Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that there’s an election coming up really soon. And if you’re already 18, that means you’ll need to vote.
So how can you prepare yourself for voting? Here’s everything you need to know about enrolling to vote, and what to do on the day.
Enrolling to vote
If you haven’t already, you’ll need to enroll to vote with the Australian Electoral Commission. All you need to enrol is some form of identification, like a driver’s license or passport. Best of all, you can do it all online.
When you enrol with the AEC, it enrols you to vote in Federal, State or Territory, and Local elections, so you only need to do it once.
For the upcoming 2022 Federal Election, you’ll need to be enrolled by 8pm local time Monday 18 April 2022. So if you haven’t enrolled yet, do it quick!
You can actually enrol once you turn 16, so that by the time your 18th birthday rolls around you’re all set to go. Note that you still won’t be able to vote until you are 18, even if you enrol early.
As the years go by, you might find you’ve moved house, or even to a new state – if you move to a new address, make sure you update your details with the AEC as soon as possible. Where you vote and the candidates that appear on your ballot are based on where you live, so it’s important to update this information.
Do I really have to vote?
Like it or not, voting is compulsory in Australia. If you don’t turn up on the day, you could be looking at fines. In fact, enrolling itself is compulsory – so make sure you do it, and keep your details up to date.
Even if you’re living overseas or on holiday, as long as you’re an Australian citizen, you’ll still need to vote.
Before you vote
Before the big day, the AEC will send you a letter in the mail. You’ll need to take this with you when you vote as proof of your identity. If you don’t have your letter by election day or you lose it, make sure to take some form of identification with you.
Finding a place to vote
Next, you’ll need to find a place to vote. Voting centres are often set up in places like schools, church halls, and community centres. A list of voting centres will be available on the AEC website from Friday 22 April. Search the list to find the closest one to you.
If you’re not going to be able to make it to a voting centre on the day, you’ll need to apply for a postal vote. The AEC will send you a voting package in the mail, and you’ll need to fill it out and send it back. If you know you’ll need to vote by post, it’s best to apply as soon as possible.
Another option if you can’t make it to a voting centre on election day is to vote early. There are pre-polling centres that are open before the official election day. A list of these centres and the dates they’re open will be available on the AEC website from Friday 22 April. Note you’ll need to meet eligibility requirements to vote early – you can’t do it just to get it out of the way.
What if I get COVID?
If you test positive for COVID-19 in the three days leading up to the election, you can apply to cast your vote by telephone. Learn more about this here.
On the day
The 2022 Federal Election is set for Saturday 21 May. Mark the date down in your calendar or phone and don’t forget to turn up on the day.
Most voting centres are open from around 8am to 6pm, so you’ll need to make sure you get your vote in on time. Exact opening and closing times will be available once the AEC announces the list of voting centres.
When you turn up, you’ll probably see that there are lots of signs and people handing you pamphlets or information cards, from all kinds of political parties. If you receive a “how to vote” card, keep in mind that these are not actually hard and fast rules for how you should vote – they’re just a suggestion from a political party so that you put them first. Feel free to ignore them.
Depending on how busy the voting centre is, you might need to line up for a bit. Once you reach the front of the line, you’ll be directed to an issuing table, where they will ask you three questions:
What is your full name?
Where do you live?
Have you voted before in this election?
The person will then look up your name and address to make sure they match, and if you answer ‘no’ to the third question, you’re good to go.
Casting your vote
In Federal Elections, you will be given two separate ballots – one for the House of Representatives, and one for the Senate. Make your way to a polling booth, and fill out both forms.
House of Representatives
Your House of Representatives (Lower House) ballot will be green.
To fill out your House of Representatives ballot, put a number for each candidate on the list, with a ‘1’ next to your top preference, ‘2’ for your second preference, and so on until the list is full. The number of candidates on your ballot will depend on where you live. You must fill out all the boxes on the ballot, or your vote won’t count.
You can see more information on voting in the House of Representatives here.
Your Senate (Upper House) ballot is probably going to be pretty big, and even a little intimidating – but don’t panic. Unlike the House of Representatives ballot, you don’t have to fill out every single box. Your Senate ballot will be white.
You can complete your Senate ballot in one of two ways. You’ll see that there are two sections of the ballot, divided by a line. The first (and simpler) way to vote is called voting above the line. To do this, number at least six of the boxes that are, you guessed it, above the line. You can number all of them too if you’d like, but you only need to do a minimum of six. If you don’t, your vote will be invalid.
The second way is called voting below the line. To do this, number at least twelve of the boxes that are below the line. Again, you can also number them all if you’re really keen.
Note that only one of the methods will be counted – if you fill out the boxes both above and below the lines, only your below the line votes will count (as long as you’ve done it properly). So essentially you only need to do one or the other.
Federal vs State vs Local Elections
The above rules apply to Federal Elections, but there are some differences with State and Local elections.
For State Elections in Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory, there is no Upper House or “Senate” ballot – you’ll only need to cast one ballot.
In Queensland, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, you will need to list all preferences on the State Lower House ballot, the same as voting in a Federal Election. In New South Wales, you can number as many boxes as you like. In Tasmania, you will need to list at least five preferences.
Upper House voting in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia is similar to Senate voting in a Federal Election, but can differ slightly. In Tasmania, the amount of preferences on the Upper House ballot depends on the amount of candidates running – your ballot will tell you exactly the minimum number of preferences you need to nominate.
For Local Elections, you generally will receive two ballots – one for the Councillor you want to nominate for your division, and one to vote for the Mayor. Again, the number of preferences you need to nominate is different depending on where you live.
You can read more about the different types of voting in each State and Territory here.
I need help
At any election, make sure you read the instructions on how to vote at the top of your ballot carefully. There are usually also always volunteers around who can help you if you’re feeling confused.
Once you’ve finished filling out your ballots, fold them up, and put them in the appropriate box (make sure you don’t get them mixed up!). Then you’re free to go.
Remember, you are only allowed to vote once in an Election, and you can’t change your mind once your ballot has been submitted, so think carefully and make sure your vote counts.
Finding out more
We get it – that’s a lot of information, and it can seem pretty overwhelming. But don’t worry; voting really isn’t that difficult, and you’ll probably be in and out in just a few minutes.
If you want to know more, or if you still have some questions, there is heaps of information available on the AEC website, including FAQs, COVID-19 safety measures, info on the upcoming Federal Election, and tons more. It’s worth checking out your State or Territory’s Electoral Commission website too for more info on State and Local elections (NSW, VIC, QLD, ACT, SA, WA, TAS, NT).