Chapter 1: Introduction

Elections are common decision-making procedures. Sometimes these decisions have limited consequences, such as the election of a school fundraising committee. Sometimes they have effects felt across the world, such as when a Pope or US President is elected.

Where elections have limited consequences, the rules applied to them are often minimal and the procedures informal. A school fundraising committee member might be elected on a simple show of hands at a meeting where whoever turns up gets to vote. Where elections have larger consequences, the rules that develop around them tend to become more complicated and procedures much more formal. Only certain types of people are allowed to run for office and to vote. The votes are counted according to specific rules that determine who wins the election.

There are many ways to run an election. Governments in Australia and elsewhere have experimented with these many ways of running elections, with the result that electoral laws are complex. This is particularly true in countries like Australia with federal systems of government; that is, systems that constitutionally divide government between national and state or regional bodies. Over a three or four year cycle, Australians will vote for representatives in legislative bodies at national, state and local levels. Each of these elections will be based on different laws. When Australians move from one state or territory to another, they will find that the electoral laws governing them will differ from those in the state or territory they have left.

It is easy to become confused over Australian laws about voting and elections. This publication is an attempt to explain some of the most important features of Australian electoral laws. It deals in greatest detail with laws at the Commonwealth or national level; however, it also points to some of the differences in election law between the different states and territories and with local government elections.

Further reading

The author recommends the following further reading:

The best commentary of Australian election law is Graeme Orr, The law of politics: elections, parties and money in Australia, 2nd ed. Alexandria: Federation Press, 2019.

A wide-ranging account of the 2016 Federal Election can be found in Anika Gauja, Peter Chen, Jennifer Curtin and Juliet Pietsch (eds), Double disillusion: the 2016 Australian federal election. Canberra: ANU Press, 2018.

Useful links