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Voting is a powerful way to show the government and the community what is important to us. It’s one of those things that can feel big and mysterious but can become empowering once you understand a few simple terms and processes.
The first step to confident voting is to understand how our government and voting systems work, and what you’re actually voting people in to do. This resource will walk you through everything you need to know to confidently put your ballot paper in the box on election day, Saturday 26 November!
How our government and election systems work
The first step to confident voting is to understand how our government and voting systems work, and what you’re actually voting people in to do! Keep reading if you’ve ever wondered about things like how a government can have ‘houses’ or why you have to number every candidate when you vote.
How the Victorian state government works
State and territory governments (for example, Victoria) are responsible for things like public transport, schools, hospitals, public housing, community services and prisons.
How state elections work
Victoria is similar to the federal government in that we also have a bicameral government (two houses). This is made up of a Lower House (called the Legislative Assembly), and the Upper House (called the Legislative Council). The Party that wins the majority in the Lower House forms the Victorian Government.
We have a ‘Fixed’ means there is a set date every time, unlike the federal elections.fixed general election every four years to elect members of the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly.
In a state election, you will vote for two things:
One Member of Parliament (MP) to represent your electorate in the Legislative Assembly in a preferential vote.
Five MPs to represent your region in the Legislative Council, also elected by preferential voting.
Sometimes there are vacancies in the Legislative Assembly outside of election times – for example, if an MP resigns – and an electorate is left without an MP to represent them. In this case, a by-election is held to elect someone new in their place. Only voters in the relevant electorate will vote for their new MP.
On the other hand, if there is a vacancy in the Legislative Council, a new member will be chosen in a joint sitting of Parliament. The new member will be from the same political party as their predecessor.
How the Australian government works
Our federal government is in charge of making laws for the whole of Australia. They have the power to take care of things like phone and internet service, universities, money (from banking rules to Centrelink), immigration and defence.
How federal elections work
A ‘Federal’ means the government for all of Australia.federal election is held at least every three years, where Australians vote to decide who will represent us in the Federal Parliament.
- One MP who will represent the electorate you live in (this is different to a local council area – read our guide on electorates to understand why). This MP will represent your local area in the House of Representatives.
- Six new The people who make up the Senate.Senators to represent Victoria in the Senate.
The House of Representatives (or the ‘Lower House’) and the Senate (or the ‘Upper House’) are considered the ‘two houses’ that make up our Bicameral means a parliament has two houses.bicameral Federal Government.
Structure of the Federal government
The Lower House: The House of Representatives
The House of Representatives has 151 MPs, who each represent an electorate of Australia. Every Member serves a three-year term, as per the federal election cycle. Its main roles are to:
Propose changes to federal law and policy
Scrutinise the government’s actions, especially at Question time in parliament happens when members of the parliament ask questions of government ministers (including the Prime Minister), which they have to answer.Question Time and parliamentary committees
The House of Representatives determines who makes up government. The Party or When political parties join up to act together.coalition that has the majority of seats in the House of Representatives become the Party in charge, and the Party leader becomes the Prime Minister. The The people given an area of responsibility for how Australia is run. For example, the Minister for the Environment will make decisions that impact the environment.Ministers come from party members within the House of Representatives and the Senate.
In the 2019 election, the Liberal National Coalition (meaning Liberal Party and National Party combined, known as the LNP) won 77 seats. This is more than half of the House of Representatives, so they held majority and became government.
But in 2010, a When no party wins enough spots to be the majority.hung parliament temporarily formed. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the LNP both won 72 seats in the House of Representatives, so neither of them held a majority. To form a government, the two parties had to negotiate with smaller parties and independent members. The ALP successfully negotiated support. They achieved 76 seats and formed the government as a minority government. This is a type of government where the leading party has less than 50% of the seats in the House of Representatives, so it’s not technically the majority.
The Upper House: The Senate
Each state in Australia contributes 12 Senators to the Senate, and each territory contributes two Senators. This means the Senate is made of up a total of 76 Senators. Each Senator serves a six-year term on a rolling basis. This means that half the senate changes every three years at each election, and the reason why we vote for six Senators at a time.
