Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

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Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
Parliament of Australia
  • An Act to Consolidate and Amend the
    Law relating to Parliamentary Elections
    and for other purposes
CommencedVarious dates
Amended by
1924, 1949, 1962, 1973, 1984, 2016, 2020
Related legislation
Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 is an Act of the Australian Parliament which continues to be the core legislation governing the conduct of elections in Australia, having been amended on numerous occasions since 1918.[1] The Act was introduced by the Nationalist Party of Billy Hughes, the main purpose of which was to replace first-past-the-post voting with instant-runoff voting ("preferential voting") for the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Labor Party opposed the introduction of preferential voting.[2] The Act has been amended on several occasions since.

Previous legislation[edit]

The 1918 Act replaced the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, which had defined who was entitled to vote in Australian federal elections, and the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902.[3] The 1902 Franchise Act set uniform national franchise criteria, establishing the voting age at 21 years and women's suffrage at the national level, also a right to stand for election to the Parliament. That Act also disqualified from voting a number of categories of people, including Indigenous peoples from Australia, Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands (except New Zealand Maori), even if citizens of the British Empire. A plurality voting system ("first-past-the-post") was established. The legislation also made it clear that no person could vote more than once at each election. In 1908, a permanent electoral roll was established and in 1911 it became compulsory for eligible voters to enrol. Compulsory enrolment led to a large increase in voter turnout, even though voting was still voluntary.[1] From 1912, elections have been held on Saturdays.[4]


1918 Act[edit]

The 1918 Act replaced the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 and the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902.[3] It replaced first-past-the-post voting with instant-runoff voting ("preferential voting") for the House of Representatives and the Senate. (Preferential voting had been pioneered by Queensland in 1892.)[4] The voting system was changed by the anti-Labor Hughes after the 1918 Swan by-election, which saw the Labor candidate win with 34% of the vote due to a split in the anti-Labor vote between the Nationalist and Country Party candidates, with 29.6% and 31.4% respectively. The Labor Party opposed the introduction of preferential voting.[2]

The Act also repeated the special jurisdiction of the High Court of Australia as the Court of Disputed Returns in federal election matters,[5] initially established by Part XVI of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902.

1921 amendment[edit]

In 1921, the Act was amended to disqualify anyone standing for federal parliament who "has resigned from the Parliament of a State and has the right, under the law of the State, if not elected to the Parliament of the Commonwealth, to be re-elected to the Parliament of the State without the holding of a poll". This amendment was made specifically to overrule an act passed by the Queensland state government, which allowed state MPs to automatically return to parliament without a by-election if they ran unsuccessfully for federal parliament. The Queensland government reportedly passed the legislation primarily for the benefit of Frank Forde, a future prime minister.[6][7]

1924 amendment[edit]

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1924 amended the earlier act to require compulsory voting at federal elections. It was introduced as a private senator's bill by Herbert Payne of the Nationalist Party, only the third such bill to pass through federal parliament. The introduction of compulsory voting saw voter turnout increase from a record low of 59 percent at the 1922 election to 91 percent at the 1925 election.[8]

1949 amendments[edit]

The Chifley government amended the Electoral Act in 1949, in time for the 1949 federal election, as follows:

  • the number of senators was increased from 36 to 60 (10 from each State), an increase of 24, and the number of members of the House of Representatives from 74 to 121, an increase of 47.
  • the single transferable vote under a proportional voting system for the Senate was introduced.
  • All Indigenous Australians eligible to vote in their respective states were granted the vote, as well as those who had served in the military[9]

Although in 1948 (effective in 1949) Australian nationality law had been altered to create an Australian citizenship, the nationality criterion for the franchise remained that of being a British subject.

1962 amendments[edit]

In 1962, the Menzies government extended the franchise to all Indigenous Australians at federal elections,[4][10] though enrolment was voluntary. The amendment also made it an offence to encourage Indigenous Australians to enrol to vote.[11][12][13]

1973 and 1974 amendments[edit]

Changes to the Electoral Act in 1973 by the Whitlam government included:

  • the qualifying voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 years.
  • the ACT and Northern Territory became entitled to representation in both Houses for the first time in 1974.
  • the allowable quota variation of the number of electors in each division of a state was reduced from 20% to 10%.[14]

1984 amendments[edit]

Changes to the Electoral Act in 1984 by the Hawke government included:

  • an independent Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) was established to administer the federal electoral system.
  • the number of senators was increased from 64 to 76 (12 from each State and two from each Territory), an increase of 12, and the number of members of the House of Representatives was increased from 125 to 148, an increase of 23.
  • the group voting ticket voting system (the original "above-the-line" voting) was introduced.
  • the registration of political parties was introduced to permit the printing of party names on ballot papers.
  • public funding of election campaigns and disclosure of political donations and electoral expenditure was introduced.
  • the compulsory enrolment and voting requirement was extended to cover Indigenous Australians.
  • the franchise qualification was changed to Australian citizenship, though British subjects on the roll immediately before 26 January 1984 retained enrolment and voting rights.
  • the grace period after an election is called before the electoral rolls are closed was extended to seven days and the time that polling places closed was changed from 8pm to 6pm.[4]
  • Section 282 was added, requiring the AEC to conduct a recount following a dissolution under section 57 of the Constitution as if only the elected candidates had been named on the ballot papers, and only half the number were to be elected.[15] The constitution requires the Senate to allocate long and short term senate seats, and this provides one way of determining which senators are allocated which terms. As of 2016, this method had not yet been applied,[16] despite two bipartisan senate resolutions in favour of using it as well as two double dissolution elections (1987 and 2016). See also Stalled reform on allocation of terms
  • existing legislation on the Senate (Representation of Territories) Act 1973 regarding federal parliamentary representation of Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and other territories were incorporated into the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. This included appointment of territory Senate casual vacancies.[17]

