Updated: 19 October 2023

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Absent vote

A declaration vote cast at a polling place outside of a voter's electoral division, but still within their state or territory.

Absolute majority

More than half of the formal votes in a House of Representatives election.

The Act

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 is the legislation governing the Commonwealth electoral process. See CEA.

Augmented Electoral Commission

An augmented Electoral Commission is established for each state or territory in which a redistribution is occurring. The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 requires that the augmented Electoral Commission consists of the following people:

  • the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission
  • the third member of the Electoral Commission, and
  • the members of the Redistribution Committee for the state or territory

The augmented Electoral Commission considers any objections to the Redistribution Committee's proposed redistribution and makes the final determination about the boundaries and names of electoral divisions for a state or territory. The augmented Electoral Commission is supported by a small secretariat of staff from the Australian Electoral Commission.

The final report of the augmented Electoral Commission is tabled in Parliament.

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)

The Commonwealth agency responsible for providing Australians with an independent electoral service and enhancing their understanding of, and participation in, the electoral process.

Australian Electoral Officer (AEO)

The AEC's manager in each state and territory. The AEO is the returning officer for the Senate election in their state or territory.



A method of secret voting, normally in a written form.

Ballot box

The sealed container into which an elector places a completed ballot paper.

Ballot paper

A paper used to register a vote. For an election, it will have a list of candidates standing for election. For a referendum it will ask whether the voter approves the proposed alteration.


An election held to fill a single vacancy in the House of Representatives.



A person standing for election to the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Casual vacancy

A vacant seat in the Senate caused by a Senator resigning or dying.

Central Senate Scrutiny (CSS)

The site in each state and territory where all Senate ballot papers are scanned and counted.

Certified list of voters

The official electoral roll used to mark off the names of voters. The list contains the names and addresses of all eligible voters in a division.

Close seat

A seat where the results are tight. On election night, this is where the two-candidate-preferred (TCP) result is between 47 per cent and 53 per cent and more than five per cent of the vote has been counted. After election night and until counting is completed, this is where the TCP result is between 49.5 per cent and 50.5 per cent and more than five per cent of the vote has been counted.

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (CEA).

The legislation governing the Commonwealth electoral process. See CEA.

Compulsory enrolment

If you are 18 years and over and an Australian citizen you are required by law to enrol.

Compulsory voting

Australian citizens 18 years and over are required by law to vote in federal elections.


The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 provides the basic rules for the government of Australia.

Constitutional referendum

A vote by all eligible Australian voters on any proposed changes to the Constitution.

Court of Disputed Returns

The jurisdiction established by the Act to determine disputes and the validity of elections.


Declaration vote

Any vote that requires the voter to sign a declaration instead of being marked off the certified list.

Declaration of poll

A formal statement of the result of an election.


Government on behalf of the people by their elected representatives.

Designated elector

The Electoral Commissioner can declare someone a designated elector if they are reasonably suspected of having voted more than once in the same election. This declaration can be made whether or not the elector has been convicted of a multiple voting offence. A designated elector may only vote by declaration vote, not by ordinary vote.

Distribution of preferences

The process used to determine the winning candidate when no candidate wins an absolute majority of first preference votes.

Dis-endorsed candidate

A candidate who was endorsed by a registered political party at the time of nomination but the party has since publicly stated that they are no longer aligned and they no longer support the candidate. Dis-endorsement does not alter the ballot paper already in use for an election and does not affect a candidate’s ability to be elected. Dis-endorsement of a candidate is beyond the AEC’s responsibilities in conducting an election.


A geographical area of Australia (known as an electoral division or electorate) represented by a member of Parliament elected at a House of Representatives election.

Division Finder

The division finder is an alphabetical listing of all localities within a state or territory. It is used to determine which division any address within a state or territory belongs.

Divisional Returning Officer (DRO)

The AEC officer responsible for maintaining the electoral roll and conducting the election in each division. The DRO is the returning officer for the House of Representatives election in their division.

Donkey vote

A ballot paper marked 1, 2, 3, 4 straight down (or up) a ballot paper.

Double dissolution

Occurs when both the Senate and the House of Representatives are dissolved by the Governor-General. This is the only situation where all House of Representatives and Senate seats are declared vacant at the same time.

Double majority for referendum

To alter the Constitution, a majority of all formal votes cast in a referendum, as well as a majority of votes in a majority of states must be gained to authorise the change to the Constitution.


Early sort of pre-poll ordinary ballot papers

Ballot boxes containing pre-poll ordinary ballot papers can be opened from 4pm on election day. The ballot papers are unfolded and sorted to first preferences and informal, but they are not counted until after the close of polls at 6pm. Scrutineers can observe the early sort but they cannot challenge a ballot paper until after 6pm.


The choosing of representatives by the voters.

Election Results Code

The election results code is a short code allocated to each registered political party. It is primarily for internal use but is also used in some AEC publications, including election results, to assist with brevity.

Electoral Commissioner

The officer who performs the functions of the chief executive officer of the AEC.