The Senate and the House of Representatives are similar in that they both look at incoming law and policy, making changes if needed, and voting on them.
But a key difference is that the Senate isn’t allowed to introduce any A proposal is when a new suggestion is put forward in government.proposals or An amendment is when something is added to or changed in government.amendments to Parliament involving spending – only the House of Representatives can do that.
How the local government works
Local government (your local council or shire) have the power to take care of things like parks and recreation, some youth services, rubbish collection and recycling, rules about pets and parking.
How local elections work
Local governments, often called city councils or shire councils, are established by state governments to look after the particular needs of a city or local community. The head of the council is the Mayor or Shire President.
During local government elections, people who live in the area of that council will vote for councillors, who then form the council. Local government elections are usually run by state electoral bodies – in Victoria, that’s the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC).
What is a safe seat and what does it mean for your vote?
In an election, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) classifies electorates (otherwise known as ‘seats’) as safe, fairly safe or marginal.
This is determined by the two most preferred parties in an electorate. A candidate must win by over 50 per cent of the vote to be elected, and how much they win by determines how ‘safe’ their seat is.
- To be considered a ‘safe seat’, a party must win the majority vote in their electorate by 60 per cent of votes or more.
- A party that receives 56-60 per cent of the votes is considered to be ‘fairly safe’.
- When a party receives 50-56 per cent of the votes, they are considered to have the ‘marginal vote’, which means they hold a small majority of votes.
If a party is classified to have a ‘safe seat’, it means there would have to be a very large Change of votes.swing in votes, for that candidate or party to lose that seat in the next election. Basically, it means it is highly unlikely that electorate will vote for a different party or candidate.
It is rare that safe seats change throughout elections, however it is not impossible.
In 2018, Malcolm Turnbull had around 67 per cent of votes in his favour in the Wentworth electorate. This classified the Liberal Party as having a ‘fairly safe seat’, which means they were considered most likely to secure the seat in the next election. However, when Turnbull resigned from government, which triggered a A by-election is held whenever there is a vacancy in the House of Representatives. It means there is an election for a new representative in that seat only, and it happens outside of the normal election cycle.word for the seat of Wentworth. While it was considered one of the safest seats in the country, the Liberals faced a 20 per cent swing vote against them. This led to liberals losing the majority vote and as a result, Independent candidate Dr Kerryn Phelps AM won the seat.
How your vote is counted
When it comes to voting on election day, it is important to know that the ballot papers will differ slightly depending on which level of government you are voting for. However, they all use variations of a system known as ‘preferential voting.’
Preferential voting is a system where voters rank the candidates listed on their ballot paper in order of preference.
You put number 1 next to the person you would most like to be elected. You put your second preference as number 2, for who you would next like elected if your first preference isn’t chosen, and so on.
The preferential counting system is a way of counting votes in an election when there is one person to be elected. This is used in the following levels of government:
- Lower house at state level (Legislative Assembly)
- Lower house at federal level (House of Representatives)
- Local council elections for a single-member ward (ward definition link here)
This is where the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) and the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) count all the first preference votes. A candidate must achieve more than 50% of the first preference votes to win, and this is known as an 'absolute majority'. If no one has achieved an absolute majority, the person with the lowest number of first preference votes is dropped out. Then, they go back to the ballot papers of everyone who put that candidate first, count their second preference votes and add them to the tallies of the remaining candidates. This continues until a candidate wins over 50% of votes.
However, proportional distribution is another way of counting votes in an election when there is more than one person to be elected. This is used in the following levels of government:
- Upper house at state level (Legislative Council)
- Upper house at federal level (Senate)
- Local council elections
For example, Victoria is split into eight electoral regions, and each region will elect five members of Parliament to the Legislative Council.
According to proportional distribution, a candidate needs to win a A certain amount of the electorate’s votes.fixed of their region’s votes to be one of the five elected.
A quota is set according to the number of spots that need to be filled. In Victoria, the five seats per region have a quota of 16.7% each. If a candidate wins at least 16.7% of the vote, then they are elected.
