When elections are held

A full federal election is conducted approximately once every three years on a date determined by the Governor-General, upon request by the Government. Typically, this involves the election of all House of Representatives members as well as half of the Senate.

As such, at each full federal election you will typically be provided with two ballot papers. You will use these ballot papers to vote for a member for your local House of Representatives division and for Senators in your state or territory.

The AEC has no role in determining the date of an election, or the broader election period timetable, but rather conducts events according to the dates provided in writs (formal instructions) issued to us.

Key election dates

There are a number of essential steps involved in holding a federal election or by-election and a timing framework for when these events can legally occur.

These steps begin with the expiry or dissolution of the House of Representatives. The term of a House of Representatives expires three years from the first meeting of the House. It may, however, be dissolved sooner by the Governor-General usually acting on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Poster: When are elections held?

  Days after dissolution (Minimum) Days after dissolution (Maximum)
Expiry or dissolution of the House of Representatives

N/A - no fixed time

The term of a House of Representatives expires three years from the first meeting of the House. It may, however, be dissolved sooner by the Governor-General usually acting on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The House of Representatives expires three years after its first meeting but can be dissolved earlier (s. 28 of the Constitution). Senators for the states serve terms of six years (s. 7 of the Constitution) that are staggered so that half of the 72 senators retire every three years. The terms of senators representing the ACT and the NT commence on the day of their election and expire at the close of the day immediately before the polling day for the next general election. The election of these senators is held at the same time as every general House of Representatives election.

Election announcement

N/A - no fixed time

The public announcement by the Government of their intention to hold an election on a certain date can occur at any time.
Issue of writs

0 days

10 days

Writs are issued within 10 days of the dissolution of Parliament (s.12, 32 of the Constitution and s.151 of the Act). A writ is a document commanding an electoral officer to hold an election and contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, polling day and the return of the writ.

Essential steps

A writ for an election will outline the essential steps of the election period and identify the key dates for those steps, in line with the timing framework provided for in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act).  

Days after writs (Minimum) Days after writs (Maximum)

Close of rolls

7 days 7 days
Rolls close at 8pm seven calendar days after the date the writ is issued (s.155 of the Act).

Close of nominations

10 days 27 days
Candidates must lodge nominations by 12 noon on the date specified on the writs as the close of nominations (which can be between 10 and 27 days after the issue of writs - s.156 of the Act).

Declaration of nominations

11 days 28 days
Nominations are publicly announced by the AEC 24 hours after nominations close (s.176 of the Act).

Start of early voting

16 days 33 days
Applications for pre-poll votes commence on the fifth day after the declaration of candidate nominations (s.200D of the Act).

Election day

33 days 58 days
Election day must be a Saturday and at least 33 days after the issue of the writs – it is fixed between 23 and 31 days after the date of nominations (s.157 of the Act).

Return of writs

100 days

House of Representatives writs are issued by, and returned to, the Governor-General. Senate writs are issued by, and returned to, the State Governor (or Governor-General in the case of the Territories).

*The new Parliament must meet within 30 days of the day appointed for the return of the writs (s.5 of the Constitution).

Updated: 3 December 2019
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