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

Updated: 4 December 2007

Polling Arrangements

The AEC undertakes constant election preparation so that it is ready to conduct a federal election whenever it is announced. At the conclusion of one election the AEC reviews the conduct of that event and begins planning and preparing for the next.

There are however a large number of tasks that could only be commenced once the election was announced and had to be completed before polling day. These tasks involved organising a large quantity of materials, infrastructure and people all around Australia and overseas.

Printing of ballot papers

The AEC commenced printing the House of Representatives and the Senate ballot papers on the Friday night following the draws for ballot paper positions.

For the 1998 federal election:

  • approximately 38.5 million ballot papers were printed
  • the ballot papers were printed at 14 sites around Australia.

The AEC was required to account for every ballot paper from the time the papers were printed until they were no longer required. Strict security surrounded the printing, handling and storage of ballot papers to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.

Camera ready artwork of the ballot papers was produced directly from the AEC's computerised nominations system. The House of Representatives ballot papers were produced in a numbered cheque-book style pad which enabled easier handling and enhanced accountability.

In the week beginning 13 September 1998, ballot papers were distributed to the 148 AEC Divisional Offices around Australia. On receipt of the ballot papers, the DROs counted them and securely stored the majority in readiness for polling day. A number of the ballot papers were to be used before polling day for conducting pre-poll and postal voting.

The AEC also distributed some 179 000 House of Representatives and some 93 000 Senate ballot papers to 99 Australian embassies, high commissions and consulates, to enable Australians overseas at the time of the election to vote.

The total number of ballot papers printed for each State and Territory is as follows:

Number of ballot papers printed
State/Territory Senate House of Representatives Statehood Referendum
NSW 5 461 800 8 177 280 -
VIC 4 100 000 4 500 000 -
QLD 3 000 000 4 000 000 -
WA 1 603 000 2 130 000 -
SA 1 441 400 1 957 590 -
TAS 472 000 542 000 -
ACT 312 275 293 340 -
NT 185 000 160 000 160 000
TOTAL 16 575 475 21 760 210 160 000


The AEC required a large number of trained staff, both AEC permanent staff and casuals employed for a particular election, to assist eligible Australians to cast their vote.

At the announcement of the election each DRO had the responsibility for recruiting and training the polling officials required for their Division. These officials were employed at polling places to ensure that the voting and the scrutiny (the counting of votes) was carried out efficiently and professionally in accordance with the Act.

Over the conduct of numerous elections the AEC has developed and fine tuned a training package for polling officials which includes videos, manuals and practical exercises. Some polling officials were also required to attend presentations conducted by the DRO or other AEC staff. Many election casuals have worked at a number of elections building up valuable experience.

At the 1998 election:

  • over 28 000 polling officials attended training
  • 35 850 copies of training videos were produced
  • over 73 000 manuals were printed.

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

Pre-poll and Postal Voting

As the 1998 election fell during school holidays in all States except Tasmania and on a long weekend in New South Wales, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, it was expected that a significant number of electors would be away from home and not able to vote at their local polling place on polling day.

To enable as many eligible electors as possible to cast a vote the AEC provided a number of alternative arrangements for voting. Electors unable to vote on polling day were able to cast a vote before that day at a pre-poll voting centre or could arrange to vote by post.

Pre-poll voting

For this election a total number of 421 pre-poll voting centres were set up including:

  • 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
  • for defence personnel
  • at special sporting and cultural events

Special sporting and cultural events

At the 1998 federal election, there were a number of sporting and cultural events happening on polling day or over the polling weekend. While the message to electors was to 'vote before you go' the AEC did provide additional resources to cater for the crowds at many of these events. These resources included opening additional polling places for both local and interstate electors in the lead up to and on polling day and increasing staffing levels and other resources at other polling places.

Some of the events where additional resources were provided included:

  • Bathurst car races
  • Phillip Island motorbike races
  • Narla Knockout
  • Landor Race Meeting
  • NSW Snowfields
  • Cape York Council Summit Meeting
  • Narooma International Blues Festival
  • Burnie Show

Despite the timing of the election on a holiday weekend, the extra facilities provided by the AEC assured the turnout remained steady at 95 percent, a slight drop from the 1996 turnout of 96.2 percent.