When there is no longer any surplus, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped out. Their votes go to the remaining candidates according to preferences, and this continues until all the places are filled.
It’s important to think about how you order your preferences, because they really count. For example, around half of the Lower House and council electorates are won on preferences – so choose wisely!
Find out more
Brenton Holmes, Sophia Fernandes, ‘2010 Federal Election: A Brief History’, Parliament of Australia, 6 March 2012.
‘About the Senate’, Parliament of Australia.
‘House of Representatives’, Parliament of Australia.
Nicholas Horne, ‘Hung Parliaments and minority Parliaments’, Parliament of Australia, 23 December 2010.
‘Infosheet 7 – Making Laws’ Parliament of Australia.
‘No.10 - The Role of the Senate’, Parliament of Australia.
‘Senate’, Parliamentary Education Office.
Shalailah Medhora, ‘What’s the difference between the Senate and House of Representatives?’ Triple J Hack, 29 April 2019.
Deciding who to vote for
Your vote is powerful and belongs to you! It should represent your own values and the matters you want to see action on. For this reason, it’s useful to learn what the different People who run in an election to represent you in government.candidates stand for, see what they say about young people, and if they’re planning to take action on things that matter to you and your future.
Who are the different political parties and what do they stand for?
People who run in an election to be elected to parliament. They can run with a political party or on their own as an independent.candidateswill campaign for the support of voters – this means they talk about what they want to do for you and your community if they’re elected. Some candidates run as part of a political party (meaning they will follow the agreed priorities of that party), and some run independently (meaning they will follow priorities they set independently).
The two major parties in Australia are the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party of Australia. However, the Liberal Party and the National Party of Australia (which is a minor party) are currently joined in a Coalition. This is one good example of how minor parties can still be powerful in parliament even if they cannot form government. Minor parties and independents can also still win seats and have a large influence on whether certain legislation passes (more information in the next section).
It’s important that you know who your local candidates are and what their campaign is, so that you can make an informed choice with your vote. One of the best ways to find out is by visiting their website. For political parties, you can find their policies, current members, and become a member of the party if that interests you.
Another great way to learn more about your local candidates is to search for an official social media page, like a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok page. You can learn a lot about a candidate’s campaign and Principles or actions that the candidate or party say they’ll commit to if elected.policies policies by looking at their posts or reading comments from supporters or people who agree or disagree with the candidate.
Alternatively, following the news is a great way to learn about the everyday operations and campaigns that candidates are running, and to understand what they stand for.
You can look up your current Member of Parliament (MP) and where they stand on issues you care about on They Vote for You, a free website sharing public information about how MPs have voted in the past.
You can also use a tool like ABC Vote Compass which can help you see which parties and candidates align more closely with your values, beliefs and things you care about.
The role of minor parties and independents in our political system
Minor parties are other smaller political parties that do not expect to get enough votes to form government on their own and become the party in charge. Some examples are the Greens or the United Australia party.
What is an independent?
An independent is someone who does not belong to a political party. An independent can be elected to either the House of Representatives or to the Senate just like candidates from political parties.
Independent and minor party representatives are often called ‘crossbenchers’. This is because they usually sit in the A group of seats in the middle of Parliament, between the seating sections of the government on one side and the opposition on the other.crossbench.
Why are minor parties and independents important?
- They add to debate on bills introduced by both the government and opposition, and can also introduce A bill introduced by someone in Parliament who isn’t a Minister, meaning it is not backed by the government.private bills on issues they feel aren’t being addressed in Parliament.
- They sometimes hold the ‘balance of power’ when a matter is being voted on in Parliament. This is what happens when the opposition does not support a bill so the government needs some or all of the crossbenchers’ votes to pass it (normally when there’s a minority government). The federal government will likely negotiate with them to try and get their support. When crossbenchers holds the balance of power, their vote can be the deciding factor on whether a bill is passed or rejected.
