Chapter 9 Other issues
Commonwealth electoral legislation sets out the design of ballot papers.
On House of Representatives ballot papers some modification is permitted; if
there are more than 30 candidates, two or more columns can be used. There is
currently little flexibility for Senate ballot papers, which are to be:
...laid out in a landscape design, with squares for those
groups that have lodged Group Voting Tickets (GVTs) at the top of the ballot
paper (the ‘above-the-line’ portion of the paper), followed by a thick black
line, followed by the names of individual candidates organised in groups across
the paper in the ‘below-the-line’ portion.
The increasing number of Senate candidates and groups in New South
Wales, in particular, has led to an expanded ballot paper. In the 2010 federal
election, the NSW Senate ballot paper contained 84 candidates distributed
across 33 columns. It was 1020 millimetres wide, which is the widest ballot
paper that the printers were able to produce as a single sheet.
The legislative requirements for the Senate ballot paper meant that when
faced with the New South Wales Senate ballot paper in 2010, the Australian
Electoral Commission (AEC) was limited to reducing the font and hyphenating
names. Mr Doug Orr, AEC State Manager for NSW, observed with regard to the NSW
Senate ballot paper that:
In managing this ballot paper, one candidate’s name had to be
wrapped over two lines, and font sizes were reduced to 8.5 for candidate names.
I am concerned over the potential effect of the increased group numbers on
legibility for future Senate ballot papers, given the inability to print a
wider ballot paper.
Given the size of the NSW Senate ballot paper and the reduced font size
(8.5 point), it was impractical to reproduce a legible copy for this
report. Figure 9.1 provides some indication of the scale and the amount of
information covered in the ballot paper. Figure 9.2 is a more readable sample
ballot for the election of Senators for the Australian Capital Territory, which
contains 9 candidates in 5 columns.
Figure 9.1 Sample Senate ballot paper, 2010 federal election,
New South Wales
by the Australian Electoral Commission.
Figure 9.2 Sample Senate ballot paper, 2010 federal election,
Australian Capital Territory
by the Australian Electoral Commission
In evidence to the Committee, Mr Antony Green argued that:
Ballot papers of such size [as the NSW Senate ballot paper] are
distorting the choice of voters. A ballot paper one metre wide is
difficult to manipulate in a polling place.
The point of an election is to elect representatives to the
parliament. The current rules for Senate nomination allow people with no hope
of election to nominate...
The AEC also expressed its concern about the growing size of ballot
papers. It argued that:
...the NSW Senate ballot paper does not currently strike an
appropriate balance between providing voters with a choice of candidates
representative of their views and interests, and the countervailing need to
ensure ballot papers are not so unwieldy and difficult to complete that, in
effect, they operate to diminish the capacity of voters to exercise their
Concern about the size of the NSW Senate ballot paper is not new. When discussing
the issue during a second reading debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation
Amendment Bill 1983, a Senator recounted an anecdote that:
...in 1974 there were 73 candidates in New South Wales. This
meant that electors in New South Wales who went to the polls were obliged to
fill in numbers from one to 73. I can recall a story about a lady who picked up
her ballot paper, took it out of the polling booth, which I suppose is against
the electoral legislation, took it home, made a cup of tea and while she was
drinking her cup of tea filled in the numbers from 1 to 73. She took it back
and put it into the ballot box. That was probably a long-winded way of filling
in a ballot paper. However, many people made errors when confronted with that
number of candidates.
The debate was in the context of the introduction of above-the-line voting
in the Senate to help combat the high level of informality. However, the size
of ballot papers still represents a challenge for voters in areas, such as New
South Wales, where there are large numbers of candidates.
A noteworthy example at the state level is the ‘table cloth’ in the 1999
NSW Legislative Council election, which saw a one metre by 700 millimetre
ballot paper produced. There were 264 candidates representing 81 groups, and
the ballot paper was triple-decked.
If the number of candidates for NSW Senate elections increases at future
federal elections, there is limited scope for expansion on the NSW Senate
ballot paper. Any increases in candidates and columns on future ballot papers
would see the AEC further reducing font sizes and hyphenating names, and voters
continuing to navigate the casting of their vote over more than a metre of
The increasing number of candidates for the House of Representatives is
also of concern. Given the strict formality requirements for House of
Representatives ballot papers, as outlined in Chapter 7 and in Table 7.1, it is
apparent that the more preferences the voter is required to mark and keep track
of, the greater chance there is of errors creeping in that will render their
The Victorian Electoral Commissioner, Mr Steve Tully, highlighted the
problem of high candidate numbers and its effect on informality, stating:
There is a clear correlation—there is research on this that I
am sure you have seen—that the more candidates that you have on the ballot
paper in a fully preferential system, the more likely you are to have
duplication or errors and informality. For local government elections in
Victoria, in areas like Brimbank, where they can have as many as 30 or 40
candidates, the informality rate can be as high as 25 per cent for some wards.
