Year in review

AEC overview

Report on performance: Program 1.1 Electoral roll management

Report on performance: Program 1.2 Election management and support services

Report on performance: Program 1.3 Education and communication

Management and accountability

Financial statements



Federal elections, by-elections and referendums

On this page:

Deliver a range of products and services to support the successful conduct of a federal election. These products are both for electors (for example procurement of polling place equipment, identification of polling places, public information campaigns and communication products), and AEC staff (for example computer based systems, training materials, procedural materials, electoral forms).


The AEC's responsibility for conducting federal elections, by-elections and referendums includes:

  • maintaining a high level of readiness, to ensure that events can be conducted within statutory timeframes whenever an election is called,
  • delivering products for electors, from polling place equipment to public information campaigns,
  • employing the appropriate number of temporary staff to assist with the conduct of a federal election, by-election or referendum,
  • delivering products for AEC staff, such as procedural and training materials and computerised systems, and
  • monitoring, evaluating and reporting on the way events are conducted.


Table 14 summarises the AEC's results against the performance information set out for federal elections, by elections and referendums in the 2010–11 Portfolio Budget Statements.

Table 14 Key performance results for federal elections, by-elections and referendums
Key performance indicators 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. All election tasks are carried out in accordance with legislated timeframes. A federal election was successfully conducted in 2010, in accordance with all legislative requirements, including legislated timeframes.
High level of election preparedness maintained and key milestones met. Systems, equipment and procedures necessary to conduct an electoral event were in place for the conduct of the 2010 federal election. Preparations for the next election were well advanced.

Conduct of the 2010 federal election

Conducting a federal election requires the AEC to meet very high levels of demand for services in very tight timeframes, as Table 15 shows.

Table 15 Key aspects of the federal election process, 2007 and 2010
Details 2007 2010
Issue of writs 17 October 19 July
Close of rolls    
  • new enrolments
17 October 19 Julya
  • amended enrolments
23 October 22 Julya
Declaration of nominations 2 November 30 July
Polling day 24 November 21 August
Return of the writs stating election results    
  • House of Representatives elections, and Senate elections in the ACT and NT
21 December 17 September
  • Senate elections in the states
14–21 December 10–17 September
No. of nominated candidates    
  • House of Representatives
1 054 849
  • Senate
367 349
  • Total
1 421 1 198
No. of declaration votes issued    
  • pre-pollb
1 110 334 534 426
  • postal
833 178 967 010
No. of provisional votes 167 682 203 488
No. of ordinary votes counted on polling night (approx.) 10 million 11 million
Proportion of total votes by type (%)    
  • ordinary votesb
77.8 74.0
  • provisional votes
1.3 1.5
  • absentee votes
6.4 6.1
  • pre-poll declaration votesb
8.3 3.9
  • pre-poll ordinary votesb
n.a. 7.3
  • postal votes
6.2 7.1
Proportion of total votes that were informal (%)    
  • House of Representatives
4.0 5.6
  • Senate
2.5 3.8

a Dates as stated in the writs for the 2010 federal election. These dates were subsequently overturned by a decision of the High Court that amended the close of rolls for all electors to 26 July 2010.

b In 2007, 'pre-poll declaration votes' included pre-poll votes cast within or outside an elector's own division. As a result of legislative changes in 2010, the two categories were separated; 'pre-poll declaration' votes now includes only pre-poll votes cast outside an elector's own division. Ordinary votes also includes votes cast with mobile teams.

The AEC delivered the mechanisms, infrastructure and human resources required to conduct the 2010 federal election effectively and in accordance with legislative requirements.

Some aspects of the conduct of the election were affected by the passage of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Act 2010 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Act 2010 in July 2010. In particular:

  • a pre-poll vote in an elector's home division was cast and counted as an ordinary vote, rather than a declaration vote,
  • arrangements were in place to enable secret voting for voters who are blind or have low vision, and
  • the eligibility criteria for early voting were expanded.

