A (simple) guide to voting

Posted on August 12, 2010 by


You only get one vote so it’s important to make it work the way you want.

The Herald Sun says that at the 2007 election, 2.5% of the votes weren’t counted. That’s 331,009 people who went to a polling booth whose votes were irrelevant. This is because they filled in the ballot paper incorrectly or wrote something apart from a number, leaving voting intentions unclear (i.e., an invalid or ‘informal vote’). It can also be invalid if you identify yourself on the ballot paper.
In Australia, it is compulsory to vote. This means if you’re enrolled, you are required by law to have your say (or at least show up, as Fraser Allison points out).


For a list of polling places see the AEC’s guide. There are polling places in most towns and cities at locations such as schools, churches and public halls. Opening times and details can also be found on this site.

How to vote for the House

There are 150 seats in the House of Representatives and thus 150 electorates that will be counted at the election.

Each electorate will have a different list of candidates. Usually the two major parties (the Libs and Labor) will contest each seat, and there are usually several other candidates from the minor parties.

Voting for the House of Reps requires you to list your candidates in your order of preference (1 for first preference, 2 for second preference and so on). You need to number all candidates to make a legitimate vote.

In many seats, the parties will hand out ‘How to Vote’ cards. These are just a suggestion of the candidates a party think are worthy of your preference votes. You are free to preference in any order you want. The deals have been worked out between the parties in an order they see as being the most beneficial to their political agenda.

There is a great video explanation about how preferences are used when counting of the votes on the AEC website. Basically, if there is no candidate with an outright majority (more than 50%) then it will go to preferences. This means that the voters’ preferences will be counted too until one candidate has an overall majority.

How to vote for the Senate

The Senate works a bit differently. With 76 Senators altogether (12 for each state and two for each territory), only half will be up for election this year. This is because Senators have longer terms than MPs and to prevent a Government from having complete legislative control we only have half-Senate elections to ensure some members carry over each election.

The way you vote is also different. You have two options:

1) Voting above the line means you only have to number one party. You show your preference with the number ‘1’. Don’t write anything else or your vote will not be counted.

2) If you vote below the line you must preference all the candidates in the order you see fit. This means starting at ‘1’ and continuing until you have filled all the squares.

There are some helpful websites out there about voting and the election more generally. Some of the best include the ABC’s ‘How to Vote Guide’ compiled by the network’s knowledgeable Election Analyst Antony Green, the AEC site and political activism group Getup’s ‘How to Vote’ guide. Getup! links to a few other sites like Below the Line, Open Australia, and Google’s election homepage that are worth a look if you’re interested.

Words – Zach Kitschke

Featured image – Theresa Thompson