Postal voting

Electors who had difficulty getting to a polling place were able to apply for a postal vote. Postal vote application forms were available from AEC Offices and Post Offices. The ballot papers were then sent out by the AEC to the elector at their nominated address anywhere within or outside Australia. Electors voting by post had to have their completed ballot papers in the mail to the AEC before polling day and under electoral law, the AEC waited up to 13 days after polling day for postal votes to be received.

Electors with a disability, silent electors, prisoners, those in remote areas, and people who have religious objections to attending a polling place on polling day can apply to become a General Postal Voter. This means that for future federal elections they will be automatically sent out their ballot papers.

Overseas voting

The opportunity for eligible Australians living, working or holidaying overseas to vote in the federal election has become an important and expected part of a federal election.

Australians overseas during the 1998 federal election were able to cast their vote at 99 overseas voting posts in the two weeks leading up to polling day. They had the choice of visiting the nearest Australian embassy, consulate or high commission and voting in person; or could vote by post by arranging for the ballot papers to be sent to them at their overseas address.

The AEC sent the overseas voting posts around 4.8 tonnes of equipment by secure international express courier in two major shipments from early September. The equipment supplied included training information and all materials required to conduct postal and pre-poll voting.

The enhanced AEC Internet web site also greatly improved the election information that Australians could access from anywhere in the world.

At the 1998 federal election:

  • there were 99 overseas posts in 72 countries at which Australians could vote
  • a total of 65 086 votes were issued overseas, this was a significant increase from 47 698 votes issued overseas in 1996
  • the most votes, 20 690, were issued in London
  • a full list of votes issued overseas is shown in the table below.
Votes issued overseas
Location Country Votes Location Country Votes
Almaty Kazakstan 18 Malta Malta 446
Amman Jordan 60 Manchester UK 712
Ankara Turkey 78 Manila Philippines 765
Apia Western Samoa 113 Mexico City Mexico 77
Athens Greece 1 015 Milan Italy 164
Atlanta USA 82 Moscow Russia 119
Auckland New Zealand 1 204 Mumbai India 73
Bali Indonesia 377 Nagoya Japan 77
Bandar Seri Begawan Brunei 166 Nairobi Kenya 81
Bangkok Thailand 927 New Delhi India 232
Beijing China 603 New York USA 1 350
Beirut Lebanon 481 Nicosia Cyprus 148
Belgrade Yugoslavia 111 Noumea New Caledonia 122
Berlin Germany 300 Nuku'alofa Tonga 88
Bonn Germany 397 Osaka Japan 263
Brasilia Brazil 18 Ottawa Canada 274
Bridgetown Barbados 11 Paris France 1 180
Brussels Belgium 180 Phnom Pehn Cambodia 223
Budapest Hungary 202 Pohnpei Micronesia 19
Buenos Aires Argentina 128 Port Louis Mauritius 135
Butterworth Malaysia 66 Port Moresby Papua New Guinea 802
Cairo Egypt 262 Port Vila Vanuatu 104
Cape Town South Africa 119 Pretoria South Africa 125
Caracas Venezuela 13 Rangoon Burma 58
Colombo Sri Lanka 327 Riyadh Saudi Arabia 304
Damascus Syria 72 Rome Italy 686
Dahka Bangladesh 75 San Francisco USA 566
Dubai United Arab Emirates 131 Santiago Chile 301
Dublin Ireland 882 Sao Paulo Brazil 18
Frankfurt Germany 73 Sapporo Japan 18
Fukuoka City Japan 37 Sendai Japan 32
Geneva Switzerland 357 Seoul Korea 178
Guangzhou China 366 Shanghai China 719
Hamburg Germany 17 Singapore Singapore 2 425
Hanoi Vietnam 246 Stockholm Sweden 400
Harare Zimbabwe 128 Suva Fiji 554
Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam 734 Taipei Taiwan 892
Hong Kong Hong Kong 10 680 Tarawa Kiribati 47
Honiara Solomon Islands 129 Tehran Iran 38
Honolulu USA 138 Tel Aviv Israel 185
Islamabad Pakistan 119 The Hague Netherlands 433
Istanbul Turkey 129 Tokyo Japan 924
Jakarta Indonesia 876 Toronto Canada 449
Johannesburg South Africa 39 Vancouver Canada 686
Kathmandu Nepal 51 Vienna Austria 411
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia 959 Vientiane Laos 127
Lagos Nigeria 0 Warsaw Poland 161
London UK 20 690 Washington DC USA 1 173
Los Angeles USA 620 Wellington New Zealand 634
Madrid Spain 273 TOTAL   65 086

Mobile polling

Mobile polling teams brought the polling place to many electors who were not able to get to a polling place themselves. Mobile polling was carried out around Australia during the 12 days before polling day and on polling day.

