1999 Referendum Report and Statistics - Voting

Updated: 19 January 2011

Voting in the 1999 referendum was compulsory for all electors listed on the Commonwealth electoral roll at the close of rolls.

Types of votes

While the majority of electors vote at their local polling place on polling day, there are always a number of electors who have a valid reason why they can not vote in this usual way. As voting is compulsory at federal elections and referendums, the AEC offers electors a number of options to cast their vote.

Ordinary vote

An ordinary vote is a vote cast on polling day in a polling place in the elector's home division. This is the simplest way to vote and the method used by the majority of electors.

Declaration votes

Declaration votes include absent votes, provisional votes, postal votes and pre-poll votes.

  • absent vote: a vote cast by an elector out of their home division but still within their home State or Territory on polling day.
  • postal vote: a vote cast by post by an elector who for a valid reason is unable to attend a polling place on polling day.
  • pre-poll vote: a vote cast by an elector before polling day at a special pre-poll voting centre or divisional office. This type of vote is cast by an elector who for a valid reason is unable to attend a polling place on polling day.
  • provisional vote: a vote cast if an elector's name cannot be found on the roll or the name has already been marked off the roll. The vote cannot be counted until a careful check of enrolment records and entitlements is made.

An elector making an absent, postal, pre-poll or provisional vote has to complete a declaration giving their personal details. These details are checked by the DRO before the vote can be admitted to the count (the scrutiny).

At the 1999 referendum, Australian electors chose to cast their vote in the following way:

bar graph of votes showing that 83.82% of votes were ordinary votes, 7.09% were absent votes, 3.16% were postal votes, 5.38% were pre-poll votes and 0.55% were provisional votes

  • National and State and Territory summary of the votes counted by vote type and divisional breakdowns for the republic question.
  • National and State and Territory summary of the votes counted by vote type and divisional breakdowns for the preamble question.

Voting before polling day

Electors unable to vote at their local polling place on referendum polling day were able to cast a vote beforehand at a pre-poll voting centre or could arrange to vote by post.

Pre-poll voting

For the 1999 referendum a total of 286 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, Goondiwindi)
  • at selected airports for Australians travelling interstate or overseas
  • at various locations for defence personnel.

A select number of the pre-poll centres and all AEC offices stayed open on polling day to take the votes of electors who were interstate.

A total of 658 817 pre-poll votes were received for the 1999 referendum. Details of pre-poll votes counted in each State and Territory and divisional breakdowns for the republic question and for the preamble question are provided in the statistics section of this report.

Postal voting

Electors who had difficulty getting to a polling place on polling day were able to apply for a postal vote.

Postal vote application forms were available from AEC offices, post offices and the AEC website. The ballot papers were then sent out by the AEC to the elector's nominated address. Electors voting by post had to have their completed ballot papers in the mail to the AEC before polling day. As required by the Referendum Act, the AEC waited up to 13 days after polling day for postal votes to be received.

The Automated Postal Vote Issuing System was used for the first time at the 1999 referendum. A total of 396 804 postal votes were received at the 1999 referendum. The national and State and Territory summary and divisional breakdowns of postal votes counted for the republic question and for the preamble question are provided in the statistics section of this report.

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 (GPV). This means that for all future federal elections and referendums they will be automatically sent their ballot papers.

Mobile polling

Where voter numbers and circumstances allowed, the AEC sent out mobile polling teams so the polling place could be brought to many electors who were physically or geographically unable to get to a polling place themselves.

Hospitals and nursing homes

Mobile polling teams visited selected hospitals and nursing homes to enable patients and residents to cast their vote. 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 1999 referendum, 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 78 600 votes were taken by the 462 teams.


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

At the 1999 referendum, mobile polling teams visited 13 prisons and remand centres in the days leading up to polling day and issued 1 060 votes. The majority of eligible electors serving a prison sentence vote by post.


Geographic isolation was no barrier to ensuring that electors living in remote locations had the opportunity to cast their vote in the 1999 referendum. 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 and Torres Strait Islander communities and outstations, pastoral properties, small towns, tourist resorts and mine sites in remote locations. A total of 29 Community Electoral Information Officers were employed over a month to visit Aboriginal communities and organisations to inform electors about the referendum process including the times and dates of remote mobile polling.

At the 1999 referendum, 47 mobile polling teams took a total of 17 908 votes in 328 remote locations in the Divisions of Northern Territory, Kalgoorlie, Leichhardt, Grey and Wakefield.

In the Northern Territory Division:

  • 21 teams visited 221 locations in the lead up to polling day taking 12 080 votes
  • the teams used four-wheel drive vehicles, and a series of different aircraft for transport.

In the Western Australian Division of Kalgoorlie:

  • Kalgoorlie is split into two sub-divisions, Dampier and Kalgoorlie, because of the size of the division
  • a total of 2 055 votes was recorded, with 1 502 taken in Dampier and 553 taken in Kalgoorlie
  • 16 teams visited 52 locations in the 12 days before polling day
  • the teams used planes and four-wheel drives for transport.

In the Queensland Division of Leichhardt:

  • three mobile teams visited 17 remote locations in the Torres Strait over five days recording 1 859 votes
  • the teams used a plane, helicopter, four-wheel drive vehicles and motor boat to travel to the remote electors.

In the South Australian Divisions of Wakefield and Grey:

  • seven teams visited 38 locations in the mid and far north of South Australia taking 1 914 votes
  • the teams utilised planes, four-wheel drives and helicopters to travel.

Overseas voting

To cater for eligible Australian electors who were living, working or holidaying overseas during the referendum period, voting facilities were established at 99 Australian embassies and consulates in 72 countries.

Australians overseas during the 1999 referendum had the choice of either 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 their overseas address.

The AEC sent the overseas voting posts 4 279 kilograms of equipment by secure international express courier in a major shipment in late September. The equipment included training information and all materials required to conduct postal and pre-poll voting.

Voting commenced at the overseas posts on Monday 4 October 1999 and was required to conclude when the poll closed in the last time zone in Australia. Following the conclusion of voting, the overseas posts sent the votes back to the Overseas Postal Voting Centre in Canberra which sorted and dispatched the votes to the appropriate divisional offices.

The AEC website provided detailed referendum information to Australians located all around the world. E-mails over the internet were also used to keep the overseas voting posts continually up-to-date with referendum information.

At the 1999 referendum:

  • there were 99 overseas posts in 72 countries at which Australians could vote
  • a total of 53 874 votes were issued overseas
  • the most votes, 21 137, were issued in London
  • a full list of votes issued overseas is found at Appendix A.

Antarctic voting

Working and living in one of the most inhospitable and isolated locations in the world did not prevent the 105 registered Australian electors stationed in the Antarctic from having the opportunity to vote in the 1999 referendum.

Ballot papers were faxed to the Antarctic research bases at Mawson, Casey, Davis and Macquarie Island from the AEC's Hobart office. At each base an Antarctic Returning Officer (ARO) was appointed from the staff and polling took place at each base on a single day chosen by the ARO.

After the close of polls each ARO phoned the votes through to the AEO for Tasmania, who recorded the voting details onto normal ballot papers and despatched them to the electors' home divisions. The original ballot papers 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 the 1999 referendum 87 votes were recorded from registered Antarctic voters stationed at the bases.

An additional 69 summer expeditioners, who were travelling to Antarctica on the supply ship Aurora Australis, were given the opportunity to pre-poll vote on 4 October 1999 before they left Hobart. This group included biologists, geologists and tradesmen who would spend most of the summer in the Antarctic.

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