Elections – Frequently Asked Questions

Updated: 8 May 2016

When does the AEC secure the polling places it needs for a federal election?

As the AEC generally does not know when an election will occur it must check and investigate the availability and suitability of polling places as part of its routine preparation. The AEC hired approximately 8 000 polling places for the conduct of the 2010 federal election. Due to the size of this preparation task, checking takes a number of months and possible polling place locations are refined and updated well in advance of each federal event. The AEC also actively seeks to secure polling places with access for people with disabilities in accordance with legislative requirements.

What is the timetable for a federal election?

Please see the Election Timetable.

When is the next federal election?

As House of Representatives and half-Senate elections are usually held simultaneously, the earliest date for such an election would be Saturday 4 August 2018.

As the latest possible date for a half-Senate election is Saturday 18 May 2019, the latest possible date for a simultaneous (half-Senate and House of Representatives) election is also Saturday 18 May 2019.

How much do elections cost?

Please see Cost of Elections and Referendums 1901–Present.

What is a double dissolution election?

This is a simultaneous election for all members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Under the Constitution, the Governor-General may dissolve both the Senate and the House of Representatives at any time (except within the last six months of the House of Representatives term) provided the special circumstances as set out in s.57 of the Constitution are met.

More information can be found in our Fact Sheet on Double Dissolutions.

What is a marginal seat?

Seat classification is generally based on the results for that seat from the last election.

Where a winning candidate received less than 56% of the two candidate preferred vote the seat is classified as 'marginal'; 56–60% is classified as 'fairly safe'; and more than 60% is considered 'safe'.

What swing is required for a seat to change hands?

Anything more than an absolute majority (50% + 1 votes) is the swing required for the seat to change hands (for example: if a member holds a seat with 56% of the vote a swing of greater than 6% is required for the seat to change hands).

What is a Writ?

A writ is a document commanding an electoral officer to hold an election, and contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, the polling day and the return of the writ. The Governor-General issues the writs for House of Representatives elections and the State Governors issue writs for States' Senate elections.

What is the difference between half and full Senate elections?

Senators are elected by a preferential voting system known as proportional representation.

Candidates for the Senate stand for a state or territory. It is a Constitutional requirement that each state be equally represented regardless of its population.

There are a total of 76 Senators: 12 for each state and two for each territory. Senators for each state are elected for a six year term. Senators for each territory are elected for a term equivalent to the duration of the House of Representatives. When a House of Representatives and half Senate election are held at the same time, 40 Senate vacancies are contested.

When a Double Dissolution is declared, as there was in 1987, all 76 Senate positions are made vacant.

Why doesn’t the AEC check the eligibility of all candidates at an election?

The AEC administers the federal elections according to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act). The Electoral Act does not provide the AEC with the authority to conduct eligibility checks on potential candidates.

The eligibility of candidates is addressed in Section 44 of the Constitution. The Attorney-General’s Department administers the Constitution and the AEC cannot disqualify a candidate relying on the operation of section 44 of the Constitution. The AEC is subject to the requirements of the Electoral Act. Section 172 of the Electoral Act sets out the only grounds upon which the AEC is able to reject a nomination of a candidate. Those grounds do not include disqualifying a candidate under the Constitution. Any disqualification of a candidate due to the operation of section 44 of the Constitution can only be determined by the High Court after an election.

It is also worth noting that there is no data source available that would enable comprehensive candidate eligibility inquiries to be made in a timely and accurate way. The difficulty of such a task would also be exacerbated by the requirements of the election timetable specified in the Electoral Act, which provide for candidate nominations to be made less than a week prior to the start of early voting.