At the polling place – frequently asked questions

Updated: 7 February 2024

While the provision of pencils used to be a legal requirement, since 2020 under section 206 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 the AEC is required to provide an ‘implement or method for voters to mark their ballot papers’.

The AEC has found from experience that pencils are the most reliable implements for marking ballot papers. Pencils are practical because they don't run out and the polling staff check and sharpen pencils as necessary throughout election day. Pencils can be stored between elections and they work better in tropical areas.

There is, however nothing to prevent an elector from marking their ballot paper with a pen if they so wish.

If your name cannot be found on the certified list, you will be asked to spell your name or print it on a piece of paper and the certified list will be rechecked. You may also be asked if you could be on the roll under a different name (do you have a former name?).

If your name still cannot be found, or your name on the list has been marked in some way, you will be directed to cast a declaration vote.

This situation can sometimes occur when, for example, if your name has changed by marriage or deed poll and an enrolment transaction is yet to be submitted.

If this is the case, the polling official will record the correct information in an elector information report. They may also ask you to complete a new enrolment form to update your details on the electoral roll. The polling official cannot change the details on the certified list.

If the address is different, you will be asked for your previous address. This ensures that it is you that is being marked off and not someone with the same name. You will also be asked to complete a new enrolment form so that your enrolment details can be updated on the electoral roll.

If you have 'silent' enrolment (you have applied to not have your address listed on the electoral roll) you will be referred to the polling official in charge for the issue of a declaration vote.

Prior to the ballot box being used, the empty box is shown to any Scrutineers and other people present before it is closed and sealed. Numbered security seals are used to secure the ballot boxes. The seal number will be recorded by the polling official in charge and will be witnessed. The ballot boxes in use are visible at all times during the poll and are guarded by a polling official. Ballot boxes which are full remain sealed and are stored in a secure place.

Polling officials take every precaution with ballot papers in their care. Ballot papers are kept secure at all times and are never left unattended.

Declaration votes

A declaration vote is when an elector makes a declaration about their entitlement to vote.

Declaration votes are issued when the elector casts an absent, pre-poll, postal or provisional vote.

A provisional vote is cast by someone not found on the electoral roll, someone found on the roll as having already cast a vote or a silent elector.

A provisional vote is a form of declaration vote and is a failsafe process to ensure anyone eligible who has cast a vote can have their vote counted.

You may make your mark as a signature if you are unable to sign your name. In such cases you must make your mark in the presence of a polling official acting as a witness. The polling official will then identify the fact that you made your mark by:

  • adding the words 'his mark' or 'her mark' above your mark; and
  • printing your given name(s) to the left of the mark, and your surname to the right of the mark
  • the issuing officer then signing as the witness.

A person who holds a power of attorney for you is NOT permitted to sign any electoral form on your behalf.

Elector making their mark

Your name and other details are required on the envelope so that your entitlement to vote can be confirmed and your name can be marked off the electoral roll as having voted.

The AEC maintains strict procedures in handling declaration votes to first check that you are entitled to vote, and secondly to ensure that there is no way your vote can be identified.

Envelopes are kept face down when ballot papers are removed so that no one can see your name or details. The ballot papers are placed in a ballot box.

Once the batch of envelopes has been processed, the envelopes are put away, the ballot box is opened and the ballot papers are sorted and counted. This process stops any ballot paper from being matched to the information on the envelope and ensures an elector's vote remains secret.

To ensure its integrity, this process is also closely observed by scrutineers.

Voting assistance

No. A person who holds a power of attorney for a voter is not permitted to vote for an elector, as there is no provision for proxy voting in federal elections in Australia.

Assistance can be provided to voters who need assistance to vote at a polling place. This could include:

  • people with disability
  • older people
  • people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • people who require assistance to read or write.

Polling staff are trained to assist people.

You can nominate any person (except a candidate) to assist. This person could be a friend or relative, a Scrutineer or a party worker. If you do not nominate someone, then the polling official in charge will provide assistance.

If the polling official in charge is the one providing assistance, Scrutineers have the right to be present while the ballot papers are filled in.

If assistance is being provided by a person nominated by you, you and the nominated assistant enter an unoccupied polling booth. The assistant helps to complete, fold and deposit the ballot paper in the ballot box. In this situation Scrutineers ARE NOT allowed to enter the polling booth while the ballot paper is being completed.

You may advise a polling official of the illness, death or other circumstances of another person. These details will be recorded in an elector information report.

Under no circumstances will you be allowed to vote for another person. Although the polling official will record all the information you have given them, they are unable to tell you whether that person will be fined for not voting. This decision can only be made by the returning officer for that division.

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