Increasing the nomination deposits for candidates has been proposed as a
means of discouraging candidates who are not seriously in contention for
election and so reducing the number of candidates on ballot papers.
This is applicable to both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The
Australian Greens did not agree with this approach. The Greens were of the view
that increasing deposits makes it more difficult for people to participate in
democratic elections. They believe that if there are problems with too many names
on the ballot paper then that particular issue needs to be addressed, but the
answer should not be to restrict candidature to only the people or parties who
can most afford it. The Greens felt that a doubling of the deposit in such a
short time span seems to be an overreaction to this perceived problem. They
observed that past deposit increases have never been more than $150, so to
increase it by $1000 for the Senate and $500 for the House is unjustified. If
there is to be an increase the Greens suggest it should be by a modest amount.
As part of the nomination process, candidates for Senate and House of
Representatives elections are required to deposit the sums of $1000 and $500,
respectively, with the AEC.
The nomination deposits are returned to the candidate or their agent if:
- the nomination is
- the candidate dies
before election day;
- if the candidate is
- in the
case of ungrouped Senate candidates, the candidate has first preferences that
are at least four percent of the total number of formal first preference votes
cast for all candidates in that state or territory; or
- in the
case of grouped Senate candidates, the sum of the first preferences received
by the group is at least four per cent of the total number of formal first
preference votes in that state or territory; or
- in the
case of the House of Representatives, if the candidate receives first
preferences that are at least four per cent of the total number of formal first
preferences cast in that division.
Spurred by his concerns about ballot paper complexity, Mr Green
We need to significantly increase the nomination fee or put a
fee on for access to an above-the-line ticket vote on Senate nominations, or at
some stage we are going to have a Senate ballot paper which cannot be printed
in time for the start of voting, or is going to be so unwieldy that it will do
even worse damage to the informal voting rates in the lower house.
The AEC similarly recommended the increase of nomination deposit
requirements. It also recommended the indexation of the nomination deposit at
the same rate as is used for the public funding payment.
The AEC noted that:
Mechanisms such as deposits and requirements for multiple
nominators are widely used to balance the principles of ensuring voters have a
choice of representative candidates with the need to ensure candidature is
The Committee notes that there have only been moderate rises to the nomination
deposit fees since 1918, as detailed in Table 9.1.
Table 9.1 Changes to the nomination deposit amount since
House of Representatives
Australia changes to
(as at 1973 CEA reprint)
taken from amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, ss
170 (from 1991) and s 73 (1918-1983)
The Committee agrees that in some states, such as New South Wales,
ballot papers have become increasingly complex as the number of candidates has
risen. The resulting administrative challenges and cost implications are
naturally of concern, but the impact that this may have on voters
unintentionally voting informally is particularly worrying. The deposit amount
should be an amount that does not unduly hamper participation, but acts as a
deterrent to frivolous candidacies.
The Committee recommends that subsection 170(3) of the Commonwealth
Electoral Act 1918 be amended to increase the sum to be deposited by or
on behalf of a person nominated as a Senator to $2,000.
The Committee recommends that subsection 170(3) the Commonwealth
Electoral Act 1918 be amended to increase the sum to be deposited by or
on behalf of a person nominated as a Member of the House of Representatives
Nominations period and commencement of pre-polling
The close of nominations for Senate and House of Representatives
candidates is noon on a fixed date that shall not be less than 10 days or more
than 27 days after the issue of the writ. The nominations are then declared the
following day at noon.
The date fixed for polling is then not less than 23 days and not more
than 31 days after the date of nomination. However, at combined
House of Representatives and Senate elections, pre-polling may commence no
sooner than the second day after the declaration of Senate nominations.
As ballot papers must be issued to postal voters and an
pre-polling period has become an accepted feature at recent elections, a rapid
printing turnover is required. As outlined in Table 2.1, the 2010 federal
election declaration of nominations was noon Friday 30 July 2010. Pre-poll
voting commenced the following Monday 2 August 2010. This meant that 43 million
ballot papers had to be produced over that weekend.
