Australian Electoral Commission

Glossary

Updated: 1 August 2013

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

A

Absent votes

Votes cast by electors who are out of their electorate but still within their state or territory on election day. These votes may be cast at any polling place in the state or territory. An absent vote is a type of declaration vote.

Absolute majority

In a House of Representatives election, a candidate must gain more than half the formal votes to be elected. This is known as an absolute majority. Often this involves the distribution of preferences.

Act

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. This is the legislation governing the Commonwealth electoral process. See CEA.

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)

The Commonwealth agency responsible for providing Australians with an independent electoral service and enhancing their understanding of, and participation in, the electoral process.

Australian Electoral Officer (AEO)

The AEC's manager in each state and the Northern Territory. An AEO for the ACT is only appointed for each election period. The AEO is the returning officer for the Senate election in their state or territory.

B

Ballot

A method of secret voting, normally in a written form.

Ballot box

The sealed container into which an elector places a completed ballot paper.

Ballot paper

A paper that shows the names of the candidates who are standing for election and on which voters mark their vote.

By-election

An election held to fill a single vacancy in the House of Representatives. Between federal elections, vacancies result from death, resignation, absence without leave, expulsion, disqualification or ineligibility of a member. If a Senator retires or dies, no by-election is held (see: casual vacancy).

C

Candidate

A person standing for election to the Senate or House of Representatives.

Casual vacancy

If a Senator retires or dies, the casual vacancy is filled by a person chosen by the joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament of that State until the expiration of the term. The person chosen must be of the same political party as the predecessor.

Certified list of voters

The official electoral roll used on election day to mark off electors' names. The list contains the names and addresses of all eligible electors for that division for the particular electoral event. Polling officials place a mark against an elector's name when the elector is issued with ballot papers at a polling place to indicate that the elector has voted.

Close seat

A term used while counting votes to describe a seat where the results are tight. On election night, this is where the two candidate preferred (TCP) result is between 47% and 53% and more than 5% of the vote has been counted. After election night and until counting is completed, this is where the TCP result is between 49.5% and 50.5% and more than 5% of the vote has been counted.

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (CEA).

The legislation governing the Commonwealth electoral process. See CEA.

Compulsory enrolment

If you are 18 years and over and an Australian citizen you are required by law to enrol.

Compulsory voting

Australian citizens 18 years and over are required by law to vote in federal elections.

Constitution

The set of basic rules by which a country or state is governed. In Australia's case it is a document written in the 1890s which sets out the structure of Australian federal politics. The Constitution can only be amended through a constitutional referendum.

Constitutional referendum

A proposal to alter the Constitution is put to the vote. At a referendum the proposed alteration must be approved by a double majority: a national majority of electors in the states and territories; and a majority of electors in a majority of states.

Court of Disputed Returns

A candidate, elector or the AEC may dispute the validity of an election by a petition to the High Court which sits as the Court of Disputed Returns.

D

Declaration vote

Any vote where, instead of the elector being marked off the certified list on election day, the vote is sealed in an envelope signed by the voter. Absent, early votes made outside the voter's electorate (pre-poll declaration), provisional and postal votes are all types of declaration votes.

Declaration of poll

A formal statement of the result of an election.

Democracy

Government on behalf of the people by their elected representatives.

Distribution of preferences

The process used to determine the winning candidate when no candidate wins an absolute majority of first preference votes.

Division or Electorate

Australia is divided into voting areas, which are known as divisions or electorates. One member is elected from each division to the House of Representatives. Divisions are geographical areas containing approximately equal numbers of voters as defined for federal electoral purposes.

There is a divisional office in each of the 150 House of Representatives electoral divisions. The Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) and staff at this office are responsible for the enrolment of voters, conducting the election in that division and providing information sessions to schools and community groups.

Division Finder

The division finder is an alphabetical listing of all localities within a state or territory. It is used to determine which division any address within a state or territory belongs.

Divisional Returning Officer (DRO)

The AEC officer responsible for maintaining the roll and conducting the election in each division. The DRO is the returning officer for the House of Representatives election in their division.

