8 things you need to know about the federal election on 2 July
1. Can I vote at Old Parliament House on election day (2 July)?
Yes! You can vote at Old Parliament House on election day 2016 as OPH will be an official polling place for interstate as well as ACT voters (both electorates).
Read the election day event details.
2. What is a double dissolution election?
A ‘double dissolution’ is a constitutional mechanism that allows a government (which has a majority in the House of Representatives) to overcome the blocking power of the Senate. A double dissolution ‘dissolves’ both Houses of Parliament – the Representatives and the Senate – in order to try to resolve an issue through an election.
This can only happen when a Bill has been rejected by the Senate, or fails to pass, or passes with amendments that are not acceptable to the government, after two attempts. In April this year the Senate twice rejected two bills to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, giving Prime Minister Turnbull the trigger to call a double dissolution election.
Our blog post on double dissolution elections provides further detail.
3. Why is voting compulsory?
Voting in Australian federal elections first became compulsory in 1924. Compulsory enrolment for federal elections had been in place since 1911. A significant factor in the introduction of compulsory voting at federal elections appears to have been a decline in turnout from more than 71% at the 1919 election to less than 60% at the 1922 election. Since 1924 the voting rate has not dropped below 90%. There are currently 32 countries with compulsory voting, of which 19 (including Australia) pursue it through enforcement.
The Australian Electoral Commission has more information.
4. How many Members of the House of Representatives and Senators will be elected at this election?
At the election on 2 July a full quota of 76 Senators and 150 members of the House of Representatives will be elected. After the election, Senate voting will revert to its normal pattern of staggered election: all Senators are elected for six-year terms but half of them are elected every three years.
The Australian Parliament House website has a full list of Senators and Members.
5. What do the recent changes to Senate voting mean?
In February this year Parliament passed legislation to reform the way we elect Senators. The changes are designed to make it harder for crossbenchers to get elected on a small proportion of the vote. Parties will no longer be able to swap preferences and voters will be allowed to number more than one box above the line on the ballot.
A detailed explanation of these voting changes can be found on the Australian Electoral Commission website.
6. Did Australia invent the secret ballot?
Australia did not invent the idea of voting in secret – some democratic processes in Ancient Greece were a form of secret ballot. However, it is generally acknowledged that some Australian colonies used the modern form of secret ballot first. In 1856, Tasmania and Victoria enshrined in legislation the idea of a pre-printed ballot paper filled out in secret. This idea became known as the ‘Australian Ballot’ and spread throughout the world, to the point where it is now almost universal in democratic elections.
The Victorian Electoral Act 1856 can be viewed on our Documenting a Democracy website.
7. Do I vote for the prime minister?
Technically, no. You vote for your local House of Representatives and Senate representatives. The Westminster system means that the party or coalition that wins a majority of seats in the House of Representatives forms government. But you, as a voter, do not specifically cast a vote to determine who will be prime minister. That being said, campaigns tend to feature the party leaders very heavily, and it is generally expected that one or the other of the two party leaders will become prime minister if their party wins. So while you don’t directly choose a prime minister, the candidate you vote for will help one of the party leaders into the Lodge. For this reason, some voters feel they are choosing the PM, even if not directly.
8. What is a ‘donkey vote’?
A ‘donkey vote’ is a valid vote where the preferences are numbered at random, usually 1-2-3-4 etc. vertically down the ballot paper. Most donkey votes are assumed to be due to the voter’s disinterest or as a protest, but they are still counted because as long as all the boxes are numbered, the vote is valid. Some people say ‘donkey vote’ to mean an informal ballot, which is one that has not been filled out correctly. Some people do this by mistake, but others do it on purpose to avoid casting a vote for any of the choices on the ballot paper.