The AEC further noted that Senate Group Voting Tickets are to be lodged
24 hours after the declaration of Senate nominations, which in practical terms
left less than 24 hours to prepare, print and distribute ordinary and postal ballot
papers across Australia in time for the commencement of early voting.
The challenge of preparing and printing ballot papers is made more
difficult when facing the complexity of ballot paper layout and size that has
come with more candidates, especially on Senate ballot papers.
In its evidence to the Committee, the AEC sought more time in which to
undertake this considerable printing task. It noted that fortuitously
declarations of nominations have occurred on a Friday, making the first
possible voting day a non-business Sunday. If this was not the case then the
printing and distribution time of ballot paper could potentially be even
The Committee believes that addressing the timing of the candidate
nominations is merited, in recognition of the administrative demands on the Australian
Electoral Commission in the production of ballot papers for postal votes and
pre-polling periods in the short period following the close of nominations.
By bringing the deadline for the receipt of nominations forward one day
the AEC will have an extra day in which to undertake the huge task of
finalising ballot papers and arrange for their printing and distribution.
The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Electoral
Act 1918 be amended to reduce the nominations period for an election by
one day so that nominations close not less than nine or more than 26 days
after the issue of the writ, rather than ten and 27 days, respectively.
The Committee recommends that, should the Government accept
recommendation 33 above, the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 be
amended to require the date fixed for polling is not less than 24, or more
than 32 days, after the date of nomination.
Overseas voting and expatriates
At the 2010 federal election, 74 084 overseas votes were issued (64 832
pre-poll and 9 252 postal votes). There were 104 overseas
posts which provided postal and pre-poll voting services to eligible electors
voting outside of Australia.
The issues of overseas enrolment entitlements and voting arrangements
arose in the inquiry into the conduct of the 2010 federal election. As in the
review of the 2007 federal election, the Southern Cross Group generated
interest through its networks, resulting in a number of submissions. In total
there were more than 35 submissions to the Committee that raised the subject of
Submitters raised concerns about the difficulties encountered by
Australian citizens travelling or living overseas in maintaining their
enrolment and voting while overseas.
The Committee notes that the AEC has a ‘frequently asked questions’
section on its website providing information on voting entitlements and
arrangements whilst overseas. It can be accessed from the AEC homepage.
It is not compulsory to be enrolled and vote in Australian elections
while overseas. Electors who are leaving Australia, or who are already
overseas, can notify the AEC of their absence and be removed from the electoral
However, the Commonwealth Electoral Act does make provision for Australians
travelling and living overseas who wish to remain on the electoral roll and participate
in Australian federal elections. As at 26 July 2010, 16 199
Australians were enrolled as eligible overseas electors.
A person already enrolled for a particular electoral division can apply
to be treated as an eligible overseas elector. The elector must be intending to
return to reside in Australia within six years, and apply within three months
prior to their departure date from Australia or within three years of having
ceased to reside in Australia.
An eligible overseas elector will then be retained on the electoral roll
at the address at which they were enrolled before leaving Australia, and can
vote in that electoral division. The AEC makes the appropriate notation against
the elector’s name on the roll to indicate their status as an eligible overseas
If the person is not already enrolled, they can apply from outside
Australia to be enrolled in the electoral division:
- in which they last
had an entitlement to be enrolled;
- if they never had an
entitlement, for an electoral division in which any of the person’s next of kin
is enrolled; or
- if the above does
not apply, in the division in which they were born, or failing that, in the
division in which the person has the closest connection.
This eligible overseas elector status is initially granted for six years
after the day on which their residency ceased, but under section 94(8) of the
Commonwealth Electoral Act, the AEC can extend the period for one year
following expiry of the six years, if the elector notifies the relevant Divisional
Returning Officer (DRO) each year of their intention to resume residency in
Australia. Effectively, if an elector intends to again live in Australia, they
can continue to remain on the Commonwealth electoral roll if they take the necessary
action each year of advising the AEC.
The AEC provides voting services to electors who are temporarily
overseas during an election period, eligible overseas electors and Australian
Defence Force personnel serving overseas. These electors can choose to vote by
attending an overseas polling place or by postal vote.
A number of submissions brought to the Committee’s attention the various
difficulties individuals had encountered when attempting to maintain their
enrolment. Complaints included:
- not being aware of
their options until after they had left Australia;
- electors being
removed from the roll as a result of the objection process when they are found
not to be currently residing at the relevant address and not being able to
re-enrol once they have been removed; and
- that the were time
restrictions on the overseas eligibility entitlement.
