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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.

This year’s election will be held on Saturday 21 May. This resource will walk you through everything you need to know to confidently put your ballot paper in the box on election day!

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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 Australian Government works

As an Australian citizen, you vote for two things in a federal election. 

  1. A Member of Parliament (MP) for your electorate, who will represent you in the House of Representatives. 
  2. The The people who make up the Senate.Senators for your respective state or territory, who will represent you 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. 

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:  

  • Make laws  
  • 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.  

Real-life example 

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. 

Read video transcript

How the Upper and Lower Houses work together

The two houses work together for the best representation of Australians and provide When different branches of government can scrutinise and prevent each others’ actions. This stops any one branch becoming too powerful.checks and balances for the government. 

States with higher populations have more seats in the House of Representatives. This is because the higher population of a state, the more electorates they may have. To balance this, the Senate is designed so that states with lower populations aren’t drowned out by states with higher populations. Because of this, the Senate often has more independents and is not dominated by the government party – sometimes there isn’t even a majority in the Senate at all. In this way, the Senate is a check and balance on the House of Representatives.

Real-life example 

Let’s say the House of Representatives introduces a new A proposal for a new law, or a change to an existing law.bill. Both the Lower and Upper Houses must agree on an identical form of the bill before it can become law, and there is a process to make this happen. 

First, a bill will be discussed and examined in parliament, and members will be able to request changes. Then the bill is voted on - if it passes (which is likely if it was introduced by a majority government), the bill now moves to the Senate. 

The Senators will also scrutinise the bill and request changes. The Senate is a different composition of parties, so they often bring different perspectives to the House of Representatives. A few outcomes are possible after this: 

  • the Senate pass the bill (if there are no changes) 
  • they pass it with some changes - in this case it needs to go back to the House of Representatives to be voted on again so everyone agrees
  • they send it back down to the House of Representatives if it doesn’t pass.  

A bill that gets sent back down to the House of Representatives will be changed a little bit, the House of Representatives will pass it again when they’re happy with it, and then send it back up to the Senate. Then, the Senate will vote on it again. If the bill passes, it is sent to the Governor-General who signs it off and the bill becomes law. 

A diagram of the information above, showing how a bill is passed

Image source: Parliamentary Education Office

How elections and preferential voting work in Australia

Federal, state, and local elections – what’s the difference? In Australia we have three levels of government, each with different responsibilities.

  • Federal government (Australia-wide): they take care of things like phone and internet service, universities, money (from banking rules to Centrelink), immigration and defence.
  • State and territory government (for example, Victoria): they take care of things like public transport, schools, hospitals, public housing, community services and prisons.
  • Local government (your local council or shire): they take care of things like parks and recreation, some youth services, rubbish collection and recycling, rules about pets and parking.

We have separate elections at different times for each level, but each one follows a system of preferential voting.

What’s 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.

When the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) counts the votes, they start by adding up all the first preferences. If one candidate already has more than 50% of first preference votes, then they win. If not, the person with the least first preference votes is dropped out. The AEC goes back to the ballot papers of everyone who put that candidate first, counts their second preference votes and adds them to the tallies of the remaining candidates. This continues until a candidate wins over 50% of votes.

For more information about how the ballot papers work, see our ‘how to vote’ section below.

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.

In a federal election, you will vote for:

  • One Member of Parliament (MP) who will represent the electorate you live in (this is different to your state government electorate or local council area – read our guide to electorates to understand why). This MP will represent your local area in the Federal Parliament’s Lower House (the House of Representatives).
  • Six Senators to represent Victoria in the Federal Parliament’s Upper House (the Senate).

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 electmembers of the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly.

Victorians vote for a member to represent their electorate in the Legislative Assembly in a preferential vote. The Legislative Council is 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 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.

Real-life example

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.  

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.

 

Enrolling to vote

To be able to vote in an election, you have to first enrol to join the A long list of everyone who is eligible to vote.electoral roll through the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). You can enrol to vote if you are:

  • an Australian citizen,
  • aged 16 years or over (you can enrol when you’re 16 or 17 so that when you turn 18, you’re ready to vote), and
  • have lived at your address for at least one month (that said, there are also options for people who have recently moved or are experiencing homelessness – see below).

