Voting in elections

Australia is a representative democracy, which means that Australians vote to elect members of parliament to make laws and decisions on their behalf. It is compulsory for Australian citizens 18 years and over to enrol to vote. It is also compulsory to attend a voting place on Election Day, or to vote by mail.

The Federal Parliament makes laws, authorises the Government to spend public money, scrutinises government activities, and is a forum for debate on national issues. The Parliament consists of two Houses (the House of Representatives and the Senate).

The Senate is one of the two houses of the Australian Federal Parliament. It consists of 76 senators, twelve from each of the six states and two from each of the mainland territories. It shares the power to make laws with the other House of the Parliament, the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of Parliament and is sometimes called ‘the People’s House’ or the ‘house of government’. The party, or parties, that hold a majority of seats in the House form government. There are currently 150 Members of the House of Representatives who each represent an electorate.

How often are federal elections held in Australia?
Federal elections are generally held every three years. The Constitution specifies that the term of a Parliament is three years, and there is only a short period after the expiry of the parliamentary term before elections must be held. The exact timing of elections is usually up to the Prime Minister, who formally requests the dissolution of Parliament from the Governor-General. A Governor-General may refuse a request for an early dissolution of Parliament. Elections in Australia are always held on a Saturday. The lengths of parliamentary terms in the states vary. Is it compulsory to vote?

Australia has compulsory voting, in which all citizens over the age of eighteen are required to vote at elections. Only nineteen countries in the world have compulsory voting. Australia introduced compulsory voting in 1924 – at the election held two years previously, only 59.39% of eligible voters had voted. At subsequent elections, the turnout has never been lower than 90%.

What are the qualifications needed to vote in Australia?
In order to vote in Australia, you must be at least eighteen years old on the day of the election and an Australian citizen. A voter must be registered on the Electoral Roll in order to vote – it is an offence for an eligible voter not to register.

How does Australia’s voting system work?
Australia uses a voting system called preferential voting. Under this system, voters rank each candidate in order of their preference. When votes are tallied, if no candidate has a majority of votes, the candidate with the fewest first preferences is eliminated from the count, and his or her votes are re-allocated according to the preferences on the ballot papers. After this has occurred, the process is repeated until one candidate receives a majority of all votes cast, at which point they are declared elected.

For the Senate, a form of proportional representation is used. Under this system, the percentage of Senators elected from a particular party is roughly proportional to the percentage of votes that party received. To be elected, each Senator must receive a quota of votes, determined by the preferences marked on each individual ballot paper. Normally, about 14% of votes represents a quota, but this can vary. This system is known as the single transferable vote system.

When did women win the right to vote in Australia?
At the colony or state level, women won voting rights over a period of two decades. The first colony to grant women the vote was South Australia in 1893, while the last was Victoria in 1908. Women have been able to vote in federal elections since 1903, due to the Franchise Act of 1902. Australia was one of the first countries to grant universal suffrage to women and the first in which women had the right to stand for the national Parliament.

Who organises Australia’s elections?
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is responsible for conducting federal elections and maintaining the Electoral Roll. The AEC also draws the boundaries for Australia’s 150 House of Representative seats. The AEC is a statutory authority and operates independently of the government.