Some submitters argued that there should not be any limit on how long expatriate
Australians can remain eligible overseas electors, if that person remains
engaged in Australian issues and wishes to continue to participate in the
election of the country’s representatives. Ms Shipra Chordia, an Australian
living and working overseas, stated that:
There is no substantial reason that might justify this
curtailment of an overseas Australian citizen’s right to vote. Unlike a
prisoner incarcerated for a sufficiently serious crime, an overseas Australian
citizen has not necessarily withdrawn from his or her responsibilities to
participate in Australian civic life. Merely choosing to reside in a particular
place is not an indicator of willingness to carry civic responsibility. This is
even acknowledged within the legislation - an individual is not disenfranchised
at the point at which he or she emigrates, but rather, at an arbitrary point
three years later.
The Committee noted submitter observations that some professionals are
increasingly choosing to work overseas, but keep close ties with Australia. It
was suggested that their experiences would be beneficial to Australia on their
For those eligible electors seeking to exercise their vote while
overseas, some submitters found that they experienced difficulties due to limited
access to pre-polling locations in their country of residence or, in the case
of postal voting, not receiving their ballot paper in sufficient time to allow
its return to the AEC by the required time.
The issue of postal voting delays was discussed in Chapter 4. The
Committee noted that the AEC were aware of, and expressed concern about, the
delays in the issues of postal votes, which may have led to some electors not
having their vote counted. Further, the Committee noted that the AEC had
reviewed the performance of the contractor responsible for the issue of the
postal vote packs and they have agreed on improved processes for the future.
The Committee was pleased to hear from a number of Australians living
overseas who seek to remain engaged in Australia’s election process. It is
regrettable that some eligible electors have encountered difficulties
maintaining their enrolment and casting their vote.
The Committee believes that the current provisions and voting
entitlements for Australians living overseas are appropriate. However, more
should be done by the Australian Electoral Commission to ensure that voters are
made aware of their options before leaving Australia, and are not
disenfranchised in cases where they remain eligible and willing to cast their
vote while overseas.
Senate ballot paper packaging
One of the many logistical challenges faced by the AEC is the
distribution and return of polling materials and ballot papers for over 7 760
ordinary polling places, 531 Pre-poll Voting Centres (PPVCs), 455 special
hospitals mobile teams, 38 remote mobile teams, 19 prison mobile teams, 104
overseas posts and five overseas Australian Defence Force teams.
On the outward journey ballot papers are mostly provided to polling
places and other voting venues as arranged by DROs. Ballot papers are generally
pre-packaged in the boxes in which they are received from the printer who
On the journey back from polling places and other venues, ballot papers
are packaged according to instructions provided by the DRO. Where ballot papers
are returned from polling places and pre-poll voting centres, and where counts
have been conducted, the Commonwealth Electoral Act specifies how they must be
In the case of Senate ballot papers, those instructions appear in
subsection 273 (2)(b), which provides that in the case of ballot papers marked
below-the-line, they must be sorted and packaged separately, meaning that the
ballot papers must be a sorted to each candidate, counted, then parcelled
separately for return to the DRO.
At the 2010 federal election, there were 84 Senate candidates in NSW, 60
each in Victoria and Queensland, 55 in Western Australia, 42 in South Australia
and 24 in Tasmania. The Australian Capital Territory had nine candidates and
the Northern Territory had 15.
Following the conclusion of the count, at each polling place and PPVC, a
separate parcel must be prepared and packaged by the Officer in Charge for each
candidate who received a first preference vote below the line.
The AEC submitted that this requirement is a legacy from the time prior
to the introduction of the computerised Central Senate Scrutiny (CSS) system,
and is no longer required.
The AEC noted in its submission that by removing the need to sort
separately, the number of sorts required in each polling place in New South
Wales could have been reduced from 117 to 70 and the number of parcels reduced
from 117 to 34.
The Committee notes the Australian Electoral Commission’s concerns about
workloads relating to the parcelling of Senate ballot papers.
The Committee is of the view that the sorting and counting of
preferences on Senate ballot papers should continue in the same way that it has
been done in the past.
The Officer in Charge of a polling place records the count in the Polling
Place Return, and scrutineers are able to watch the counting and sorting. While
the information may not be made public on polling night, candidates and
political parties are entitled to receive it from their scrutineers.
Further, the Polling Place Return is a record of what transpires in a
polling place on polling day, and it is important record that in the event of some
unforeseen circumstance can be relied upon.
The Committee agrees, however, that there is no reason why, once the
count has been recorded, below-the-line ballot papers should not be parcelled
together for return to the DRO, which will reduce workload in a polling place
on polling night.
