Chapter 25 - Ballots

163  Conduct of ballot

  1. Before the Senate proceeds to a ballot, the bells shall be rung as in a division.
  2. Each senator present shall give to the Clerk a list of the names of the senators for whom the senator votes, and if any list contains a larger or lesser number of names than are to be chosen it shall be void and rejected.
  3. When all the lists are collected, the Clerk, with the mover acting as scrutineer, shall ascertain and report to the President the names of the senators having the greatest number of votes, which senators shall be declared to be chosen.
  4. If 2 or more senators have an equality of votes, the President shall determine by lot which senator shall be chosen.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SOs 346 (corresponding to paragraph (1)) and 347 (corresponding to paragraphs (2) to (4)) but renumbered as SOs 342 and 343 for the first printed edition

Amended: 1 September 1937, J.44 (to take effect 1 October 1937) (words added – “except as otherwise provided” – to recognise the special procedures for ballot for President in SO 7)

1989 revision: Old SO 356 and 357 combined into one, restructured as four paragraphs and renumbered as SO 163; language simplified and words added in 1937 removed as redundant


Ballots for President and Deputy President are conducted in accordance with the procedures set out in SO 7 which provide for an exhaustive ballot. The procedures in SO 163 do not provide for an exhaustive ballot as they are directed to the selection of a number of senators, presumably to serve on a committee. For commentary on the operation of these provisions, see Australian Senate Practice, 6th edition, pp.418–20, and Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 12th edition, p.224.

Secret ballots

Secret ballots are conducted for such matters as committee membership. While the clerks count the votes, whips usually act as scrutineers (Photo courtesy of AUSPIC)

The widespread use of membership formulae in standing orders and resolutions appointing committees limits the application of this standing order in practice. Where membership places are allocated to particular groupings, such as government or opposition senators, internal party processes are followed to select the ultimate nominees. Competing nominations now only arise in practice when multiple groups are eligible to nominate for a limited number of places, for example, the single place on legislative and general purpose standing committees reserved for minority group or independent senators. In recent years, ballots for committee places have been of this type, between the nominees of different minority groups, or between minority group nominees and independent senators, for one or two places on a committee.[1]

Because the ballot is a secret ballot, the papers are not afterwards available for inspection but are sealed by the Clerk and held securely, pending any subsequent requirement for examination that may be ordered by the Senate.

By convention, pairing arrangements do not apply to ballots because they are secret votes (and presumably, therefore, the equivalent of free votes). There has been some controversy from time to time in relation to this convention but, as pairing is not dealt with in the standing orders of the Senate, it is not a matter on which the President is obliged to rule. On 10 September 1996, the Senate agreed to a resolution highlighting the differing records of the major parties on this issue. This followed an acrimonious debate on the election of the Deputy President on 20 August that year.[2] In March 2010, a ballot to choose a member of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety was held again, by leave (with a different senator chosen on the second occasion). The ballot was taken again after senators indicated that there had been insufficient notice of the vote and it had not been appreciated that informal pairing arrangements did not apply to ballots.[3]