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How to vote

  • Written byCampbell Rhodes
  • DateThu, 14 Apr 2022

In Australian elections, voting is compulsory.

That means that if you're an Australian citizen resident in the country, and you are 18 years old or more, you are required to vote. If you’ve only become a citizen since the last election, or turned 18 since the last election, voting may be a first for you. But don’t be intimidated. Here’s a handy Q and A about how to vote, make sure you’re counted, and what you can expect on election day.

How do I know which seat I’m voting in?

You can check which seat you’re in by going to the Australian Electoral Commission

Simply enter your suburb or postcode, and the AEC will tell you which electoral division you live in. By now, you should have confirmation from them since you had to give them your details when you registered to vote, but if you’ve forgotten this is a handy tool.

Where do I vote?

Once again, the AEC can help you. Check out their information for voters for help finding your local polling place.

What are these ‘how to vote’ cards I keep seeing?

A lot of people think how to vote cards are official or mandatory. In fact, they’re produced by parties and candidates, and are only suggestions. A how to vote card is legally required to have the party clearly identified on it, and you are under no obligation to follow it. Most parties issue these cards to voters to indicate how they would like them to number their boxes, usually due to the political views of the candidates. You don’t have to follow them if you don’t want to, and you can refuse to take one from anyone who offers it. You, and only you, decide where your vote goes.

What happens when I arrive at the polling place?

Polling places on election day can be quite busy, because often the local community will use them as gathering points. Some schools even hold their fete on election day, to take advantage of the crowds! Often there is a barbeque (the famous ‘democracy sausage’).

On your way up to the polling place, you’ll also likely see people handing out how to vote cards and campaign leaflets. These people are usually volunteers for candidates or parties. If you feel harassed, let them know – they aren’t allowed to pester you if you ask them to stop. The candidates and their workers might also approach you while you’re lining up, but they are not allowed into the polling place itself.

When you’re ready, join the queue, which will be marked. It can take a little while, but it’s unusual for you to queue up for longer than a few minutes. Once you reach the polling place door, you’ll be waved inside and up to a table, where an AEC official will be seated. Polling staff wear tags to identify them as well as easy-to-see vests. The official will ask you for your name and address. They’ll check the roll to ensure you’re on it, and cross your name off. Then they’ll give you your ballot papers, or send you to another official to get them. You might have to wait a little bit longer for an empty booth, but when one is available, you’ll be pointed to it by an official.

Take your time to fill out your papers. If you make a mistake, you’ll notice there aren’t any erasers, but you can go and get another ballot paper if you need to (your old one will be destroyed). There’s no rush, and nobody is allowed to hurry you or compel you to finish before you’re ready.

When you’re all done, take your ballot papers to the boxes. They will clearly be marked, and will have an official standing by them. Place the right paper in the right box, and you’re done. An official will point you to the exit, and that’s it. Congratulations! You voted!

So, how do I vote?

Fortunately for us all, while it can be confusing to vote, especially for the first time, the Australian Electoral Commission tries to make it as easy as they can. There are instructions on the ballot papers, and if you need help, it’s OK for you to ask for some.

The AEC has a great handy guide to voting properly, and even lets you practice! If you go to their site, you can practice as much as you need to make sure you get it right.

Once your ballots are filled out, you place them in the boxes provided and go and get your democracy sausage!

When will we know the result?

Counting can take weeks, but we generally know who’s won an election by bedtime on Saturday night. When one party has a very clear lead, it’s usually apparent quite early. If you watch election coverage on TV, you’ll see people getting very excited, or dismayed, over the results they’re being shown. The full count of every single vote may not be known for some time, but it’s rare that Sunday morning comes around without Australians knowing who won. In your specific seat, it could be a while before the full result is known. Be patient, and trust the AEC.


Campbell Rhodes is MoAD's Copyright and Research Coordinator.