Year in review

AEC overview

Report on performance: Outcome 1

Report on performance: Outcome 2

Report on performance: Outcome 3

Management and accountability

Financial performance and future operations



Output 2.1.1 - Federal elections, by-elections and referendums

Updated: 22 December 2010

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The AEC plans for, manages, evaluates and reports on the elections it conducts, and implements improvements to systems, practices, procedures and materials.

The AEC is responsible for implementing the government's response to relevant recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its report on the conduct of the 2007 federal election.

The AEC also conducts by-elections as required.


The AEC conducts federal elections in accordance with the requirements of the Electoral Act. Election planning, management, evaluation and reporting are covered under this output.

Table 12 summarises the AEC's results against the performance information set out for Output 2.1.1 in the 2008–09 Portfolio Budget Statements.


The AEC conducted two federal by-elections in 2008–09, in the divisions of Lyne and Mayo. The AEC also finalised its review of the conduct of the 2007 federal election and activities associated with the Gippsland by-election held in June 2008. Preparations for the next federal election continued.

Finalisation of post-election reviews

During 2008, the AEC established working parties to consider a range of matters arising from the post-election evaluation and review of the 2007 federal election, including the nominations process; election forms and materials; the Election Management System (ELMS); and training materials and processes for polling staff and AEC staff. Recommendations from the working parties have contributed to improvements for the next federal election.

Table 12 Output 2.1.1 – Federal elections, by-elections and referendums: performance results
Key performance indicators Targets Results
Federal electoral events (including by-elections) are successfully delivered as required within the reporting period AEC election practices and management are in accordance with relevant legislation Operational systems, equipment and procedures were in place and contributed to the successful conduct of the 2008 by-elections in the divisions of Lyne and Mayo.
All election tasks are carried out in accordance with legislated timeframes All legislative requirements were met in relation to the conduct of the 2008 by-elections in the divisions of Lyne and Mayo, and the completion of post-election activities related to the Gippsland by-election.

The AEC also initiated a review of election procedures manuals in the light of experience in the 2007 election. This review will be finalised early in 2009–10; however, further review may be required to take account of changes arising from the government's response to recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report on the conduct of the 2007 federal election.

As part of the post-election evaluation, Roy Morgan Research conducted a stakeholder satisfaction survey on behalf of the AEC to evaluate the AEC's service provision to stakeholders during the election. Four stakeholder groups, representing candidates, political parties, the media and state electoral offices, were invited to take part. The main findings from the survey indicate that stakeholders were satisfied with the AEC's provision of services.

Election preparations

Preparation for the next federal election is a major ongoing activity of the AEC at all levels. This work ensures that the AEC is ready to run a federal election when required. Some of the key elements of election preparation in 2008–09 are discussed in this section.

To facilitate election preparations, an 'election ready' date of 30 June 2010 has been selected for the completion of all election readiness activities, in a standard three-year election cycle. This timing ensures that the AEC would be ready for the earliest possible half-Senate and House of Representatives election, which could be held on 7 August 2010. For example, all planned operational training will be completed, cardboard polling equipment will be produced and in store, and the advertising campaign will be ready to commence by 30 June 2010. In certain circumstances an election can be held early, and all parts of the AEC have contingency plans in place for such an eventuality.

Planning also commenced for a 'simulated election' to be held between September 2009 and April 2010. The simulated election will provide an opportunity to test election delivery activities across all areas of the AEC, covering the election delivery period from announcement until the return of the writ. Opportunities to test election delivery arrangements with external contractors will also be included where this is practicable.

Election Preparation Program

Following the 2007 federal election, the AEC developed the Election Preparation Program to provide a whole-of-AEC view of preparations for the next federal event and their level of completion. The program, which is used as a framework for discussions at senior management meetings, is split into two major components:

  • election preparation – the range of AEC activities, described at a high level, in preparation for delivering a federal event; each activity has milestones for tracking and reporting
  • environmental influences – internal and external events and activities that may have an impact on preparation activity.