Donkey vote

A ballot paper marked 1, 2, 3, 4 straight down (or up) a ballot paper.

Double majority for referendum

To alter the Constitution, a majority of all formal votes cast in a referendum, as well as a majority of votes in a majority of states must be gained to authorise the change to the Constitution.

E

Election

The choosing of representatives by the voters.

Election Results Code

The election results code is a short code allocated to each registered political party. It is primarily for internal use but is also used in some AEC publications, including election results, to assist with brevity.

Electoral Commissioner

The officer who performs the functions of the Chief Executive Officer of the AEC.

Electoral roll

The list of people who are entitled to vote in an election or referendum. Also referred to as the roll.

Electoral Roll Review

A house to house survey conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission in each division to check that electors are correctly enrolled.

Electorate or Division

Australia is divided into voting areas, which are known as divisions or electorates. One member is elected from each division to the House of Representatives. Divisions are geographical areas containing approximately equal numbers of voters as defined for federal electoral purposes.

There is a divisional office in each of the 150 House of Representatives electoral divisions. The Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) and staff at this office are responsible for the enrolment of voters, conducting the election in that division and providing information sessions to schools and community groups.

Electors

All those people entitled to vote at an election.

Enfranchise

To give a person the right to vote.

Enrolment

You cannot vote at an election unless your name is on the electoral roll. Australian citizens 18 years of age and over (with a few exceptions) must enrol to vote.

Enrolment form

Application form to enrol to vote or to change your address in Federal and State/Territory elections. Enrolment forms are available at all post offices, postal agencies, AEC offices and on our Home Page.

Exhausted votes

These are ballot papers which show no further valid preference for any candidate and must, therefore, be set aside from the count.

F

Fairly safe seat

A term used after counting has been completed to describe a seat where the winning candidate received between 56-60% of the vote.

Federal election

Refers to a general election of the House of Representatives and the election of the Senate.

Federation

The unification of Australian Colonies which formed the Australian nation on 1 January 1901.

First past the post

A voting system in which the candidate with the most votes is elected whether or not that person has more than half the votes counted. This system is still used in many countries such as UK, USA, NZ, Canada. It is also used in some local shire or council elections in Australia.

Formal vote

A vote cast in an election or a referendum that has been marked according to the rules for that election and can be counted towards the result. A ballot paper not marked correctly is called informal.

Franchise

The right to vote.

Fresh scrutiny

The check and recount of ballot papers (that were counted in polling places on election night) after polling day by AEC staff.

Funding and Disclosure (FAD)

This scheme was introduced for the 1984 federal election and has two main parts: public funding of election campaigns and disclosure of certain financial details by candidates, political parties and other persons and groups who submit returns to the AEC. It helps to manage public funding and disclosure provisions in accordance with the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

G

General election

An election for all the seats in the House of Representatives.

General Postal Voter (GPV)

An elector who is registered to have postal ballot papers sent to him or her automatically. Electors from certain categories who have difficulty getting to a polling place on polling day can register as a GPV.

Gerrymander

The drawing of electoral boundaries in a way which gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections.

Government

The political party or coalition of parties which has won a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives forms the government. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are always Members of the House of Representatives.

Group voting ticket (GVT)

A GVT sets out the order in which a Senate group wants its preferences distributed. GVTs are registered with the AEC after the draw for positions on the Senate ballot paper. If a voter chooses to put the number '1' in one of the boxes above-the-line on a Senate ballot paper, the preferences will be distributed according to the group's GVT.

H

Half senate election

Held every three years to elect half the Senators for a State. Unlike State Senators, Territory Senators face re-election at every general election of the House of Representatives.

House of Representatives

At Federation, the House of Representatives was formed as the People's House and is the House in which the government is formed. Each division elects one Member of the House of Representatives under a preferential voting system. The numbers of Members are in proportion to the number of people in each state or territory, except that at least 5 Members must be chosen in each original state. The House of Representatives currently has 150 Members.

How-to-vote cards

Cards handed out to voters by party workers at polling places on election day showing how a party or candidate would like voters to fill in their ballot papers.