2013 amendments[edit]

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Act 2013 amended the Electoral Act to:[18][19][20]

  • increase the nomination deposit to $1000 and $2000 per candidate for the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively
  • increase the required number of signatures to 100 in order to be nominated as an independent candidate
  • require grouped independent Senate candidates to each be nominated by 100 unique electors

2016 amendments[edit]

In 2016, the registered preference part of the Senate group ticket voting system was abolished,[21] to avoid undue influence of preference deals experienced in 2013,[22] and especially cascading preference deals (which are unlikely to be obvious to most voters).[23]

2020 amendment[edit]

On 9 December 2020, the Electoral Act was amended by the Electoral Amendment (Territory Representation) Act to use the harmonic mean method to calculate the entitlement determination for the territories.[24][25] The amendment came into effect on 15 February 2021.

2021 amendments[edit]

In September 2021, the Electoral Act was amended by the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Act 2021 and made the rules surrounding the registration of political parties stricter. The tightening of party registration rules was reportedly due to an increase of parties on the Senate ballot, which resulted in the requirement of magnifying sheets for some voters to read the ballot, and a perception that voters would be misled by names of some minor parties.[26] The first change was the increase of membership requirements for a party from 500 to 1500.[26][27] The second change was that parties cannot have names that were too similar to political parties registered before them. This meant that new parties are prevented from registering a party name and/or logo "too similar to an existing party's".[26][27] As for existing registered parties, a party may also object to a similar name and/or logo used by another party, if the latter party was registered later than the former party. If the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is satisfied with the objection, it can uphold the objection, and the later-registered party will be deregistered within a month of the upholding, if an application to change the name and/or logo is not made or has been denied.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918". Commonwealth Consolidated Acts. Australasian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b Rhodes, Campbell. "The last Australian filibuster". Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902".
  4. ^ a b c d "Australia's major electoral developments Timeline: 1900 - Present". Australian Electoral Commission. Archived from the original on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  5. ^ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth)
  6. ^ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1921, Federal Register of Legislation
  7. ^ Elaine Brown (2000). "Francis Michael Forde". In Michelle Grattan (ed.). Australian Prime Ministers. New Holland. p. 241. ISBN 1-86436-671-0.
  8. ^ Bennett, Scott (31 October 2005). "Compulsory voting in Australian national elections". Australian Parliamentary Library. p. 4. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  9. ^ url=
  10. ^ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962
  11. ^ "The right to vote". Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. 27 April 2006. Retrieved 10 January 2023. ...legislation ... made it an offence to encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults to enrol to vote...
  12. ^ "Indigenous suffrage: Educational images show history of Aboriginal voting rights in the '60s and '70s". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 27 April 2006. Retrieved 31 December 2022. ...'In fact it was actually an offence to encourage Aboriginal people to enrol to vote,' Dr [Blake] Singley said...
  13. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962 (NO. 31, 1962)". Australasian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 10 January 2023. ...4. Section once hundred and fifty-six ... 'promises, offers or suggests any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward or benefit for ... (i) any enrolment, or refraining from enrolment, an elector by an aboriginal native of Australia'... 5. 'the supply of meat, drink, entertainment or transport with a view to influencing enrolment, or refraining from enrolment, as an elector by an aboriginal native of Australia'...
  14. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Act (No. 2) 1973, s.4". Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  15. ^ "282 Re‑count of Senate votes to determine order of election in other circumstances", Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, Government of Australia, 1 July 2016, retrieved 19 October 2016
  16. ^ Hutchens, Gareth (12 August 2016). "Senate terms: Derryn Hinch and Greens' Lee Rhiannon given three years". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  17. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act 1983".
  18. ^ Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Act 2013 (Cth) s ch2
  19. ^ "Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012". Parliament of Australia. 5 June 2022.
  20. ^ "Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Act 2013". Retrieved 5 June 2022.
  21. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act 2016". Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  22. ^ "Senate voting changes explained in Australian Electoral Commission advertisements - ABC News".
  23. ^ "Fact check: What do the proposed Senate voting changes mean for above the line voting? ABC. Updated 12 Mar 2016, 6:29pm". Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  24. ^ "NT to keep two federal House of Representative seats at next election after legislation passes Parliament". ABC News. 9 December 2020.
  25. ^ "'A shame job': Bill to safeguard two federal members for the NT a step closer to reality". 3 December 2020. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  26. ^ a b c Lowrey, Tom (26 August 2021). "Changes to federal election rules including party sizes and names pass Parliament". ABC News. Retrieved 5 January 2022.
  27. ^ a b "Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Act 2021 (Party Registration Act)". Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  28. ^ "Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill 2021 - As passed by both Houses". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 22 March 2022.

External links[edit]