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What you need to know before the federal election

Federal election

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese (left) and incumbent prime minister Scott Morrison (right) will both be looking to form a government on May 21. Photo: ABC.


With the federal election one week away, City Hub has compiled all the information that voters will need to know before they cast their ballot on May 21.

Who can vote in the election? 

Voting is compulsory for all Australian citizens aged 18 and over. To vote, you must be enrolled on the electoral roll.

It is now too late to vote in the federal election if you haven’t yet enrolled, as the electoral roll closed on April 18, but you can enrol to vote for future elections, including next year’s New South Wales (NSW) state election, by visiting the Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) website.

How does voting work? 

Australian federal elections use a preferential voting system where voters mark a preference for every candidate in the House of Representatives (lower house) and a designated number of preferences for the Senate (upper house).

All seats in the House of Representatives across the country will elect a single representative, with the preferential voting system allowing multiple counts of ballot papers to determine who has won an absolute majority (more than 50 per cent) of formal votes.

A party, such as the Liberal or Labor party, can form a government if they win an absolute majority (at least 76) of the seats in the lower house. If no party wins at least 76 seats, as what happened in the 2010 federal election, there will be a ‘hung parliament’, which will mean that crossbenchers, such as independent or Greens members, will have the ‘balance of power’.

In this event, the major parties will likely negotiate with the crossbenchers for their support, with the party that receives enough support to take them to 76 seats being able to form a minority government.

Senate contests will elect multiple representatives for each state and territory, with each candidate needing to achieve the required formal vote quota to be elected. Votes will be transferred between candidates during counting according to the preferences indicated by voters.

All seats in the House of Representatives, which is where party leaders such as Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese sit, will be contested during the election, while half of the Senate will be chosen. This is because Senators are elected to serve for a period of six years, with a rotation system ensuring that half of the Senate retires every three years.

You will be given two ballots to vote on: a green paper to vote for a representative in the lower house, and a white one to vote for a representative of your state or territory in the upper house.

On the green ballot, you will be asked to put a ‘1’ next to the candidate who is your first choice to represent you in the House of Representatives, a ‘2’ in the box next to your second choice, and continue on until your least preferred candidate. Every box must be numbered for your vote to count.

You have a choice when casting your vote on the white ballot paper: to vote either above or below the line, which will be visible on your paper.

If you choose to vote above the line, you must number at least six boxes from 1 to 6, with ‘1’ being your first choice for the Senate, ‘2’ being your second, and so on. You may wish to continue numbering boxes beyond 6 above the line as you wish, but you don’t need to.

If you choose to vote below the line, you must number at least 12 boxes from 1 to 12. As when voting above the line, ‘1’ would be your first choice, ‘2’ your second, and so on. You can continue to number boxes beyond 12, but you don’t need to.

If you make a mistake, you can ask for another ballot paper and start again.

How can I vote? 

In a few ways. On May 21, you can vote anywhere in NSW at a polling place from 8am to 6pm. If you have travelled interstate for election day and haven’t voted ahead of time, you’ll need to vote at a special interstate voting centre.

You can vote early either in person or by post if you are unable to cast your ballot on election day. Early voting centres will be open weeks before the election, with locations and opening hours published on the AEC’s website.

You can apply to vote by post or pick up a postal vote application form at any AEC office, with posting packs having been mailed out since candidates for each election were finalised.

What if I’m overseas? 

The AEC recommends that all overseas voters apply for a postal vote. Some Australian embassies, high commissions and consulate-generals will offer in-person voting, with others only accommodating postal votes.

Is there anything else involved? 

Nope. Now all you have to do is vote.

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