Election voting in Australia can be confusing stuff. Sometimes it can feel like you need to be a political super-nerd just to grasp the basics. Fear not — we’ve put together this simple guide! It’ll make all your federal election voting woes drift away into the distance accompanied by the delicious smell of democracy snags on a BBQ.

How do federal elections work in Australia?

Federal election voting in Australia involves filling in two main pieces of paper.

The first one informs the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) which candidates you’d like to elect in the House of Representatives (AKA: the Lower House).

The second tells them your preferences for the Senate (AKA: the Upper House).

You can pre-vote for various reasons listed here. For example if you’re going away over the weekend.

On the day, you just need to rock up at one of the registered polling locations listed here between 8am and 6pm.

Now let’s move on to the specifics, starting with that Green Room — the House of Reps.

The House Of Representatives

The House of Reps in Australia is where your local representative goes and sits.

Your local rep is the voice for your electorate (AKA: the area you live in).

They’re representing your people. Like if we were all rival gangs. Is this making sense? Who knows! This is that exact person sitting their butt on the seat.

The House of Reps ballot is where many people fuck it up when it comes to federal election voting.

You need to number EVERY box on the ballot paper from 1-whatever. If there are 9 names it needs to have 1-9. Here’s a picture because some of us (don’t @ me) are visual learners.

Federal_Election_Voting_Ballot_paper
see what I’m saying here?

When it comes to federal election voting your vote is VOID (AKA: not counted) if you:

  • leave it blank
  • use “X” or crosses to mark the names (what?) when you vote.
  • add writing on it which identifies you as the voter (it should be anonymous).
  • repeat a number when you vote.

VERY IMPORTANT POINT.

You have to number EVERY box. Not just two because you only like two parties. Don’t stress because loads of people cock this bit up.

The AEC reckons “If a House of Representatives ballot paper has all squares numbered but one, it is assumed that the unmarked square constitutes the last preference and the ballot paper will be deemed formal”.

If The Shooters Party is on your ballot and you don’t like them — don’t leave it blank. Put the parties you LEAST want to vote for at the end.

The Senate

The Senate in Australia is that big red room and each election only around half the seats are contested.

The Senate has that huuuuuge long ballot paper. It’s so long you could probably use it as a yoga matt. Remember now?

You’re voting for PARTIES here. Not people… Unless you want to do your election voting below the line which is a bigger convo you can read about here.

Below the line is where you can decide which party policies you stand for and who you want filling up those red seats and deciding shit.

This one is weird – to have an eligible vote you have to:

  • number at least six boxes above the line for the parties or groups of your choice, or
  • number at least 12 boxes below the line for individual candidates of your choice.

So six numbers. One to six in the top row. Or 12 numbers, 1-12 in the bottom giant section.

VERY IMPORTANT — you can’t just put 1, 2 and leave it there. DO NOT.

Here are examples of the two ways you can do federal election voting.

Federal_Election_Voting_Ballot_PaperFederal_Election_Voting_Ballot_Paper

She order you put parties is the order in which you want them representing you in the Senate which is similar to the House Of Reps.

Don’t just throw numbers everywhere — make smart choices. Your mother didn’t raise a fool.

We’ve deep dived the AEC‘s voting instructions to make them easier to understand.

What we’ve learned from this experience is that they are THE WORST.

Especially if you’re like most Aussies and barely know the difference between the Senate and the House Of Reps.

Here’s a thought — let’s just call them Red Room and Green Room. Ya know? MAKE IT EASY FOR US.

Federal_Election_Voting_Australia
you could argue it’s more of a teal, couldn’t you

Is federal election voting compulsory?

Australia is one of the few countries where adult citizens are required to vote in elections. This means anyone aged 18 and above will be required to vote in the next federal election.

For this year’s federal election voting cycle, citizens of Australia who fail to submit a ballot will be forced to pay a $20 fine. If you fail to pay the fine, you might be referred to a court which isn’t a vibe at all. Nuh uh. Nope.

Probably the most likely legal reason you wouldn’t vote is due to “physical obstruction, whether of sickness or outside prevention, or of natural events, or accident of any kind, would certainly be recognised by law in such a case,” as per the High Court of Australia.

How often are federal elections held in Australia?

Australia holds a federal election every three years.

The last one was in 2019 and the next won’t be until 2025.

Three years is a bloody long time so make sure you do some research on which candidates you prefer — otherwise you could be stuck with a bum candidate. Real talk.

What is Australia’s voting system called?

Australia’s voting system is called “preferential voting”.

This means Aussies are required to allocate preferences to a group of candidates in order of how much they vibe their policies.

As we mentioned earlier you can’t just tick the box next to your bestie candidate and knock off for a snag.

If you detest three candidates you still need to mark them (at the lower end) on your preference list. Even if you would literally rather shit in your hands and clap than see them be elected.

What happens if you don’t vote in Australia?

For this year’s federal election voting cycle, citizens of Australia who fail to submit a ballot will be forced to pay a $20 fine. If you fail to pay the fine, you might be referred to a court which isn’t a vibe at all.

Probably the most likely legal reason you wouldn’t vote is due to “physical obstruction, whether of sickness or outside prevention, or of natural events, or accident of any kind, would certainly be recognised by law in such a case,” as per the High Court of Australia.

What If I Fuck It Up?

It’s OK if you fuck it up as long as you don’t put the ballot in the ballot box first. Once it’s in — no changies.

Before you park that Big Mac ballot right in that little vote-box garage — proof-read it. Make sure you haven’t made any mistakes. Simply ask for a new ballot if you did.

That’s it!

It sounds easy but with all the numbers and ridiculously long ballot papers full of names it can get confusing fast.

Hopefully this has made it all a bit clearer for ya!

Image: Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images