Constitutional Convention Overview

Updated: 15 February 2011


The Constitutional Convention election was publicly announced by the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard on 12 September 1997. The election is for voters to choose 76 delegates to attend the Constitutional Convention. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is conducting the election as a voluntary postal ballot.

Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention is to be held on 2 to 6 February 1998 and 9 to 13 February 1998 to discuss issues relating to whether or not Australia should become a republic. Delegates to the convention will not have the power to decide to change the current system – that decision is up to the Australian people and could only be made at a referendum.

Information will be provided by the Government explaining the key issues involved in the republic debate. This information will be published in major newspapers soon after the mailout of voting materials.

For further information on the Constitutional Convention contact the Convention Secretariat on:
Phone (02) 6271 5571.


Appointed delegates

In addition to the elected delegates, a further 76 delegates to the Constitutional Convention have been appointed by the Federal Government.

Of these 76 appointees, 40 are parliamentary delegates from Federal, State and Territory Parliaments. The remaining 36 non-parliamentary delegates were appointed with the aim of achieving adequate representation from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, local government, young people and women.

Elected Delegates

A total of 76 delegates are to be elected, with the number of delegates to be elected by each State and Territory broadly based on representation in the Federal parliament.


Who can vote?

A person is entitled to vote if their name is on the list of electors which is taken from the Commonwealth electoral roll at close of rolls for this election. The roll closes for this election at 8pm on 7 October 1997.

To enrol a person must be an Australian citizen, aged 18 years or over. British subjects who were on the Commonwealth electoral roll before 26 January 1984 maintain their enrolment and voting entitlements.

People who are 17 may provisionally enrol and will be able to vote if their 18th birthday falls on or before the close of the poll.

Voting in the Constitutional Convention election is voluntary.

Who can nominate as a candidate?

To be eligible to nominate as a candidate in a State or Territory, a person must be:

  • at least 18 years old;
  • an Australian citizen; and
  • entitled to vote in the election in that State or Territory.

A person cannot nominate as a candidate if, at the close of nominations, they:

  • do not meet any of the three eligibility requirements detailed above;
  • are a member of the Northern Territory or Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly;
  • are a member of Federal Parliament or State Parliament; or
  • are an appointed delegate.

It is not possible to nominate until the Minister issues the official notice of the election. A person may only nominate for election as a delegate for one State or Territory. Nominations are to be made to the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) at the AEC's relevant capital city office by the close of nominations at 12noon on 8 October 1997.

Each candidate must pay a non-refundable nomination fee of $500. If nominating as part of a group, the fee is $500 for each candidate in the group. Further information is available in the Candidates' Handbook.

Grouped and ungrouped candidates

Candidates can nominate in the election as a member of a group or as an ungrouped candidate, but not both. Two or more candidates can form a group and a candidate cannot be in more than one group. On the ballot paper, only the first member of a group will have their name printed under the group name.

Voting materials

Mailout of voting materials

A package of voting materials will be sent, by post or other means, to every elector on the list of electors. The material will be sent to the elector’s postal address, or if there is no specified postal address, to their enrolled address.

The package will be individually addressed to each elector and will include the following:

  • a ballot paper;
  • a blue ballot paper envelope;
  • an election booklet containing a list of candidates, candidates identification numbers and candidate statements called Your Guide to the Constitutional Convention Election; and
  • a reply paid envelope addressed to the AEC.

Electors who will not be at their enrolled address during the mailout period should arrange to have their mail forwarded or can contact the AEC to have their voting materials sent directly to them at another address.

Replacement of voting materials

Electors who do not receive their voting materials or have lost or spoilt their ballot paper, can contact the AEC to request a re-issue to their preferred address. Requests can only be made by electors themselves.

Re-issued material sent through the mail will be available until 6pm, 4 December 1997 and re-issues at AEC offices will be available up until the close of polling at 6pm, 9 December 1997.

Draw for positions on the ballot paper

The order in which candidates' names appear on the ballot paper is determined by a random draw. The draw is open to the public and takes place immediately following the declaration of nominations by the AEO for the State or Territory.

Voting system

The delegates will be elected using a Senate-style voting system. A candidate will have to gain a quota, or proportion, of the formal votes to be elected.

On the ballot paper, voters have a choice of voting either above the line or below the line.

Above the line:

To vote above the line, voters simply place the number '1' in one box only. Each box above the line represents either a group of candidates or an ungrouped candidate standing alone.

Preferences will be distributed according to the group or ungrouped candidate's voting ticket lodged with the AEC. Copies of all voting tickets lodged will be displayed at AEC offices.

Below the line:

To vote below the line, voters place the candidate identification number of their first choice candidate in the preference box marked '1st preference', the candidate identification number of their second choice candidate in the preference box marked '2nd preference' and so on.

