1999 Referendum Report and Statistics

Updated: 24 January 2011

Polling Arrangements

For the 1999 referendum, the AEC was responsible for providing voting facilities to enable all Australian electors to cast their vote on the proposed constitutional changes. These arrangements involved organising a large quantity of materials, infrastructure and people all around Australia and overseas.

Printing of ballot papers

The two proposed constitutional changes at the 1999 referendum were printed on separate ballot papers. Each AEC head office was responsible for printing the two different ballot papers required in their State or Territory. Printing commenced on 6 September 1999 at seven different sites around Australia and was completed by 19 September 1999.

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 referendum process.

In the week beginning 13 October 1999, ballot papers were distributed to the 148 AEC divisional offices around Australia. On receipt of the ballot papers, the DROs counted and securely stored them in readiness for polling day. A number of the ballot papers were to be used before polling day to conduct pre-poll, postal and mobile voting.

The AEC also distributed some 130 000 ballot papers to 99 overseas voting posts to enable Australians overseas during the 1999 referendum to vote.

For the 1999 referendum over 32 million ballot papers were printed, with the state and territory breakdown listed below:

Number of ballot papers printed in each state and territory for each referendum ballot
State/Territory Republic question Preamble question
NSW 5 160 000 5 160 000
VIC 4 000 000 4 000 000
QLD 3 204 500 3 204 500
WA 1 561 200 1 561 200
SA 1 318 250 1 318 250
TAS 413 000 413 000
ACT 248 500 248 500
NT 170 000 170 000
TOTAL 16 075 450 16 075 450

Automated Postal Voting

For the first time ever, the AEC issued postal votes using an Automated Postal Vote Issuing System (APVIS). This system was developed in response to the continued increase in the number of postal vote applications being received by the AEC at recent federal elections.

At previous electoral events, the issue of postal votes was a time consuming manual job undertaken in each divisional office during the hectic election period. The AEC began several years ago to investigate ways of utilising new and emerging technologies to more efficiently manage this service to electors.

In early 1998 the AEC put out an industry tender for the development of an automated system to personalise postal voting material and to provide insertion and mail lodgement services under the direction of the AEC. In the period leading up to the referendum, the AEC worked closely with the successful company to develop a specific referendum based automated system.

How the automated postal vote issuing system worked

The APVIS commenced when a postal vote application was received in a divisional office. The elector details on each application were checked for correctness and were entered into the APVIS part of the AEC's roll management computer system. A record of the issuing of the postal vote was also made on the computer system.

The APVIS data was extracted from the computer system on a daily basis and electronically forwarded to the printing company. Once that data was verified, the relevant personal elector details and a bar code were printed onto a blank postal vote certificate. The personalised certificate, ballot papers, an instruction leaflet and a reply paid envelope were all automatically inserted into an outer envelope and mailed to the elector. Supervision and quality assurance was carried out by AEC staff, who remained on site whenever AEC work was in progress.

The elector returned the completed postal vote to the divisional office, where it was securely stored until the commencement of the scrutiny. At the preliminary scrutiny, the elector's entitlement to vote was checked against the original application and the electoral roll. Once the elector's eligibility to vote was verified, the postal vote was admitted to the further count.

A total of 424 673 postal votes were issued through the APVIS at the 1999 referendum. The introduction of the system at the 1999 referendum resulted in significant increases in the efficiency of postal vote issue, cost savings and a more effective allocation of AEC resources. An intensive review looking at the design of the automated system and the printing and mailing processes is currently being undertaken and the results will be used to refine the system for the next federal election.

Polling Logistics

Polling places and teams

The infrastructure required to conduct the polling at the 1999 referendum was substantially similar to arrangements made at previous federal elections. The polling arrangements for the 1999 referendum are outlined below:

  • Number of ordinary polling places: 7 716
  • Number of mobile teams who visited special hospitals: 462
  • Number of locations visited: 2 130
  • Number of mobile teams who visited remote outback locations: 47
  • Number of locations visited: 328
  • Number of mobile teams who visited prisons: 13
  • Number of locations visited: 13
  • Number of pre-poll voting centres: 286
  • Number of overseas polling places: 99


A large amount of cardboard equipment was required to conduct the referendum. Wherever possible, the AEC used cardboard and paper equipment manufactured from recycled materials and that were recyclable.

At the 1999 referendum, nearly 200 000 separate pieces of equipment consuming approximately 450 tonnes of cardboard were produced including:

  • 28 000 Ballot boxes
  • 130 000 Voting screens
  • 10 000 Queuing signs
  • 12 000 Litter bins
  • 5 000 Tables


The AEC required a large number of trained staff, both AEC permanent staff and temporary casuals, to provide the services required to enable electors to vote in the referendum.

Each DRO was responsible for recruiting and training the polling officials they needed to conduct the polling and the scrutiny in their division. A national training package including videos, manuals, practical exercises and information sessions was developed to ensure a consistently high standard of service was provided to all Australian electors. Many of the referendum casuals had worked as polling officials over many events and brought with them valuable electoral experience.

In the lead up to the 1999 referendum and on polling day over 60 000 casual staff were employed by the AEC around Australia.

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