Privacy and the Election – Frequently Asked Questions

Updated: 15 October 2023

The AEC takes its commitment to privacy very seriously. These FAQs are intended to provide an overview of some of the ways in which the AEC uses and safeguards voters’ personal information during an election, to provide voters with greater certainty and trust that their privacy is appropriately protected by the AEC in an election.

For more information about Privacy at the AEC, please refer to the AEC’s Privacy Policy, or contact the AEC's Privacy Officer through the AEC’s online enquiry tool or by phoning 02 6271 4411.

How does the AEC use my personal information in a federal election?

The electoral Roll

The full Commonwealth electoral Roll, referred to as “the Roll” is available for public inspection at AEC state and capital city offices during business hours. Divisional and large work unit offices provide access to sections of the roll of the divisions they represent. This is required by section 90A of the Electoral Act. This version of the Roll only contains the names, and addresses of all voters (other than silent electors).

The collection of voters’ personal information for the purposes of enrolment is required by law, namely the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) – in accordance with APP 3 of the Australian Privacy Principles.

Certified List of Voters

The writs for each election contain a deadline for Australian citizens to be included on the Roll which is then frozen for each election.  The Roll is then used to create a ‘certified list of voters’ for each Division and each State/Territory. The certified lists are used by AEC staff at each polling booth to manually mark-off a voter as having attended a polling place and having been issued a ballot paper vote. The copies of the certified list of voters contain the name, address, date of birth and gender of each enrolled voter. The polling official draws a line between two black arrowhead markings beside the name of each person to indicate that the person has received their ballot papers and cast a vote.

After an election, the AEC electronically scans the certified lists. This data is used to conduct preliminary scrutiny of a declaration voter’s eligibility to vote, and the admission of that person’s vote to the count. This data is also used to identify apparent non-voters and multi-voters for further investigation. After polling day, the certified lists are returned to the AEC, and are destroyed within 6 months of the completion of the election.

At some polling places, the polling officials may be using laptops, instead of a paper certified list. This is known as an “approved list” or an “Electronic Certified List” (ECL). An ECL is an alternative to the traditional paper certified list used to mark off electors as they receive their ballot papers, in electronic format on a device, and allow the AEC to more efficiently and accurately search for and mark names off the electoral roll, reducing electors’ queuing times, among other benefits.

The AEC takes the security of the certified lists and ECLs seriously. ECLs have in-built security measures to detect and prevent any suspected unauthorized activity on an ECL terminal, and are stored securely when not in use. The AEC also provides training to all of its permanent staff and temporary election workforce about the proper use of personal information.

Postal Vote Applications (PVAs)

The Electoral Act requires electors who choose to vote by postal vote to include personal information on the postal vote certificate. This is required so that the entitlement of each voter can be checked before Ballot papers are admitted to the count. 

A white return envelope is included in postal vote packs which is used to return a postal vote to the AEC. This return envelope contains a flap that will hide voters’ personal details on the postal vote certificate while it’s on its way back to us. This process change was enabled via a legislative change requested by the AEC to protect voter’s privacy. 

Before we count votes received via post, we first undertake preliminary scrutiny. This involves checking the person’s entitlement to vote, and that the voter and witness have both signed the certificate correctly and dated this before voting closes – all these details are checked before extracting the ballot papers.

For admitted votes, a separate process is undertaken to extract the ballot papers from the envelopes, which involves a strict process so that voter’s personal details are not visible and the extracted ballot papers are placed immediately into a ballot box without inspecting them. This preserves the secrecy of the vote. 

There are a number of sections in the Electoral Act, which authorise political parties, and candidates to issue PVA forms, to include electoral advertising on those forms, and to have the PVA forms returned to their offices and then to forward these to the AEC for the issuing of the resultant postal vote certificate itself which contains the ballot papers. The PVA form does not contain any information about how each applicant intends to vote. 

Why am I receiving unsolicited phone calls and text messages?

During a federal election campaign, you may receive unsolicited text messages, phone calls or letters from political parties. The AEC has no power under the Electoral Act to regulate the content of electoral advertising, or restrict the amount of electoral advertising that candidates and political parties may choose to communicate to electors or the manner in which they communicate with electors.

The AEC has no knowledge of where or how a candidate or registered political party obtains telephone number for electors. The AEC does not disclose the telephone numbers of electors to any third person including registered political parties, or candidates.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority administers the Spam Act 2003 (Cth) and the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 (Cth) and has advised that these Acts do not apply to the conduct of a registered political party. Registered political parties are also exempt from the requirements of the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).