For most States, the number of preference boxes below the line corresponds with the number of delegates to be chosen in that State. For those States and Territories which are electing less than nine delegates, (SA, TAS, NT and ACT) a minimum of nine preference boxes will be below the line.

A voter must complete at least one of these preference boxes and then may fill in as few or as many of the remaining boxes as they wish. The ballot paper will be counted for as many boxes as have been completed.

Integrity of the voting system

The AEC has put into place measures to ensure the privacy and security of each elector's vote. These measures will detect any attempted multiple voting or attempts to vote in the name of another elector.

Identity check measures:

To ensure the identity of a voter, each blue ballot paper envelope has been pre-printed with the elector's name and address and a unique bar code which will be scanned at the preliminary scrutiny. As a double check of identity at the preliminary scrutiny, voters must sign and write their date of birth on a voter declaration on the blue ballot paper envelope.

Multiple voting check measures:

Voters must sign a declaration, on the blue ballot paper envelope, that they have only voted once in the election.The process of scanning the elector's unique bar code as the envelopes are received will detect any duplicate votes before they are admitted for further scrutiny. If more than one vote has been received in the name of one voter, the returning officer will decide which vote, if any, will be counted.

These measures ensure that only one vote is admitted for each elector and there are penalties for electoral offences which undermine the integrity of the system.


The counting of the votes, or the scrutiny, has two stages in this election, the preliminary scrutiny and the further scrutiny.

Preliminary scrutiny:

This may commence as soon as the ballot paper envelopes are received by the AEC. The outer reply paid envelope is opened and the elector details on the voter declaration are checked and the bar code is scanned to ensure the elector is eligible to vote.

The inner ballot paper envelope containing the ballot paper is put aside unopened until the close of polling.

Further scrutiny:

After the close of polling, the blue ballot paper envelopes are opened and the ballot papers removed. The ballot papers are first sorted into formal and informal, with informal papers set aside. The formal ballot papers marked above the line are then separated from the papers marked below the line. The papers marked above the line are counted in the local Divisional Office and the results transmitted to the AEO.

The ballot papers marked below the line are not counted locally but are forwarded progressively to the central scrutiny in each capital city by a daily secure courier service. The central scrutiny of these votes may be conducted using a computerised system.

Further information on the scrutiny is available in the Scrutineers' Handbook .

How a candidate is elected

A candidate must obtain a proportion, or quota, of the formal votes to be elected. Once the total number of formal first preference votes is known, the AEO will determine the quota and any candidate who receives the quota is declared elected. The process is similar to the Senate system.


The quota is determined by dividing the total number of formal ballot papers by one more than the number of candidates to be elected.

Transferring the surplus

Once a candidate has received a quota, any further votes for them are considered surplus. The surplus votes of the elected candidates are transferred, at a reduced value, to the candidates who were the second choice of the voters.

As a result of the process of transferring the surplus, other candidates may be elected. If all surplus votes from elected candidates are transferred and there are still some unfilled positions, an exclusion of candidates is undertaken.

Exclusion of candidates

Starting with the candidate who received the lowest number of votes, unelected candidates are excluded from the count and their votes are distributed to the remaining candidates to whom the voters have given their preferences. If a candidate gains a quota following the distribution, they are elected. The above process continues until all delegate positions are filled.

Formal and informal votes

Only formal votes are counted and used to determine the quota.

Above the line

A ballot paper marked above the line is formal if, and only if, it has a preference mark in one and only one box above the line.

Below the line

A ballot paper marked below the line is formal if at least one preference box satisfies the following criteria:

  1. the box has a candidate number in it;
  2. no other candidate number is in that box;
  3. the candidate number referred to in (1) is not in any other box;
  4. no box standing higher in the preference order than the box referred to in (1) has two or more candidate numbers marked in it; and
  5. no box standing higher in the prefer ence order than the box referred to in (1) has a candidate number which has been marked in two or more boxes.

If a ballot paper has been marked both above and below the line and each mark is valid, the above the line vote is counted.

Ballot papers that do not satisfy certain criteria are regarded as informal or invalid and are excluded from the count. For example, a ballot paper is informal if:

  • it is only marked either above or below the line and is invalid;
  • is marked both above and below the line and both are invalid;
  • the voter can be identified;
  • the ballot paper is blank; or
  • it does not have the official mark, unless the officer conducting the scrutiny is satisfied that it is authentic.

Results of the election

As soon as practicable after the result of the election has been ascertained, the AEO must declare the result of the election and the names of the candidates elected. The AEO must send a signed notice to the Electoral Commissioner certifying the names of the elected candidates. The Electoral Commissioner must then certify the notice and give a copy to the Minister, and publish the notice in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.

The results of the Constitutional Convention election will be officially notified by the Electoral Commissioner by 6 January 1998.