- When there is a When neither of the major parties gets an absolute majority (76 seats).hung parliament, minor parties hold a lot of power. They can form a coalition with a political party in order to form the government.
Find who the candidates are in your electorate
One of the two things you vote for in a federal election is which candidate will become the Member of Parliament (MP) who represents your electorate. If you’re not quite sure what that sentence means, no problem – let’s break it down below!
An electorate is an area of land where the boundaries are decided based on the population within it. That means the boundaries of each electorate are drawn in such a way that each one will have around the same number of people. This makes sure that everyone has the same voting power. Basically, the more people live in an area, the smaller the electorate is, and vice versa. Each electorate has a name, and an MP who represents them in Parliament’s House of Representatives.
Sometimes the boundaries of an electorate can change year to year in a process known as redistribution. This happens when populations within an electorate change too much, and the boundaries have to be widened or shrunk to maintain fair voting power.
2. Find out which electorate you live in
The Australian Electoral Commission has a resource that shows which electorate you live in. You can search by locality, suburb or post code. It shows which electorate you were a part of in the last election, and if redistribution has happened, it will show what your electorate is in the next election.
3. Figure out who’s running for your electorate and decide who you want to vote for
The next step is to look at the candidates running for MP in your electorate. There are many options to choose from and it’s important to base your vote on your own values and priorities, and not anyone else’s.
The Australian Electoral Commission has a page where you can look up all the candidates for your electorate.
The Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC) also has a helpful online tool which lists candidates in your electorate on the AYAC Election Guide.
Next, get an idea of each candidate’s values and policy platforms for the election. Looking at their official website or social media can help with this.
Your current MP will be working hard to be re-elected, and new candidates will also try to win your vote. You can see how your current MP stacks up by using the website They Vote For You. It shows the A motion is a proposal that the House must act on. This can be for them to do something, order something, or express an opinion about something.motions each current MP has voted on and their A percentage that shows how much they vote on decisions in Parliament. Reasons they might not vote can range, from having other duties to choosing not to vote.attendance. Seeing how your current MP votes on different matters can help you decide if their actions align with your values, and compare them to the other candidates.
Meet your local candidates
Meeting your local MP and candidates is another powerful way you can make an impact on this election and our future. Candidates will base their the goals the candidate wants to achieve if they are electedelection platform on meetings with the people who live and vote in the electorateconstituents, so by meeting your local candidates and sharing what you want to change and how they can help, you can influence what the candidate aims to achieve.
Let’s do the dang thing! Once you know who you want to vote for and how they’ll be representing you in government, you have a few options depending on what’s COVID-safe and accessible for you.
The important thing is to figure out how you’ll be voting before election day rolls around so you have time to organise yourself.
The VEC also has further information for Victorians affected by recent flooding.
How to place your vote
There are two types of preferential voting, which are used in different ways when voting for our different levels of government.
1. Full preferential voting
This is where you number all the boxes in the order that you prefer, from most to least preferred. If you don’t number every box, your vote will not be counted.
2. Optional preferential voting
This is where you don’t have to fill in all the boxes on the ballot paper. Ballot papers for the Upper House will have a thick black line across the page, and you must choose to vote either ‘above the line’ or ‘below the line’. The number of boxes that you preference changes between state and federal elections.
Voting above the line means that you write the number 1 in the box for the group you want to support and your preferences will be decided by the group voting ticket.
What’s a group voting ticket?
Different candidates (often from the same party) will join together and decide who they would prefer among them to be elected to the Upper House. They then publish this list of preferences as a ‘group voting ticket’. When you vote above the line, you’re effectively saying that you agree with the preferences listed by that group.
Voting below the line means you have control over all your preferences. You must write a number 1 in the box for your most-preferred candidate, and continue to number at least 5 boxes on the ballot paper in the order you prefer (you can keep numbering more if you wish).
If you vote above the line, you must number at least six boxes for a group voting ticket of your choice.
If you vote below the line, you must number at least 12 boxes for the individual candidates of your choice. If you do not do this correctly, none of your votes are counted towards any candidate.
