To vote, most Australians (73% in 2013) attend a polling place in their electorate on the day of the election.
An official checks their eligibility to vote by asking three questions:
- What is your full name?
- Where do you live?
- Have you voted before in this election?
If the answers match the information on the electoral roll, the official rules a line through the person’s name and gives the voter their ballot papers to fill in. If there is a discrepancy (details are missing or the person’s name has already been ruled through), the person can apply for and cast a provisional vote, which may be included in the election count. Unlike most other countries, Australia does not require citizens to provide proof of their identities before they vote, although voter identification laws have been discussed in recent years. A requirement for voter identification was introduced for the 2015 Queensland state election but it was removed before the next election in 2018.
Voters who cannot attend a polling place on the day of the election can cast a vote by:
- ‘absent voting’ in another electorate on polling day (their ballot papers are later added to the tally in their home electorate);
- pre-poll or early voting, where voters attend a polling place before polling day; and
- postal voting, where voters complete ballots before polling day and post them to the electoral officials.
Most voters fill in their ballot papers using pencils and paper ballots. To protect the secrecy of the ballot for people who are blind or have a sight impairment, the Australian Electoral Commission has established a number of polling places throughout Australia that allow for secret voting using a telephone system. Some state and territory elections provide similar services. In 2011, New South Wales introduced voting via the internet or telephone for voters who were absent from the state on polling day, lived far away from a polling place, were blind or vision impaired, or had another disability that prevented them from voting. In 2016, the Western Australian Parliament debated the introduction of internet and telephone voting for similar types of voters. The laws appear likely to be changed in time for the 2017 Western Australian election.
Increases in postal, internet and phone voting have raised concerns about possible interference in the secrecy of voting and manipulation of the voter’s choice.
Federal parliamentarians are entitled to use their taxpayer-funded entitlements to print and distribute postal vote applications featuring their party name and logo to up to half the voters in their electorates. For senators, this means half the voters in their states or territories. The applications are returned to the Australian Electoral Commission via the parties themselves. This process could easily give the mistaken impression that the political parties are officially involved in administering elections. The parties can also use their knowledge of the timing of lodging voters' applications to target direct advertising material at those voters.
More generally, since postal, telephone and internet votes are unsupervised by electoral officials, there is no guarantee that they are completed without interference by family members or other people.
Questions for discussion
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of tightening Australian laws and practices for dealing with enrolment fraud?
- What are the pros and cons of allowing Australians to vote by post, over the telephone or via the internet?