Behind the Scenes: The AEC's 1998 Federal Election Report: Polling Day

Updated: 9 October 2007

Polling Day

Polling day is always on a Saturday and must be at least 33 days after the issue of the writs. For the 1998 federal election, polling day was Saturday 3 October 1998.

Polling Places

At the 1998 federal election, there were 7 775 polling places operating on polling day. They were set up mainly in schools or community halls with the DRO in each Division having selected premises as part of their election preparations.

As far as practicable, given the limited notice of an election, DROs selected available buildings which had wheelchair access. All polling places were advertised in major newspapers on the Friday before polling day and the places with full wheelchair access and access with assistance were identified. For the first time, the list of polling places at the 1998 federal election was also published on the AEC Internet website. A search engine meant that electors could identify their nearest polling place by typing in their postcode, suburb or town.

Polling places were open between the hours of 8am and 6pm, with most electors likely to vote before lunch. Polling officials were available to assist any elector with any query or information that they required in order to vote.

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.

The doors to the polling places shut at 6pm sharp with electors inside at the time able to complete their vote but no one else was able to enter to vote.

The majority of electors cast an ordinary vote in the 1998 federal election. However as polling day fell during school holidays in all States except Tasmania and also on a long weekend in several places, extra resources were provided at polling places located in popular holiday destinations to cater for absent voters. In addition, in each major capital city there was an interstate polling place available for electors not in their home State or Territory to cast their vote on polling day.

How-To-Vote Cards

Walking towards the entrance of a polling place, electors were offered how-to-vote cards by political party workers and representatives of other candidates. Electors did not have to take the cards and by law these workers had to remain six metres away from the entrance of the polling place.

The how-to-vote cards showed how particular candidates wanted electors to fill in their ballot papers and electors were able to take a card into vote with them. Naturally, electors could choose to ignore the cards if they wished.

Issuing of Ballot Papers

Each elector was asked the following three questions by a polling official before they were issued with their ballot papers:

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

The official then placed a mark next to the elector's name on the certified list, initialled the ballot papers and handed them to the elector.

Each elector was issued with one green ballot paper for the House of Representatives and one white ballot paper for the Senate. Electors in the Northern Territory were also issued with a yellow referendum ballot paper.

Each elector then went alone to a voting screen to mark their ballot papers in privacy. Under the Act the AEC must provide separate voting compartments to ensure the secrecy of the vote. Each voting compartment was provided with a pencil but electors were able to use their own pen if they wished.

The elector then folded their completed ballot papers and placed each ballot paper into a separate ballot box.

The polling place in Australia that issued the most votes in 1998 was in Wodonga in the Division of Indi (Victoria). It issued 7 300 votes on polling day.

Declaration votes

In addition to issuing ordinary votes, at each polling place a declaration vote officer issued absent and provisional votes during the day. Electors casting these type of votes were required to fill in a declaration envelope that they put their completed ballot papers into before they were put into the ballot box.

Scrutineers During Polling

As candidates were not permitted to take part in the actual conduct of an election, they were able to appoint scrutineers as personal representatives to observe both the voting and the counting of votes at every polling place. The rights and responsibilities of scrutineers are outlined in the Act.