Referendum FAQs


You can vote at any polling place on voting day. Polling places are usually located at local schools, churches and community halls, or public buildings. The locations of these polling places will be available on the AEC website. Postal voting, early voting and mobile polling will also be available for the referendum.

More detail about voting services will be made available in the lead up to the referendum.

At a referendum, you will receive a ballot paper with the proposed alteration to the Constitution on it, followed by a question asking if you approve the proposed alteration. On the referendum ballot paper you need to indicate your vote by clearly writing:

  • YES in the box if you approve the proposed alteration, OR
  • NO in the box if you do not approve the proposed alteration.

We recommend always following the instructions on the ballot paper. To make sure your vote is able to be counted in a referendum, you need to clearly write either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ opposite the question - as per the instructions.

We will always admit a ballot paper to the count where the voter’s intention is clear but any marks or words other than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (e.g. the use of a tick or check mark) could leave the formality of your vote open to interpretation or challenge. Ultimately, if challenged, the relevant AEC Divisional Returning Officer will decide if your ballot is deemed formal or informal in accordance with the Referendum Act.

While the provision of pencils used to be a legal requirement, since 2020 under section 206 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 the AEC is required to provide an ‘implement or method for voters to mark their ballot papers’.

The AEC has found from experience that pencils are the most reliable implements for marking ballot papers. Pencils are practical because they don't run out and the polling staff check and sharpen pencils as necessary throughout election day. Pencils can be stored between electoral events, and they work better in tropical areas.

There is, however, nothing to prevent an elector from marking their ballot paper with a pen if they so wish.

The only thing you need to bring to the polling place is yourself. When you arrive at the polling place, a polling official will ask you three questions:

  • What is your full name?
  • Where do you live?
  • Have you voted before in this referendum?

If your answers match what we have on the electoral roll, and you have not voted before in the referendum, the polling official will mark you off the electoral roll, hand you a ballot paper and a pencil, and direct to a voting screen where you can cast your vote.

If you want to bring your own pen, you are free to do so.

You can apply to be registered as a silent elector if you believe having your address included on the publicly available electoral roll could put you or your family’s safety at risk.

Silent enrolment means your address will not be shown on future editions of the publicly available roll.

Apply to be a Silent Elector.

Assistance is provided if the polling official in charge of the polling place is satisfied that you are unable to vote without help. The potential for this to be the case is different for a referendum as opposed to an election given the requirement to write an answer to a question on a ballot paper as opposed to using numbers. The following electors may seek help:

  • the elderly;
  • people with a disability (including visual impairment);
  • non-literate people;
  • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Polling staff are trained on how to assist you. You can nominate any person to assist. This person could be a friend or relative, a Scrutineer or a party worker. If you do not nominate someone, then the polling official in charge will provide assistance.

If the polling official in charge is the one providing assistance, Scrutineers have the right to be present while the ballot papers are filled in.

If assistance is being provided by a person nominated by you, you and the nominated assistant enter an unoccupied polling booth. The assistant helps to complete, fold and deposit the ballot paper in the ballot box. In this situation Scrutineers ARE NOT allowed to enter the polling booth while the ballot paper is being completed.

No. If a voter manipulates the wording of a referendum question on their ballot paper, whether by adding or deleting words, this will likely only have the effect of making that voter’s intention regarding the actual question unclear. Doing so is likely to lead to an informal vote.

No. The AEC conducts referendums in accordance with the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984. The introduction of Electronic voting would require legislative change, which is a matter for Parliament.

Telephone voting is available those who are blind or low vision, and for those living in Antarctica.

No. It is an offence under the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 to vote more than once in a referendum.

If your name cannot be found on the certified list, you will be asked to spell your name or print it on a piece of paper and the certified list will be rechecked. You may also be asked if you could be on the roll under a different name (do you have a former name?).

If your name still cannot be found, or your name on the list has been marked in some way, you will be directed to cast a declaration vote.

No. There is no provision for proxy voting in referendums in Australia.

Voting is compulsory for Australian citizens aged 18 years or older. If you do not vote and don’t have a valid and sufficient reason, you may be fined. The AEC will write to you at the address listed on the electoral roll and ask you to provide a reason why you did not vote.

It is at the discretion of the AEC’s Divisional Returning Officer (DRO) for each electorate to determine whether you have provided a valid and sufficient reason for not voting. The DRO will consider the merits of your individual case and take into account any specific circumstances at the polling places within their division in making a determination.


