Vote in a Federal Election

Share

Roughly every three years Australians vote to decide who will be the Australian Federal Government. If you're enrolled to vote, or you're old enough to enrol to vote, you are legally required to vote in Federal elections.

Topics on this page include:

> What the Federal Government does
> Do I have to vote?
> When is the next Federal election?
> Who can I vote for?
> Where do I go to vote?
> What happens when I vote?
> Further information

What the Federal Government does

The Australian Federal Government is based in Canberra and is probably the most visible of the three levels of government (which are: Federal, State and Local). The responsibilities of the Federal Government are set out in the Australian Constitution.

The Federal Government handles the "big" issues - for example:

  • Benefit payments (Austudy, Youth Allowance, &c)
  • Defence
  • Immigration
  • Foreign Policy
  • Marriage
  • Telecommunications

They also share responsibility with the state governments for some things including:

  • Roads (they look after national highways)
  • Public health (they're responsible for Medicare)
  • Education (they fund universities)
  • The environment (they develop policies about national environmental issues).

When you vote in a Federal election you are given a say about the people who will represent your opinions and interests in these areas.

To find out more about the difference between Federal, state and local government check out our Work Out Who Does What page.

back to top

Do I have to vote?

Voting is compulsory in Australia. So is enrolling to vote.

If you're 18 or over and you're enrolled to vote, but you don't vote - for whatever reason - you could be fined.

If you're 18 or over and you're NOT enrolled to vote, you aren't actually legally allowed to vote, and since it's illegal not to vote if you're 18 or over, not being enrolled could mean that you get fined for not voting.

For more about failure to vote, check out the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)'s Frequently Asked Questions (new window). For more about enrolling to vote, check out our Enrolling to Vote and Check or Change Your Enrolment pages.

back to top

When is the next federal election?

The rules that decide when Federal Elections will be held are a bit complicated, but generally speaking  the next election will be held sometime between August 2018 and 18 May 2019. More information can be found at the AEC's Frequently Asked Questions page (new window).

Note that every Australian citizen who is eligible to vote must vote in this election or risk being fined. For more about enrolling to vote, check out our Enrolling to vote page

back to top

Who can I vote for?

When you vote in a Federal election you get to vote for one person to represent your electorate in the House of Representatives - also known as the Lower House. Your electorate is also sometimes known as a "seat".

At most federal elections you also get to vote for who represents you in the Senate - also known as the Upper House. When you vote for the Senate, you vote for a group of people to represent your whole state.

Find your electorate

To find out what electorate you live in, check out the AEC Find my electorate page (new window).

Find your candidates

Closer to an election you can actually find out who the Upper and Lower House candidates are in your electorate by checking out the AEC website. The list of candidates should provide names, occupations and contact details for each candidate. Once you know that you can do a quick online search to find any website or online information they might have to offer.

Remember: It's up to you to decide who you vote for. You don't have to vote for people just because your friends or family tell you to, and you don't have to vote the way that how-to-vote cards say either. The only person who can choose who you vote for is YOU.

back to top

Where do I go to vote?

Most people vote at a polling place on election day. Polling places are usually set up at local primary schools and community halls.

Polling places are open at 8am sharp and close at 6pm sharp. If you can't make it to your local polling place on the day of the election, there are other ways to vote, including:

  • Postal voting (mailing your ballot papers to the AEC before election day)
  • Absentee voting (voting at a polling place outside of your own electorate)
  • Early voting (voting at an early voting centre before election day)

To find out where your nearest polling place is, check out the AEC's Where can I vote? page (new window). If you can't get to a polling place on election day, check out their Ways to Vote page (new window). 

back to top

What happens when I vote?

The actual process of voting might seem complicated, but it's really quite simple. The most important things to remember are

  • You need to vote for both the House of Representatives (the "lower house" of Parliament) and the Senate (the "upper house" of Parliament)
  • The process for voting for the House of Representatives is different from the process for voting for the Senate

If you're voting in person, a polling official at the polling place will ask you for your name and address, and whether you have voted before in this election. They then mark your name off the electoral roll and you're given two ballot papers – a green one for the House of Representatives, and a white one for the Senate.

If you're voting by post, the ballot papers will be sent to you.

Each ballot paper has instructions on how to complete it. Make sure you read these instructions carefully and follow them.

Voting for the House of Representatives ("Lower House")

House of Representatives ballot papers are green. To complete a House of Representatives ballot paper you put a 1 in the box next to your preferred candidate, and then number all of the remaining boxes in the order of your preference.

When you complete your ballot paper, make sure that you number all boxes. If you don't number all boxes your vote will be considered "invalid" and won't be counted.

If you have any trouble completing your ballot paper, you can ask an electoral officer for assistance and they will be able to help you.

Some political parties hand out how-to-vote cards that show how they would like you to number the boxes on your House of Representatives ballot paper. You don't have to complete your ballot paper the way that any how-to-vote card tells you to if you don't want to. It is completely up to you how you complete your ballot paper.  

Voting for the Senate ("Upper House")

Note that the way that you vote for the Senate has changed since the last Federal election. For more about these changes, visit the AEC website (new window)

The ballot paper for the Senate is a large white sheet with a thick black line across the top. When you vote for the Senate there are two ways to do it.

  • Voting "above the line" means numbering at least 6 boxes above the thick black line from 1 to 6 in order of your preference (you can number more than 6 boxes if you like, but not less than 6)
  • Voting "below the line" means numbering at least 12 boxes below the thick black line from 1 to 12 in order of your preference (you can number more than 12 boxes if you like, but not less than 12)

If you have any trouble completing your ballot paper, you can ask an electoral officer for assistance and they will be able to help you.

Some political parties hand out how-to-vote cards that show how they would like you to number the boxes on your Senate ballot paper. You don't have to complete your ballot paper the way that any how-to-vote card tells you to if you don't want to. It is completely up to you how you complete your ballot paper.  

Practise voting

The AEC has set up a Practise Voting Tool (new window) for you to have a go at voting before the election so that you're as comfortable and prepared as possible on election day.

back to top

Further information

For more information about Federal elections, visit the AEC website (new window).

Happy voting!

back to top