To become law, the proposed alteration to the Constitution must be approved by a ‘double majority’ of electors voting for the changes. That is, for the referendum to pass, more than half of the national total must vote yes and more than half of electors in at least four states must also vote yes. The referendum will not pass if more than half of the national total vote no or more than half of electors in at least three states vote no.
After a polling place closes at 6pm on voting night AEC polling officials open and empty Referendum ballot boxes. Ballot papers are unfolded and all yes votes are sorted into one pile, and all no votes are sorted into another, and then the votes are counted.
This activity is also undertaken in central AEC counting centres where a significant proportion of votes cast at early voting centres will be counted on voting night as well.
Ballot papers that are not completed correctly are referred to as informal ballot papers. Informal ballot papers are placed in their own pile and counted separately.
The days and weeks after voting night include not just standard counting activities but also a significant amount of secure transport, enrolment validation and secondary verification counts (fresh scrutiny).
Transport takes time, and in the days following voting day, there are millions of votes cast away from home (declaration votes) that are securely packaged, transported back to the relevant AEC counting centre and validated against the electoral roll.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of postal votes will be delivered to AEC counting centres each day to also be receipted and validated against the electoral roll before they can be counted.
A declaration vote is cast when a person votes at a location, or in way, that does not allow them to be marked off the electoral roll at that time. This includes early voting centres outside your state or territory, mobile voting teams and postal votes.
The declaration a voter makes provides sufficient details to the AEC to be able to validate them against the electoral roll before including their ballot papers in the count. Once validated against the roll, the declaration envelope is opened face down and the ballot papers extracted, without being unfolded, and placed in a ballot box – thus preserving the secrecy of the vote.
The AEC is required to wait 13 days after voting day to receive declaration votes before it can finalise counting.
Every single referendum ballot paper is counted more than once.
This mandatory secondary count is a process called fresh scrutiny that provides validation of the original, indicative count. Fresh scrutiny commences from the Monday after voting night.
Once the votes are counted and a result has been determined there is a public declaration of the result the referendum.
The declaration test: to be able to legally declare the referendum result, the margin in a contest must be greater than the potential number of votes left to be received and counted – AND the AEC must have completed the mandatory secondary count on those votes.
While there could be a public indication of a potential results on the night, if it is close it may take days or several weeks for additional pre-poll votes, overseas votes and postal votes to come back to the AEC and be counted.
The timing of a formal result declared by the AEC is entirely dependent on the margin in a state/territory, or nationally, against the number of votes yet to be counted. The AEC has often counted every vote in our possession at the end of each day of counting. Transport takes time.
Once the referendum results have been finalised, the Electoral Commissioner will return the writ to the Governor-General.