How to fill out your ballot paper
There are two ballot papers for state elections – one for the lower house (Legislative Assembly) and one for the upper house (Legislative Council).
- The Lower House (the green ballot paper) uses full preferential voting. In this system, you number a preference for every candidate.
- The Upper House (the white ballot paper) has many candidates so it uses optional preferential voting. In this system, you can choose to number your votes by parties/groups, or by individuals.
You can find out more about the state election ballot papers here.
There are two ballot papers for Australia’s federal elections – one for the House of Representatives, and one for the Senate. Both use a slightly different preferential voting system.
- The Lower House (the green ballot paper) uses full preferential voting. In this system, you number a preference for every candidate.
You can practise voting for the lower house here.
- The Upper House (the white ballot paper) has many candidates so it uses optional preferential voting. In this system, you can choose to number your votes by parties/groups, or by individuals.
You can practise voting for the upper house here.
Remember, it’s okay if you make a mistake while filling out your ballot paper – you can simply ask for a new one!
How to find my nearest voting centre
Voting centres are places you can go to cast your vote in-person on election day if that’s accessible for you. They’re usually open from 8 AM to 6 PM on election day, and located at places like schools, community halls, churches, or public buildings.
A full list of voting centres will be available by the end of April. You can find your nearest voting centre on the Victorian Electoral Commission website. They provide everything you’ll need to vote so you only have to bring yourself.
You can vote at any polling place in your state or territory on election day – you don’t have to go somewhere in your electorate.
If you’re travelling in a different state or territory to where you are enrolled, you still need to vote at a voting centre there. The exception is if you have notified the VEC that you will be travelling during the entire election period. In this case it’s not compulsory to vote, but you can still vote at a voting centre in your travels, by postal vote or at an early voting centre.
What happens at a voting centre?
- When you arrive at a voting centre, there will probably be lots of people trying to give you ‘how to vote’ cards. These are created by different parties and candidates to suggest an order of preferences that suit them. You can take these cards and copy them or you can say no – it’s up to you!
- When you get inside, an election official will ask you for your details, confirm your electorate and give you two The form you use to submit your vote. ballot papers - one for the House of Representatives, and one for the Senate.
- You will be directed to a voting booth so you can fill in your ballot paper privately.
- Read the instructions on your ballot paper carefully and follow them so your vote can be properly counted. For more information, see our section below about how to fill out your ballot paper.
- Submit your ballot paper in the ballot box and go get your democracy sausage!
If you need any help, election officials are available to answer questions about the voting process. They can’t tell you who to vote for, and they do not work for any political parties. You can also use the AEC’s online practise voting tool before election day to see example ballot papers and practise filling them in.
Accessibility information and options
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) provides assistance to disabled people to make sure voting is accessible. Ahead of the election, the AEC’s official election guide can be provided in braille, audio and large print. The AEC also has a series of Easy English guides.
A list of voting centre locations has been published by the AEC. Each location is given an accessibility ratings for:
- wheelchair accessible
- Auslan interpreting assistance
- Alternate quiet rooms for voting
- Hearing loops
- Text to speech pen
On the AEC website, you can click on detailed accessibility info to find out more about its specific accessibility features.
If voting on election day will not be accessible for you, see our section below on early voting options – including early voting, postal voting, mobile polling and telephone voting.
If you need audio and verbal options
To learn about the election process with audio, the AEC website has a ‘Read Speaker’ button on each page that will read the content aloud.
To cast your vote verbally, you can use the AEC’s phone voting service. More information will be available in the next few weeks.
If you are Deaf, deaf or hard of hearing
You can contact the AEC via the National Relay Service (NRS). The NRS is available 24 hours a day, every day, and you can choose from one or more relay call types depending on what you need. Deaf, deaf or hard of hearing people can go to a voting centre which has Auslan interpreters or information in Auslan interpreted videos.
If you can attend a voting centre but cannot enter
A polling official can bring you ballot papers outside for you to complete. There must also be a second witness – for example a friend, family member or support worker who comes with you.
If you can complete the ballot paper yourself, they must give you privacy while you do so. After your vote is complete, your witness must accompany the polling officer to submit your ballot papers in the ballot box.