You do not have to follow these cards. How you choose to vote is up to you.

Hung parliament

A term used to describe a parliament in which no political party or coalition of parties has a majority in the House of Representatives. The term is becoming more applicable to modern parliaments, as minor parties and independent candidates are increasingly holding the balance of power in minority governments.

I

Independents

Candidates for, or members of parliament, who do not belong to a political party.

Informal vote

A ballot paper is generally considered informal if it is not filled out correctly in accordance with the Act and the instructions on the ballot paper. It cannot therefore be included in the scrutiny/count.

Itinerant elector

A person who is in Australia and because the person does not reside in any subdivision, is not entitled to be enrolled for any subdivision.

M

Malapportionment

A term used to describe an electoral system where different electorates have large differences in the number of voters in them.

Marginal seat

A term used after counting has been completed to describe a seat where the winning candidate received less than 56% of the vote.

Member

Any person elected to parliament, but more commonly used for those elected to the House of Representatives.

Mobile polling team

A team of polling officials who bring the polling to the elector. Teams visit some hospitals and nursing homes, prisons, remand centres and remote locations to enable electors to vote.

N

Nomination

Candidates must be nominated before they can be elected to the Senate or House of Representatives. Qualifications for nomination are set out in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Constitution. Nominations can be made once the writ for an election has been issued and before the time and date specified as the close of nominations. For each nomination a financial deposit must be lodged.

O

Opinion poll

A survey conducted by private organisations between and before elections to get an idea of how people would vote if an election were held.

Opposition

The major party, or coalition of parties in parliament which has the next highest number of votes.

Ordinary vote

A vote recorded by an elector on election day at a polling place within the division for which they are enrolled. This is the simplest way to vote and the method used by the majority of electors.

Overseas elector

An elector who is going overseas for three years or less can apply to be an overseas elector within 3 months before leaving Australia or within 1 year after the day on which the they ceased to reside in Australia.

P

Parliament

The political assembly in which elected representatives talk about and vote upon proposed laws.

The word 'parliament' comes from 15th century English, and from a French word meaning 'talking place'.

Parliamentary democracy

A system of government where the people exercise their political power by electing representatives to parliament to make laws. Australia is a parliamentary democracy.

Platform

The policies or plans that the candidates and parties say they will carry out if elected.

Plebiscite

An issue put before the electorate which does not affect the Constitution. The result of the plebiscite vote may, or may not, bind the government according to the enabling legislation.

Political party

Political parties registered with the AEC:

  • can have their party name on the ballot paper,
  • have entitlements to electoral roll information,
  • have obligations in regard to financial disclosures.

Poll

Another word for an election.

Polling place

Polling places are set up in each division to take the votes of the local people. At the 1996 election there were 7 865 ordinary polling places.

Postal vote

Electors who, for various reasons, cannot attend a polling place in the state or territory for which they are enrolled on election day can apply in writing for a postal vote. They will then be sent their ballot papers, which must be posted back before the close of polling.

Preferential voting

A system of voting in which the voter completes the ballot paper by putting the number '1' in the box beside their first choice candidate, the number '2' beside their second choice and so on until every box is numbered consecutively.

Pre-poll vote

A vote, recorded by a voter eligible to do so, at a divisional office or pre-poll voting centre in the lead up to polling day. Certain pre-poll voting centres also open on polling day for the casting of interstate votes only.

Pre-poll votes made by an elector within their own division (pre-poll ordinary) are counted with ordinary votes on polling night.

Preselection

The choice by a political party of its candidates for an election.

Proportional representation

The term that describes a group of electoral systems used to elect candidates in multi-member electorates. In such systems parties, groups and independent candidates are elected to the parliament in proportion to their support in the electorate.

Provisional vote

A vote cast where:

  • an elector's name cannot be found on the certified list,
  • the voter's name is already marked off the certified list as having voted, or
  • the voter is registered as a silent elector.

Provisional votes are not entered into the count until evidence of identity has been provided and a check of entitlement has been completed. Provisional voters need to provide evidence of identity either at the polling place or by close of business on the first Friday after election day.

