Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 11 - Voting and divisions

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Electronic voting

From time to time the suggestion is made that a system of electronic voting should be adopted in the Senate, usually on the ground that this would save time spent in divisions, but sometimes with the suggestion that it would give the proceedings an appearance of modernity.

On 9 May 1990 the President, pursuant to a resolution of the Senate, tabled a paper on electronic voting. The paper pointed out that, assuming that senators would continue to vote in person in the chamber, very little time would be saved because four of the approximately seven minutes spent on each division consists of the time taken to ring the bells to summon senators to the chamber. The paper also pointed out that electronic voting would have significant disadvantages, including:

  • it would remove part of a pause in the proceedings which is often convenient
  • activities which now take place during the count may be transferred to other components of the time spent on divisions, so that little time would in fact be saved
  • the current practice of senators sitting to the right or left of the chair has some advantages which would be lost; in particular, it makes the act of voting immediately visible and public
  • more divisions may be called.

The paper pointed out that electronic voting is an advantage only with large houses; it appears to become economical with houses of 300 or more members. This was confirmed by overseas examples: the United States House of Representatives (435 members) adopted electronic voting but the Senate (100 members) did not; the French Senate (320 members) rejected electronic voting notwithstanding its adoption by the National Assembly (577 members).

The paper was referred to the Procedure Committee which recommended that the Senate not make any decision on electronic voting at that time.[55] The matter has not been further considered by the Senate, although the paper was updated in 2004 at the request of senators.


55. See Second Report of 1990, PP 435/1990, presented in December 1990.

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