So it’s the Federal Election Today… How do I Actually Vote?

POV: you're realising why you should have made that list of preferences.



  • If you have COVID and aren’t able to make it to a polling booth, you can vote by phone. More on COVID and voting here.
  • You can find out where your nearest polling centre is here.
  • Research parties and candidates for your electorate before going in to vote, and have your preferences organised beforehand as well.
  • You can (and I’d recommend you do) bring in a list either on your phone or a piece of paper organising your preferences. This will come in handy as the ballots are randomised.
  • You have to number every box on the House of Representatives ballot (the smaller one).
  • You only have to preference a minimum of six parties for the Senate ballot ABOVE THE LINE, but if you want to maximise your vote, preference as many as you can BELOW THE LINE.
  • If you choose to only put six preferences (the minimum) DO NOT put any party you don’t like in those six spots.
  • Only number the boxes on your ballot papers; do not write or draw anywhere on them!

The day has come. After three long years, we finally have a chance to directly say who we want in or out. Radical! Except…. How do we actually do that?

This guide is mainly for those of us who will be going into a polling booth to vote Saturday, 21 May. If you registered for a postal vote (only available under specific circumstances), you can watch the AEC’s guide to that here.


What to expect—an overview
When you go to the polling centre you’ll probably be confronted near the entrance by a squadron of eager, lobbying party representatives trying not-so-subtly to hand you the “how to vote” cards and information for their party. If you want that party to get in, you can follow these cards. But keep in mind they aren’t actually telling you how to vote—they’re telling you how to give that party the best chance of getting in. If you don’t want them, you can politely decline, or alternatively speed walk past without making eye contact.

First, you will have to go up to some electoral officers with a massive book of names and tell them your full name. They will ask you a couple of questions then mark you off as having voted and then hand you the relevant ballot papers for your electorate.

You’ll then go stand at one of the booths and fill out your ballots.

Once you’ve finished filling out the ballots (explained below), you’ll fold them up and post them into the labelled boxes near the exit.


How to actually vote—the ballots
The Federal election voting process is composed of  two ballots for the two houses of parliament at a federal (national) level. These are the House of Representatives and the Senate.

For the House of Representatives ballot (the little green one), you will need to number every box according to your preference from first (number one) to last. Only one single representative (the one with the most first preferences) will get in.

For the senate ballot (the big long white one), you only have to fill out six spots above the line, or twelve below. You can do either, but not both. We’ll be focusing on above the line since it's the most common by a long shot.

There are four important takeaways for the two ballots:

  1. For the senate ballot, if you want to maximise your vote, you should number as many boxes as possible. The principle behind this is simple—putting someone last is much lower than putting them at position six. You can also number anywhere between if you don’t feel like putting a preference for everyone—it is a big effort! Just remember that six is the minimum number of boxes you should number.
  2. You should not feel pressured to put any party you don’t like in positions one to six, even if they’re an established party. So many people put parties in position six thinking that’s putting them last, but it’s actually saying you prefer them to every remaining party.  Some think this is why we have certain particularly conservative parties in parliament.
  3. You can bring a pre-ordered list of parties/candidates on your phone or on a piece of paper, and doing this will make it a lot easier—because there are so many it can get pretty confusing, and they may vary depending on what electorate you’re in. Here’s where you can find your candidates.
  4.  Be careful to number correctly, and check your ballots over before you hand them in. If there’s writing/drawing anywhere on the ballot paper, or repeated/missing numbers in the boxes, your vote is marked as informal and not counted. You can ask for another one if you mess up—don’t be embarrassed!


What if I catch COVID and can’t make it to a booth?

In this situation, you can vote by phone, as outlined here. Note that it is listed as for those with impaired vision—this is generally what telephone voting is used for, but the AEC has said it will be used as an emergency measure for those who have COVID. 

Voting can be a stressful experience, but don’t give up—it’s a couple of minutes of boring stuff that will influence the next three years of your life. So go forth, dear readers, and stick it to any and all manipulators this election season.


Image from Flickr.

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