Chapter 2 - Office of the President

7      Ballot

  1. When 2 senators have been so proposed as President, each senator present shall deliver to the Clerk a ballot paper indicating the name of the candidate for whom the senator votes. The candidate who has the greater number of votes shall be the President, and be conducted to the chair.

  2. When more than 2 senators have been so proposed, the votes shall be similarly taken, and the senator who has the greatest number of votes shall be the President, provided that senator has also a majority of the votes of the senators present.

  3. If no candidate has such a majority, the name of the candidate having the smallest number of votes shall be withdrawn, and a fresh ballot shall take place; and this shall be done as often as necessary, until one candidate is elected as President by such a majority, and the senator elected shall be conducted to the chair.

  4. If there is an equality of votes, the votes shall be again taken, and if again there is an equality of votes, the Clerk shall determine, by lot, which of the candidates, having the same number of votes, shall be withdrawn, as if that candidate had obtained the lesser number of votes.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SOs 20 (corresponding to paragraph (1)), 21 (corresponding to paragraphs (2) and (3)) and 22 (corresponding to paragraph (4))

Amended: 26 November 1981, J.79, 716 (seconding requirement abolished)

1989 revision: Old SOs 20 to 22 combined into one, restructured as four paragraphs and renumbered as SO 7; language simplified


Counting the ballot papers in the election for President of the Senate on 26 August 2008

Counting the ballot papers in the election for President of the Senate on 26 August 2008, Senator Rachel Siewert (AG, WA) (left) and Senator Kerry O'Brien (ALP, Tas) acting as scrutineers (Photo courtesy of AUSPIC)

The procedure for electing a President was the subject of the Senate’s first debate and first division when it met separately for the first time on 9 May 1901.[1] Senators participating in the debate were aware that the method they chose would set the precedent for the future. Options considered included open voting on successive motions in accordance with House of Commons practice as it then was,[2] or an exhaustive secret ballot. Although there was vigorous support for open voting, the desirability of selecting a method that would ensure the chosen candidate was supported by a majority of senators (rather than a plurality) carried the argument for exhaustive ballots and the vote by 23 to 13.

The practice adopted by the Senate for the election of its first President was the basis for the Standing Orders Committee’s recommended draft.[3] Proposed SOs 20, 21 and 22 were agreed to without debate on 10 June 1903[4] and have operated without controversy or significant amendment (see Plate 5).

Division list used for the election of the Senate's first President, Sir Richard Baker

A division list was used to tally the votes for the election of the Senate's first President, Sir Richard Baker, in 1901

The mechanism for determining a result when the candidates have equal votes has been used only once, on 1 July 1941.[5] The question of the consistency of this mechanism with s.23 of the Constitution was the subject of a ruling by President Gould in 1908 in the context of a tied vote in an election for the Chairman of Committees. President Gould ruled that s.23 applied to the determination of ordinary questions and that as this was a ballot, not an ordinary question, he was obliged to follow the standing order.[6]

Although the formal requirement for nominations to be seconded was dropped in 1981,[7] the practice continued for some years as a courtesy but is now not followed.

The precise origin of the practice of determining a tied ballot by lot (the loser being the candidate whose name is drawn from the box) is unlikely to be identified but anecdotal evidence suggests that it was a well known practice in South Australian civic circles. Determination by lot of the candidate to be excluded is a very common method of dealing with tied votes. Examples may be found in subsection 274(9) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and in the rules of many kinds of organisations including governing bodies of universities and political parties. The opposite practice of drawing out the name of the winner is equally common.