The Committee recommends that Part XVIII of the Commonwealth
Electoral Act 1918 be amended to require that once the first preference
count in polling places or counting centres on polling night, or in
scrutinies conducted after polling day, has been completed and appropriate
records made, all Senate ballot papers indicating a first preference for
individual candidates below the line may be parcelled together for return to
the Divisional Returning Officer.
Undertakings by persons employed by the AEC
One important feature of democratic processes that assists the community
to maintain faith in election processes and election results in Australia is
that federal elections are conducted by an independent and impartial Electoral
One way of ensuring that impartiality is to make sure that persons
employed by the AEC undertake their duties in an impartial fashion and that
they act with integrity. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Electoral Act requires
that officers and other employees who undertake duties at an election or
referendum sign an undertaking in the approved form.
In the past, when all employment forms were paper-based, this was
achieved by providing a form to the officer or employee, who duly signed it
prior to commencing work at the election or referendum.
In 2010, the AEC implemented a number of changes to the way it interacted
with potential employees, moving to a secure Internet-based application
process, with offers of employment generated and sent by email to the potential
Under this new arrangement, potential employees would receive then
review employment documentation attached to the email and accept the offer of
employment by email. A paper based process was still available for applicants
who did not have access to the internet or chose not to correspond online.
The AEC submitted that by removing the legislative requirement that the
Officer and Employee Undertaking be signed, it would facilitate electronic
interactions with potential employees. The AEC proposed that the Undertaking
would still be made, as it would remain a condition of acceptance of the offer
of employment, however, the requirement for an actual signature on a
paper-based form, would be removed.
The Committee believes that any person who accepts employment with the
AEC at a federal election or referendum must be bound by an undertaking to
carry out their duties in an impartial fashion.
The Committee notes that there have been instances where, even though an
employee has made such an undertaking, their previous employment or activity in
the political arena has been a cause for concern to some, and actions have been
taken by the AEC to mitigate such concerns.
The Committee is mindful that the AEC is moving toward electronic
interactions to a greater extent in its everyday business and that employment
of casual staff in non-election periods is also now carried out using secure
internet-based and email interactions.
The Committee agrees with the AEC that removing the requirement that an
undertaking be signed would provide greater flexibility in employment processes
both in and out of election and referendum periods, with the undertaking still
remaining a condition of employment.
However, the Committee notes that not all potential employees are
prepared to interact electronically; therefore any paper-based employment
regime must also be consistent with an electronic regime.
The Committee recommends that section 202A of the Commonwealth
Electoral Act 1918 be amended to remove the requirement that the
officer and employee undertaking be signed. Instead, the officer and employee
undertaking should be made and accepted as part of the offer of employment.
Impact of election earnings for polling staff employed by the AEC
The AEC employed 66 874 temporary staff in order
to prepare for and conduct the 2010 federal election. Of this number, some 23
500 persons over 55 were employed on polling day and received a package payment
amount, ranging from $339.83 to $799.84 depending on the position for which
they were employed.
In the context of discussing issues around the employment of polling
staff, the Community and Public Sector Union told the Committee that some persons
who had been employed as polling officials in previous elections had declined
to be employed again at the 2010 federal election, and some who were employed
at the 2010 federal election, were not inclined to make themselves available in
future, because their pensions (or part-pensions) would be reduced.
The Committee heard that in the past, those persons had been able to
have their election earnings ‘averaged out’ over the financial year, but due to
changes in the rules, some had lost or had their pensions reduced for that
The Committee notes the valuable contribution made by persons who are
employed as polling officials and election staff. The Committee is concerned to
ensure that sufficient, skilled and experienced staff are available to assist
with the conduct of elections and referenda, whenever they may occur.
The Committee is, therefore, reassured by a letter from the Electoral
Commissioner dated 27 June 2011, informing the Committee that the matter had
been addressed by the Government.
The Electoral Commissioner indicated that he has been advised that
changes to income support legislation, effective from 1 July 2011, will over
time deliver more generous benefits than the previous annual averaging rules,
while retaining the clarity and certainty that the fortnightly assessment
arrangements have provided.
The Committee notes that a number of recommendations made in this
report, would, if not also made in respect of referenda, result in
inconsistency between the operation of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984.
The Committee believes that wherever possible, consistency of operation
should be maintained.
The Committee recommends that any recommendations in this
report that propose amending the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 should,
where also appropriate, be incorporated into the Referendum (Machinery Provisions)
Act 1984, to ensure consistency between the provisions applying to
elections and referenda.
Daryl Melham MP
29 June 2011