  • one mobile polling team travelled by light aircraft and covered 6 370 kilometres. The team travelled from Kalgoorlie, north to the Warburton Ranges, then west to the Northern Highway, returning south via Laverton. The team visited 17 communities over 10 days. A television news team from Japan, NHK, filmed this team at work.

In Queensland:

  • mobile polling was conducted for the first time in the Torres Strait. A total of 14 Torres Strait Islands were visited by mobile teams using two helicopters and a boat.

In New South Wales:

  • creeping flood waters from the Darling River created wet, rough and dangerous conditions for remote mobile polling teams. Despite the flood waters two teams managed to travel almost 3 000 kilometres over a seven day period to visit all 38 of the planned localities netting 74 ordinary votes and 15 declaration votes. Two other teams stationed at Coombah and Mount Hope took 29 ordinary votes and 3 declaration votes.

Antarctic voting

Being stationed at one of the most remote locations in the world did not prevent electors at Australia's three permanent research bases in the Antarctic, Mawson, Casey, and Davis, and on Macquarie Island, from voting.

At this election there were 228 eligible Australian voters living in the Antarctic.

Ballot papers were faxed to Antarctica from the AEC's Hobart office. At each base an Antarctic Returning Officer (ARO) was appointed from the staff and a polling place was set up on polling day. Voting facilities were also provided to two Antarctic supply ships, Aurora Australis and Polar Bird.

After the close of polls each ARO telephoned the votes through to the AEO for Tasmania. The ARO provided details of how each elector voted. The AEO for Tasmania recorded the voting details onto normal ballot papers and despatched them to the electors' home divisions. The originals filled out by Antarctic electors were packaged up and returned to Hobart on the first available supply ship.

At this election 217 votes were recorded in the Antarctic (compared with 104 in 1993).

Voting is not compulsory for Antarctic electors because the secrecy of the vote cannot be assured due to the process used to transmit the results.

Number of ordinary polling places 7865
Number of mobile teams who visited special hospitals 475
Number of locations visited 2124
Number of mobile teams who visited remote outback locations 46
Number of locations visited 346
Number of mobile teams who visited prisons 22
Number of locations visited 42
Number of pre-poll voting centres 330
Number of overseas polling places 99

Polling equipment

Since 1987 the AEC has used cardboard polling equipment (ballot boxes, voting screens etc.) manufactured from recycled materials to furnish each polling place. This amounts to almost 200 000 separate pieces of equipment consuming approximately 450 tonnes of cardboard. All equipment is recycled after polling day.

The AEC engaged a new contractor for the production of the cardboard equipment for the 1996 federal election saving $0.5m.

Cardboard equipment
Ballot boxes (large) 18 100
(small) 18 600
Voting screens (large) 120 000
(tabletop) 16 000
Queue equipment 9 050
Litter bins 11 700
Tables 4 830