Hospitals and nursing homes

Mobile polling teams visited selected hospitals and nursing homes to enable patients and residents to cast their votes. The teams provided a personal service by bringing the ballot papers, ballot box and other information to electors who were elderly or unable to leave their beds.

At the 1998 federal election, 2 130 hospitals and nursing homes around Australia were visited by a mobile polling team in the days leading up to and including polling day. A total of 72 125 votes were taken by the 475 teams.


Mobile polling teams also visited a small number of prisons and remand centres to take the votes of prisoners serving a sentence of five years or less who were entitled to vote.

At the 1998 federal election, mobile polling teams visited 13 prisons and remand centres in the days leading up to polling day and issued 690 votes. The majority of eligible electors serving a prison sentence voted by post.

Remote mobile polling

Geographic remoteness was no barrier to helping electors cast their vote in the 1998 federal election. Mobile polling teams visited electors living in remote locations in the 12 days leading up to and including polling day.

The AEC used road, air and sea transport to visit Aboriginal communities and their outstations, pastoral properties, small towns, tourist resorts and mine sites. A number of local Aboriginal people were recruited to identify, interpret for and assist with the special needs of Aboriginal electors at many remote mobile polling locations.

At the 1998 election, 44 mobile polling teams visited 322 remote locations in the Division of Northern Territory, Western Australia (Division of Kalgoorlie), South Australia (Divisions of Grey and Wakefield) and Queensland (Division of Leichhardt).

In the Northern Territory:

  • voter turnout for remote mobile polling increased from 12 348 at the 1996 election to 14 271 at the 1998 federal election
  • 21 mobile polling teams visited 218 remote locations over six days using four-wheel drive vehicles, fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.

In the Western Australia Division of Kalgoorlie:

  • remote polling was conducted in the Division which has an area of 2 300 284 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 53 locations in the 12 days before polling day taking 2 401 votes
  • the teams used planes and four-wheel drive vehicles for transport.

In Queensland:

  • three mobile teams visited 17 remote locations over the five days leading up to polling day
  • the teams took 1 814 votes
  • the transport used included a plane, helicopter and four-wheel drive vehicles
  • the teams advertised their visits through posters, in indigenous newspapers and sent letters to community leaders.

In South Australia:

  • seven teams visited 34 locations using planes, buses and four-wheel drives
  • Davenport Aboriginal Community (Division of Grey) was the first community to vote when the mobile polling booth opened at 9am on 22 September 1998.

Antarctic voting

Working and living in one of the most inhabitable locations in the world did not prevent a group of electors stationed in the Antarctic from voting in the 1998 federal election. A total of 108 eligible electors were living at Australia's Antarctic research bases at Mawson, Casey and Davis and on Macquarie Island and the supply ship Polar Bird during the election.

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 polling could take place at any time once the material was received at the bases. Voting facilities were also provided to Polar Bird.

After the close of polls each ARO phoned the votes through to the AEO for Tasmania. 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.

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. At this election 103 votes were recorded in the Antarctic, compared with 217 in 1996. The drop in numbers was due to the fact that only the wintering staff were at the bases.

Infrastructure Logistics
Number of ordinary polling places 7 775
Number of mobile teams who visited special hospitals
Number of locations visited
2 130
Number of mobile teams who visited remote outback locations
Number of locations visited
Number of mobile teams who visited prisons
Number of locations visited
Number of pre-poll voting centres 421
Number of overseas polling places 99

Voting Equipment

A large amount of cardboard equipment and paper materials need to be produced for each federal election. Whenever possible for over a decade, the AEC has used cardboard and paper equipment manufactured from recycled materials and that are recyclable.

At the 1998 federal election, over 200 000 separate pieces of equipment requiring approximately 450 tonnes of cardboard were produced.

This cardboard equipment included:
Ballot boxes 28 000
Voting screens 130 000
Queuing signs 10 000
Litter bins 12 000
Tables 5 000
Paper materials:
 Postal vote envelopes
 Declaration vote envelopes

600 000
2 000 000