'Election Ready' theme

In May 2009, the Electoral Commissioner launched a new 'Election Ready' feature on the AEC intranet. The feature is designed to ensure that staff are aware of how many weeks remain until the AEC's 'election ready' date of 30 June 2010 and to provide links to relevant election preparation information. This coincided with the launch of the National Election Preparation Update, which builds on previous national office – specific election preparation status reports to provide a single document informing all staff about national election preparation matters.


The AEC undertakes a broad range of procurement activities for election purposes between elections. Some major election procurements commenced in 2008–09 related to the scanning of certified lists, printing of ballot papers, provision of declaration vote envelopes, provision of polling equipment, and construction of the National Tally Room. The intention is that all election related contracts will be in place by 30 June 2010.

Review of ballot paper formality guidelines and recount policy

In the 'Financial performance and future operations section' of the 2007–08 annual report, the AEC advised that it would review procedures relating to counting, re-counting and assessing the formality of ballot papers, in the light of the 2008 judgement of the Court of Disputed Returns in relation to the Division of McEwen.

The AEC engaged Mr Alan Henderson, a former senior Commonwealth public servant, to undertake an independent review of the AEC policies, guidelines, procedures, manuals and training provided to electoral officials about the requirements of the Electoral Act when making decisions about the formality of ballot papers.

Mr Henderson's report makes a number of recommendations, including that a single comprehensive information pack on formality be developed. The AEC has commenced action to implement the recommendations from the report, using the examples and precedents of disputed ballot papers that were ruled upon by the Court of Disputed Returns.

Research on informal voting

After every federal election the AEC conducts a survey of informal ballot papers. The analysis of informal voting for the 2007 federal election was published in 2008–09 in AEC Research Report 11, Analysis of informal voting (House of Representatives 2007 election). The report confirmed previous research findings by the AEC that the main factors that contribute to high levels of informal voting are:

  • large numbers of candidates contesting a division
  • differences in state and federal voting systems, which may lead to confusion among voters
  • proximity to other electoral events
  • high proportions of voters from non-English speaking backgrounds.

In 2008–09, the AEC also conducted research into informal voting at by-elections, using data from the Gippsland, Lyne and Mayo by-elections.

The research explored the possible relationship between 'how-to-vote' cards and types of informal votes cast. Some candidates issue cards that indicate the box in which the candidate wants the voter to place the number '1', but that do not illustrate the ordering of subsequent preferences. Candidates use this '1 only' approach if they are leaving it up to voters to determine subsequent preferences. However, the research shows that such how-to-vote cards can confuse the voter into thinking that they only need to mark their ballot paper with a '1' and do not need to indicate any further preferences. This results in the voter casting an informal vote.

Conduct of by-elections

In September 2008, by-elections for the Division of Lyne in New South Wales and the Division of Mayo in South Australia were successfully conducted within the legislated timeframes.

The writs for the by-elections were issued on 4 August 2008, the close of rolls occurred on 8 August, and nominations were declared on 15 August. Eight candidates nominated in Lyne and eleven candidates in Mayo.

For the Lyne by-election, approximately 9 000 pre-poll and 5 000 postal votes were issued by close of business on 5 September 2008. A total of 62 730 ordinary votes were counted on polling night, which was 6 September.

The successful candidate received more than 50 per cent of the formal votes on polling night. Informal votes accounted for 3.45 per cent of the votes cast. The declaration of the poll took place on 12 September, and the writ was returned on 15 September 2008.

For the Mayo by-election, a total of 7 172 pre-poll and 5 159 postal votes were issued by close of business on 5 September 2008. A total of 66 565 ordinary votes were counted on election night, which was 6 September.

Counting and rechecking of votes continued until 19 September, when the last scrutiny of postal votes was completed. Informal votes accounted for 4.99 per cent of the votes cast. The declaration of the poll took place on 23 September, and the writ was returned on 25 September 2008.