If you want assistance completing your ballot papers
If you want help to complete your ballot papers, there must be a polling official to help you and a witness – for example, the Officer in Charge. You will tell them how you want them to write your vote and they must not say anything that will influence your vote (even if you ask). You should also have the opportunity to check your ballot papers to make sure they’re filled out correctly.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is working closely with government health authorities to develop appropriate COVID-safe measures during the election.
The AEC are consulting with health authorities to plan appropriate COVID-safe measures. These will include:
- Hygiene officers who will regularly sanitise shared materials
- Socially distanced voting screens
- Queue controllers to enforce measures like sanitising and social distancing while you wait your turn to vote.
All this might mean that the voting and counting processes may take longer, but they will be safer for all voters and AEC staff. Remember to be kind and patient with staff who will be doing their best to keep voting centres both safe and efficient.
Voters will not be required to show proof of vaccination. However, all AEC employees, including temporary election workers, will be required to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.
The AEC will provide more information about if they will allow mobile voting teams to visit aged care facilities or hospitals given the higher COVID-19 risk in these places.
How do I vote if I have to isolate because of COVID?
Up until Wednesday 18 May (three days before election day), anyone who knows they will still be COVID-affected by election day can apply for a postal vote. Telephone voting will be available as an emergency measure for the last three days only (for example, if you find out the day before election day that you have COVID). More information will be released in the next few weeks.
What if I can’t get to a voting centre on election day?
- Are outside the electorate that you’re enrolled to vote in
- Are more than 8km from a polling place
- Are travelling
- Are unable to leave your workplace to vote
- Are seriously ill (including mental illness) or due to give birth shortly (or caring for someone who is)
- Are a patient in a hospital and can’t vote from there (note some hospitals do have mobile voting options)
- Have religious beliefs that prevent you from attending a polling place
- Are in prison serving a sentence of less than three years, or otherwise detained
- Are a Someone whose address does not show up on the electoral roll.silent elector. You can apply to be a silent elector if you believe that having your address on the public electoral roll could put you or your family’s safety at risk.
- Have a reasonable fear for your safety.
If you can’t get to a voting centre due to your disability, you may be eligible for any of the options below. The AEC also has several resources and services available. Visit their page for people with disability or mobility restrictions for more information.
If you’re overseas on election day, you can vote at an overseas voting centre or by post. A list of overseas voting centres will become available in the next few weeks.
Early voting options
You will be able to vote at specified early voting centres from Monday 9 May. A list of all early voting centres is available here.
AEC mobile polling teams (mobile as in they move around, not mobile phones) visit many voters who aren’t able to get to a polling place. They usually set up in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and remote areas of Australia during the election period - although they will have to decide this year if they will visit places like hospitals or nursing homes, given the higher COVID risks. This year, mobile voting is not available in Victoria. Find out more here
If you are blind or have low vision, you can cast your vote through the AEC’s phone voting service.
1. Call to register
You need to call 1800 913 993 to register for telephone voting before you can vote. You will be asked questions to check your details on the electoral roll, and you will also be asked to choose a PIN. You must register by 12pm Saturday 21 May 2022.
2. Call to vote
Once you have received your registration number and chosen your PIN, you will need to call 1800 913 993 again to cast your vote.
When you call, to protect your privacy, you will be asked for your registration and PIN rather than your personal details to mark you off the electoral roll. This means your vote remains secret. Telephone voting is available 8.30am to 5.30pm everyday until Friday 20 May. On 21 May, you can vote between 8am and 6pm.
People working in Antarctica, or on a ship that is in transit to or from the Antarctic, are also eligible for phone voting!
If you can’t get to a voting centre due to other barriers, you can apply to vote via the post. You might be eligible for this for reasons like:
- Geographic distance including overseas travel
- Lack of available transport
- Caring responsibilities for someone who is seriously sick
- Religious beliefs
- Serving in the defence force
The full eligibility list is on the AEC postal vote page.
This page was last updated on 24 November 2022.