Q

Quota – Senate

To be elected to the Senate, a candidate needs to gain a quota or proportion of the first preference votes. The quota is determined by dividing the total number of formal ballot papers in the state or territory by one more than the number of senators to be elected and adding one to the result and disregarding any remainder.

Quota – Redistribution (entitlement)

The calculation used to determine the number of parliamentary representatives to which a state or territory is entitled (i.e. the number of divisions).

Quota – Redistibution (enrolment)

The current and projected average divisional enrolment for the state or territory.

R

Re-check

When ballot papers for the Senate or House of Representatives are returned to the Divisional Returning Officer from all polling places for that division. A fresh scrutiny is conducted to re-check the counting done on election night.

Recount

A second or further count of votes in an election.

Redistribution

The redrawing of electoral boundaries to ensure that there are approximately the same number of electors in each division in the state or territory.

Referendum

The Australian Constitution can only be altered with the approval of a national majority of electors in States and Territories and a majority of electors in a majority of States.

Representative

A person elected to parliament to represent the people of a division (House of Representatives) or State (Senate).

Roll

The list of voters eligible to vote at an election.

Run (in an election)

To stand as a candidate in an election.

S

Safe seat

A term used after counting has been completed to describe a seat where the winning candidate received more than 60% of the vote.

Scrutineer

A person appointed by a candidate to observe the voting and counting of the votes. Candidates can appoint scrutineers for each polling place. Scrutineers have the right to be present when the ballot boxes are sealed and opened and when the votes are sorted and counted so that they may check any possible irregularities, but they may not touch any ballot papers.

Scrutiny

The counting of votes which leads to the election result.

Seat

Another term for an electorate or division – used because the candidate elected then has a seat in parliament.

Secret ballot

A vote made in secret – first introduced in Victoria in 1856. Sometimes called the 'Australian ballot'.

Senate

The Senate was formed as the States' House or house of review. The states are represented equally in the Senate regardless of the size of their populations and each Senator represents the whole state or territory. There are 76 senators; 12 from each state and two from each territory, elected under a proportional representation system.

Senate election

An election of Senators for a state or territory.

Senators

A person elected by the voters of a State or Territory to represent them in the Senate.

Silent elector

An elector who has applied to have their address not appear on the roll for reasons of personal safety or safety of their family members.

Suffrage

The right to vote at elections i.e. all Australian citizens 18 or over have suffrage.

Surplus

Votes gained by a Senate candidate which are surplus to the quota required for election.

Swing

The difference between the performance of a candidate or party at one election in comparison to another.

Swinging voter

An elector who does not have a steady pattern of voting for the same party.

T

Transfer Value

In a Senate election a candidate's surplus is transferred at a fraction of its value to the next available candidate.

Turnout

The percentage of people who voted in the election, calculated by dividing the sum of formal and informal votes by the final enrolment figure. The final enrolment figure is the total number of people who are entitled to vote in an election.

Two-candidate-preferred (TCP) count

These figures show where preferences have been distributed to the likely final two candidates in a House of Representatives election. In most cases, but not all, these will be from the two major sides of politics – the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal and National Parties Coalition.

Two-party-preferred (TPP) count

These figures indicate results where preferences have been distributed to the two major sides of politics – the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal and National Parties Coalition. In most cases the TCP and TPP are the same because the final two candidates are from the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal and National Parties Coalition. In a division held by an independent or a minor party, the counts will differ.

V

Virtual Tally Room (VTR)

A web based election results system that provides election information and results in a user-friendly format.

Vote

The formal act of an elector in an election to choose the candidate the elector most wants to be the representative for that division. Australia has a secret vote, and enforces compulsory voting.

Voting screen/compartment

A small compartment or cubicle at the polling place where people fill in their voting papers in secret at elections.

W

Writ

A writ is a document commanding an electoral officer to hold an election and contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, the election day and the return of the writ. The Governor-General issues the writs for House of Representatives elections and elections for senators in the territories. The state governors issue the writs for all other Senate elections.