Yes. It is compulsory by law for all eligible Australian citizens aged 18 and older to enrol and vote in referendums and federal elections.

If you are already on the electoral roll for federal elections you DO NOT need to enrol again to vote in a referendum.

The electoral roll is not available for sale in any format. Under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the electoral roll (containing names and addresses):

  • is supplied to prescribed authorities, such as members of parliament, political parties, approved medical researchers, and public health programs
  • is used to maintain state and territory electoral rolls as part of joint roll arrangements with these electoral bodies
  • must be made available to members of the public at any AEC office during ordinary office hours.

No. If you have lived at your address for at least one month, that is the address you should be enrolled at.


Australia’s much-admired, manual system of counting for the federal referendums is one of the most complex and time-consuming counting operations in the world. While it can at times require patience, the counting process delivers integrity to the results, concentrating on accuracy in a highly transparent manner.
Results will become available progressively from 6pm on polling night via the AEC tally room. The tally room will be accessible via the AEC website.

All votes cast on voting day will be counted on voting night, along with a portion of the votes cast at early voting centres. While there could be a public indication of a potential results on the night, if it is close it may take days or several weeks for the count of additional pre-poll votes, overseas votes and postal votes to come back to the AEC and be counted.

Transport takes time.

At the referendum the proposed alteration must be approved by a 'double majority'. That is:

  • a national majority of all formal votes cast
  • a majority of formal votes cast in a majority of the states (i.e. at least four out of six states).

Every single vote cast in the referendum will be counted more than once in a process called ‘fresh scrutiny’. This is a validation measure that is consistent with what occurs in a federal election. This is not what is commonly referred to as a recount.

Section 95 of the Referendum Act allows for a recount of referendum ballot papers to be directed by an Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) or the Electoral Commissioner (EC). A recount may also be directed by the EC on request from the Governor‑General, the Governor of a state, the Chief Minister for the Australian Capital Territory or the Administrator of the Northern Territory.

If the margin of votes between the Yes and No votes is small, the AEO or EC may form the opinion that a recount of votes is warranted. A recount can also be triggered by allegations/incidents regarding the conduct of the scrutiny that indicate valid and specific grounds for supposing that it could change the state or territory level result of the referendum.

Recounts are an exception, not the rule and must have valid grounds to be granted.

Other referendum FAQs

A referendum can be held at any time, it does not need to be held in conjunction with a federal election.

For a referendum to occur a bill that sets out the question to be put to voters needs to pass federal Parliament. The issue of writs for a referendum must be issued no earlier than two months, and no later than six months, after the bill has passed Parliament. A referendum period – from the issue of writs to polling day – has a minimum of 33 days.

In a federal election, you’re voting for candidates to fill the seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate. A referendum is a question, proposing an alteration to the Australian Constitution. All eligible voters are required to vote on a referendum, just like in a federal election, but instead of voting for a candidate, electors vote on whether they ‘approve’ or ‘do not approve’ the proposed alteration. A double majority must be achieved for the referendum to pass.

The votes will be counted, and the result will be declared. If the referendum is approved by a double majority, the Constitution will be altered. If the referendum is not approved, the constitution will not be altered.

A writ is a document commanding an electoral officer to hold an election or referendum, and contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, the polling day and the return of the writ.

Yes. The results of the Referendum must be carried out by parliament and are legally binding. In effect, the voter’s approval or disapproval is the final step (aside for royal assent) for the bill that is passed by parliament in order to hold the referendum.

It's easy to potentially confuse the 2017 postal survey, run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with a federal referendum which is run by the AEC.

A referendum is compulsory for all eligible Australians – the postal survey was not. Voting services for a referendum will be very similar to a federal election, unlike the postal survey which was conducted exclusively via post. A referendum relates to a potential change to the constitution, whereas the postal survey did not.

Yes, there can be multiple referendum questions put to voters on a single referendum day.

While the AEC does not have a specific estimate at this stage, the cost of running the 2023 referendum will be similar to the costs for the 2022 federal election.

Since Federation there have been 44 proposals for constitutional change put to Australian electors. Only 8 of these have been approved.

Yes. Stalls can be set up outside a polling place as long as they are 6 metres from the entrance to the booth and they do not obstruct voters access to the booth.

Updated: 19 April 2023
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