Electoral roll

The list of people entitled to vote in an election or referendum.

Electoral Roll Review

A house to house survey conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission in each division to check that electors are correctly enrolled.


See Division.


All those people entitled to vote at an election.


To give a person the right to vote.


You cannot vote at an election unless your name is on the electoral roll. Australian citizens 18 years of age and over (with a few exceptions) must enrol to vote.

Enrolment form

Application form to enrol to vote or to change your address in Federal and State/Territory elections. Enrolment forms are available online or at AEC offices.

Enrolment rate

The enrolment rate (known as the participation rate until December 2014) is calculated by dividing the number of electors on the electoral roll by the estimated eligible population.

Exhausted vote

A ballot paper which shows no further valid preference for any candidate and must be set aside from the count.


Fairly safe seat

A seat where the elected candidate received between 56 per cent and 60 per cent of the vote.

Federal election

A vote by all eligible Australians to elect members of parliament to represent them in the House of Representatives and the Senate.


The unification of Australian Colonies which formed the Australian nation on 1 January 1901.

First past the post

A voting system in which the candidate with the most votes is elected whether or not that person has more than half the votes counted. This system is still used in many countries such as UK, USA, NZ, Canada. It is also used in some local shire or council elections in Australia.

Formal vote

A vote cast in an election or referendum that has been marked according to the rules for that election or referendum and can be counted towards the result. A ballot paper that does not meet the rules for formality is called informal and cannot be counted towards the result.


The right to vote.

Fresh scrutiny

The check and recount of ballot papers after election day by AEC staff.

Funding and Disclosure

The Commonwealth funding and disclosure scheme established under the Act to deal with public funding of federal election campaigns and the disclosure of detailed financial information.


General election

An election for all the seats in the House of Representatives.

General Postal Voter

A voter who is registered to have postal ballot papers sent to them automatically by post.


The drawing of electoral boundaries in a way which gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections.


The political party or coalition of parties which has won a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives forms the government. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are always Members of the House of Representatives.

Group voting ticket (GVT)

A written statement that sets out the order in which a Senate group wants its preferences distributed.

Group voting tickets were abolished prior to the 2016 federal election following legislative change.


Half senate election

Held every three years to elect half the Senators for a State. Unlike State Senators, Territory Senators face re-election at every general election of the House of Representatives.

House of Representatives

One of the two houses of the Commonwealth Parliament. It is the house in which the Australian Government is formed. Previously consisting of 150 members, following a redistribution of electoral boundaries in 2018, from the 2019 election it will consist of 151 representatives selected by the Australian people.

How-to-vote cards

Printed materials offered to voters by party workers at polling places displaying how a party or a candidate would like voters to cast their vote.

Hung parliament

A term used to describe a parliament in which no political party or coalition of parties has a majority in the House of Representatives. The term is becoming more applicable to modern parliaments, as minor parties and independent candidates are increasingly holding the balance of power in minority governments.



Candidates or members of Parliament who do not belong to a registered political party.

Informal vote

A vote cast in an election or referendum that has not been marked according to the rules for that election or referendum and cannot be counted towards the result.

Itinerant elector

A voter with no fixed address.



A term used to describe an electoral system where different electorates have large differences in the number of voters in them.

Marginal seat

A seat where the elected candidate received less than 56 per cent of the vote.


Any person elected to parliament, but more commonly used for those elected to the House of Representatives.

Mobile polling team

A team of polling officials that travels to residential aged care facilities, homelessness services, residential mental health facilities, some prisons, and remote locations to deliver an in-person voting service to voters who are not able to get to a polling place.



Candidates must be nominated before they can be elected to the Senate or House of Representatives. Qualifications for nomination are set out in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Constitution. Nominations can be made once the writ for an election has been issued and before the time and date specified as the close of nominations. For each nomination a financial deposit must be lodged.


Opinion poll

A survey conducted by private organisations between and before elections to get an idea of how people would vote if an election were held.


The major party, or coalition of parties in parliament which has the next highest number of votes.

Ordinary vote

A vote cast on election day at a polling place within the electoral division for which a voter is enrolled.

Overseas elector

An elector who is going overseas for three years or less can apply to be an overseas elector within 3 months before leaving Australia or within 1 year after the day on which they ceased to reside in Australia.



The political assembly in which elected representatives talk about and vote upon proposed laws.

The word 'parliament' comes from 15th century English, and from a French word meaning 'talking place'.

Parliamentary democracy

A system of government where the people exercise their political power by electing representatives to parliament to make laws. Australia is a parliamentary democracy.

Participation rate

The participation rate (known as the enrolment rate from December 2014) is calculated by dividing the number of electors on the electoral roll by the estimated eligible population.


The policies or plans that the candidates and parties say they will carry out if elected.


A ballot of all eligible voters that does not affect the Constitution.

Political party

An organisation representing a group of people with similar ideas or aims. Parties registered with the AEC are eligible to have the party affiliation of their endorsed candidates printed on ballot papers.