The period from the announcement of the 2010 federal election to election day was 35 days, which is two days more than the minimum such period allowed by the Electoral Act. The pre-election period in 2010 provided approximately one week less of preparation time than the corresponding periods for the two previous federal elections.

Preparations for the election were substantially completed by 30 June 2010, when election delivery plans were in place, major election materials and equipment items had been finalised, staff had been tentatively allocated to polling places, the majority of election delivery contracts were in place and election procedures training had been delivered to AEC staff. This allowed all staff to quickly transition to delivery mode when the election date was announced, and to be in a better position to respond to the unanticipated large volumes of work that eventuated at roll close and in the provision of early voting services.

Election call centre services were provided by Centrelink, supported by an expert team of AEC staff who provided answers to more complex questions. Service level standards were generally met or exceeded, with the exception of the first business day after the announcement, 19 July 2010, when an unprecedented volume of calls (112 652) was received and electors experienced delays in having their calls answered. For the period 17 July to 3 September 2010, the call centre received 745 256 calls; 41 628 calls were abandoned after queuing, mostly on 19 July; 36 858 emails and 35 741 requests for AEC products, including electoral enrolment forms and postal vote applications, were received and processed.


Nominations were accepted from 849 House of Representatives candidates and 349 Senate candidates. All nominations were declared and ballot paper draws were conducted in line with legislative requirements at noon on 30 July 2010.

Distribution of ballot papers

The AEC began to print and distribute ballot papers over the weekend immediately following the declaration of nominations, to ensure that adequate ballot papers were available for early voting, which commenced on 2 August 2010. The production of ballot papers was completed in sufficient time for their distribution for use by mobile polling teams and on election day. Ballot papers were issued to 13 619 586 electors.

Provision of voting services

The facilities for voting comprised:

  • 7 760 ordinary polling places established on election day,
  • 531 pre-poll voting centres which operated for up to three weeks prior to election day, and early voting facilities provided at AEC divisional offices,
  • 455 special hospitals mobile teams, 38 remote mobile teams, 19 prison mobile teams, 103 overseas posts and five overseas Australian Defence Force teams, and
  • secret voting services for electors who are blind or have low vision, allowing them to cast their vote by telephone from an AEC divisional office or selected early voting centres.

Early voting trends

Over successive elections, there has been a significant shift in the way Australians cast their votes at federal elections, to the extent that votes cast prior to election day in 2010 represented 19 per cent of all votes cast through mobile, postal and pre-poll, some 550 000 more early votes than were cast in the 2007 federal election.

Just over 1.5 million pre-poll votes were cast at the 2010 federal election, an increase of 37.9 per cent on the 1 110 334 pre-poll votes cast in 2007. In 2010, 996 875 home division pre-poll ordinary votes were cast, an increase of 49.3 per cent on the 667 625 home division pre-poll votes cast in 2007. Of those, 914 148 were cast at pre-poll voting centres, and 82 727 were cast in AEC divisional offices.

For the 2010 federal election, a total of 209 426 voters were registered as general postal voters, and the AEC received 821 836 postal vote applications (of which 7.8 per cent were duplicate or defective). The AEC issued 967 010 postal voting packages, an increase of 16 per cent compared to 2007. The AEC's central production contractor was responsible for issuing 891 125 of the packages; a further 9 252 packages were issued from overseas posts, and the remainder were issued from AEC divisional offices. The proportion of returned postal votes included in the count was similar to that in previous elections, as Table 16 shows.

Counting of votes

The counting of votes cast on election day commenced on time, and results were progressively updated during the evening through the national tally board, media feeds and the Virtual Tally Room on the AEC website. The Virtual Tally Room provided reliable, rapid access to results, and was used extensively by members of the public, the media and political parties. The subsequent processing of declaration votes issued in Australia and overseas was achieved in accordance with AEC plans, and the results were progressively updated and published in the weeks following election day.