In Australia, it’s compulsory to enrol and to vote in Australian federal and state elections. You will receive a fine if you were eligible to vote in an election but didn’t do it.

Below are all the different ways you can enrol to vote.

Enrol to vote online

The easiest and most accessible way for most young people to vote is to fill out the form online on the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website. You’ll need your driver’s license (a learner’s permit is also accepted) or your passport to complete the enrolment form online.

Enrol to vote online

You can also use the same form to update your enrolment details if you’ve changed addresses. It’s important to check your enrolment so that you don’t vote for a candidate in an electorate that you don’t live in.

If you can’t fill in the form online or don’t have ID, you can fill out a paper form and submit it to the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) or the AEC.

Enrol to vote with a paper form

The paper form can be:

Make sure you fill out the Victorian form, not a form for a different state or territory.

You don’t need ID to enrol with a paper form. You can get someone who is already enrolled to vote confirm your identity by signing your form.

Return your paper form by:

  • Posting it to ‘Reply Paid 66506, Melbourne VIC 8001’ (no stamp is required), or

Taking a clear photo or scan of your form and emailing to the VEC at elector@VEC.vic.gov.au.

What if I recently changed address or I’m experiencing homelessness?

You don’t need a fixed address to vote.

If you are experiencing homelessness, you just need to fill out a ‘no fixed address’ enrolment form.

If you moved house less than a month from the election, you should be voting as your old address.

You can also contact the AEC directly for their help.

What if I’m away or overseas during the election?

It’s compulsory to both enrol and vote in Australian federal and state elections. If you are travelling during the election period, it’s not compulsory to vote if you have notified the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) that you’re travelling.

However, you should still enrol to vote - you can do this by filling out an online form through the VEC’s ‘Check my Victorian enrolment’ page, or downloading the form document  and emailing it back to the VEC at info@VEC.gov.au.

If you do still want to vote, you can still organise to do so:

  • At an early voting centre
  • At a voting centre set up where you are travelling
  • Via a postal vote

See our voting on the day section below for more information on these options.

 

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 governmentMinor 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

What is a minor party?

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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! 

1. What is an electorate? 

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. 

Find out how to meet with your local candidates here

Voting on the day

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.

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?
  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. You will be directed to a voting booth so you can fill in your ballot paper privately.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Hands holding a sausage with sauce and mustard

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.

Download an Easy English voting guide

See all accessible voting resources and services

A list of voting centre locations will be available shortly after an election is announced. Each location is given an accessibility rating for mobility, which covers:

  • wheelchair accessible
  • assisted wheelchair access, or
  • not wheelchair accessible.

On the AEC website, you can click on the rating listed against each voting location 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 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. Relay Officers can help you cast your vote – depending on the type of call, they will use voice to text or text to voice, or Auslan to English or English to Auslan.

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.

COVID-Safe information

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?

Voting in person on election day is not your only option. You can vote early if on 21 May you:

  • 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

In person

You will be able to vote at specified early voting centres from Monday 9 May. A list of all early voting centres will be available via the AEC in the next few weeks.

Mobile voting

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. The AEC will release a full list of the places that mobile polling teams will visit in the next few weeks.

Phone voting

If you are blind or have low vision, you can cast your vote through the AEC’s phone voting service. More information will be available in the next few weeks.

People working in Antarctica, or on a ship that is in transit to or from the Antarctic, are also eligible for phone voting!

Postal votes

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.

How to fill out your ballot paper

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.
  • 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.

It’s okay if you make a mistake while filling out your ballot paper – you can simply ask for a new one! You can also use the AEC’s online practise voting tool before election day to see example ballot papers and practise filling them in.

Full preferential voting

Full preferential voting is used for the Lower House in federal elections, and also in local council elections.

  • Write a number 1 in the box next your most preferred candidate
  • Number all the remaining 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.

Optional preferential voting

In optional preferential voting, 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’.

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.

But 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.

 

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This page was last updated on 5 May 2022.