Another word for an election.

Polling place

Polling places are set up in each division to take the votes of the local people.

Postal vote

A vote cast by post because the voter cannot attend a polling place in their state or territory.

Preferential voting

A system of voting that requires a voter to indicate their order of preference for each candidate on the ballot paper. Preferences of candidates with the least number of votes are then distributed to other candidates until one has sufficient votes to be elected.

Pre-poll vote

A vote cast at an early voting centre or an AEC divisional office before election day.


The choice by a political party of its candidates for an election.

Proportional representation

An electoral system used in multi-member electorates. Parties, groups and independent candidates are elected to the parliament in proportion to their support in the electorate.

Provisional vote

A vote cast when a voter's name cannot be found on the certified list, the voter's name is already marked off the certified list as having voted, or the voter is registered as a silent elector.


Qualification Checklist

The qualification checklist is a mandatory component of the candidate nomination process. The checklist must be completed by nominating candidates to demonstrate their eligibility to be elected to Parliament under Section 44 of the Constitution. The checklist and any additional documentation provided to the AEC by a nominating candidate in support of their eligibility to stand in Parliament is published on the AEC website as soon as practicable after the declaration of nominations, and remains on the website until 40 days have expired after the return of writs for the relevant general election or by-election.

Quota – Enrolment

The current or projected average divisional enrolment figure for a state or territory.

Quota – Population

The figure used to determine the number of parliamentary representatives to which a state or territory is entitled.

Quota – Senate

The number of votes a Senate candidate needs to receive to be elected.



When ballot papers for the Senate or House of Representatives are returned to the Divisional Returning Officer from all polling places for that division. A fresh scrutiny is conducted to re-check the counting done on election night.


A second or further count of votes in an election.


The redrawing of electoral boundaries to ensure that there is approximately the same number of electors in each division.

Redistribution Committee

A Redistribution Committee is appointed for the state or territory in which a redistribution has commenced.

The Redistribution Committee consists of the Electoral Commissioner, the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) for that state or territory (except for the ACT where the senior Divisional Returning Officer for the territory is a member), the Surveyor-General and the Auditor-General for that state or territory.

The Redistribution Committee is supported by a small secretariat of staff from the Australian Electoral Commission.


The Australian Constitution can only be altered with the approval of a national majority of electors in States and Territories and a majority of electors in a majority of States.


A person elected to parliament to represent the people of a division (House of Representatives) or State (Senate).


The list of voters eligible to vote at an election.

Run (in an election)

To stand as a candidate in an election.


Safe seat

A seat where the elected candidate received more than 60 per cent of the vote.


A person appointed by a candidate to observe the voting and counting of the votes.


The counting of votes which leads to the election result.


Another term for an electorate or division – used because the candidate elected then has a seat in parliament.

Secret ballot

A vote made in secret – first introduced in Victoria in 1856. Sometimes called the 'Australian ballot'.


One of the two houses of the Commonwealth Parliament. It consists of 76 senators, twelve from each of the six states and two from each of the mainland territories. Only half the Senate is elected at each election, except in the case of a double dissolution.

Senate election

An election of Senators for a state or territory.


A person elected by the voters of a State or Territory to represent them in the Senate.

Silent elector

An elector who has applied to have their address not appear on the electoral roll because their safety or that of their family is at risk.


The right to vote at elections i.e. all Australian citizens 18 or over have suffrage.


Votes gained by a Senate candidate which are surplus to the quota required for election.


The difference between a candidate or party's vote at one election in comparison to another.

Swinging voter

An elector who does not have a steady pattern of voting for the same party.


Tally Room formerly Virtual Tally Room

An AEC website that displays official election results.

Transfer Value

In a Senate election a candidate's surplus is transferred at a fraction of its value to the next available candidate.


The number of enrolled electors who voted in the election.

Two-candidate-preferred (TCP) count

The Two Candidate Preferred (TCP) count is a count of votes between two candidates for a House of Representatives seat.

On voting night the TCP is an indicative count between the likely final two candidates.

Once the results are finalised the TCP is shown for the actual final two candidates.

Two-party-preferred (TPP) count

The Two Party Preferred (TPP) is a figure from an informational count for House of Representatives seats, conducted after the full distribution of preferences. It is conducted to show what the result would have been if the final two candidates had been from the ALP and the Liberal/National Party Coalition.


Unapportioned Votes

To provide the most accurate votes to the electorate, AEC procedures require a number of different format counts of senate ballot papers. Unapportioned votes are votes that have been allocated to a party or group by one count but have not yet been allocated to individual candidates within that party or group. As the counting progresses, these votes will be distributed to the individual candidates.



The formal act of an elector in an election to choose the candidate the elector most wants to be the representative for that division. Australia has a secret vote, and enforces compulsory voting.

Voting screen/compartment

A small compartment or cubicle at the polling place where people fill in their voting papers in secret at elections.



A document commanding an electoral officer to hold an election. The writ contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, the election day and the latest day for the return of the writ.