Table 16 Use of postal vote certificates in the past three federal elections
  No. issued No. returned Percentage returned No. counteda Percentage counteda
2010 967 010 854 726 88.39 807 346 94.46
2007 833 178 749 566 89.97 706 466 94.25
2004 774 078 660 330 85.31 613 277 92.87

a For the House of Representatives.

Irregularities relating to the opening of ballot boxes at certain pre-poll voting offices in the divisions of Boothby and Flynn

At the 2010 federal election, there was accidental mishandling of some votes in the divisions of Boothby (South Australia) and Flynn (Queensland). Some ballot boxes in those divisions were opened prematurely. As a consequence, the ballot papers in those boxes had to be excluded from the count, meaning 4 274 House of Representatives votes were eliminated.

In September 2010, an independent external examination commenced. The examination aimed:

  • to make findings on what factors may have contributed to the handling of the ballot boxes that contained pre-poll ordinary votes,
  • to recommend what changes could be made to reduce the risk of similar incidents occurring in future elections, and
  • to recommend any other action that the AEC might regard as being necessary or prudent.

Three recommendations were made in the independent report into the matter, the most notable of which was that polling officials should have better access to training. The AEC accepted all three recommendations. The full report was made available on the AEC's website. Significant work has been completed on an improved training package, including the addressing of these recommendations. The package will be finalised in early 2011–12 following input from staff.

National Tally Room

The National Tally Room was constructed for the federal election again in 2010. As in past elections, the Virtual Tally Room provided information to the National Tally Room as results came to hand.

The statistics associated with the National Tally Room are impressive. The board that displays the election results for the House of Representatives is 35 metres wide and 7 metres high. On election night 2010, the television networks occupied 1 600 square metres (divided into five sections for 510 representatives), and there was seating for 258 representatives of media and political parties (160 representatives from print and radio and 33 representatives of political parties) and an area for the general public (4 350 members of the public visited on election night). Eighty AEC staff worked at the National Tally Room on election night.

The National Tally Room was constructed in 12 days and dismantled in four.

'Election dashboard' project

A data management tool, known as the 'election dashboard', was redeveloped in 2010 and deployed for the 2010 federal election. As described in a case study, the dashboard consolidated data from multiple systems, allowing for real-time analysis of key activities and improved information for decision making. It also provided a repository of information for use in post-election evaluation activities.

Post-election evaluation

The AEC developed and implemented an evaluation plan to assess the effectiveness of AEC operations for the 2010 federal election and identify potential for improvements in electoral processes and procedures.

The election evaluation plan had three key areas of focus:

  • the evaluation of seven key election activities, namely
    • call centre service delivery
    • national operational training program
    • simulated election exercise
    • election advertising and public relations campaign
    • community education strategy to reduce levels of informal voting
    • post implementation review of critical election systems, and
    • an examination of the handling of pre-poll votes in the divisions of Boothby and Flynn,
  • research studies to contribute to the AEC's understanding of whether or not the AEC is meeting elector and stakeholder needs and expectations and a range of other election issues, and
  • a series of state/territory and National Office post-election conferences to
    • identify and address key issues in the conduct of the election,
    • capture information on innovations and process improvements that worked well, and
    • make recommendations on tangible improvements in delivering electoral services.

All staff were given the opportunity to provide feedback on their experiences during the election period, including via an online survey tool which recorded feedback against four election outcomes and 11 election categories. The feedback was used to inform agendas and discussions for the state, territory and national post-election conferences.

The lessons learned from the election evaluation help to identify where the AEC should focus effort in order to optimise service delivery to meet both expected and unexpected challenges. The AEC has developed a strategy document, Towards the next election: priorities for action, to summarise the lessons learned during the 2010 election and priority areas for concentrated effort before the next election. Business areas are working on 11 key activities, and the Executive Management Group is closely monitoring progress to ensure that timely and high-quality solutions are developed.

Photo of the AEC Tally Room 2010