Australian ballot, also called secret ballot, is the system of voting in which voters mark their choices in privacy on uniform ballots printed and distributed by the government or designate their choices by some other secret means.

Victoria and South Australia were the first states to introduce secrecy of the ballot (1856), and for that reason the secret ballot is referred to as the Australian ballot.

The system spread to Europe and the United States to meet the growing public and parliamentary demand for protection of voters.

"Australian ballot." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 09 Aug. 2014. 


Election Ephemera includes published leaflets, letters, 'how to vote' cards, posters, pamphlets, badges, stickers, hats, cardboard cutouts, DVDs and any other political material.

The Library also collects Broadsides and posters relating to the Australian federal elections campaigns.

See this 2022 blog post on collecting election ephemera.

Appeal to Women Electors [Federal Election 1955?]. Item 21 from [Ephemera relating to the Australian federal elections campaigns : including press releases, policy speeches, advertising material, how to vote cards, etc.]

Australians vote for government representatives at national, state and local levels in a 3 to 4 year cycle. National elections are run by the Australian Electoral Commission.

Key online resource

Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)

  • independent statutory body
  • created by a 1984 amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
  • responsible for the registration of political parties

Key AEC website pages:

  • brief history of the evolution of universal suffrage, secret ballots and compulsory voting in Australia.
  • current Acts and Amendments governing the role of state and federal electoral commission
  • complete list of registered, deregistered and renamed parties since 1984

States and Territories are responsible for elections within their jurisdictions.

What you can find in the Library

To find information about Australian elections, search the Catalogue by subject. When entering search terms, include the year of the election if known. Some examples are:

Selected resources:

The Australian electoral system : origins, variations and consequences by David M. Farrell and Ian McAllister (2005). Overview of the development of the electoral system in Australia

The Australian voter : 50 years of change by Ian McAllister (2011). Discussion of Australian attitudes to voting

Voting and elections written by Associate Professor Rodney Smith and Dr. Anika Gauja (2013), from the Hot Topics series published by the Legal Information Access Centre, State Library of NSW. A condensed version is available online

After the election : what happens? prepared by Leo Hardiman, Damian Page, Leah Edwards (2013). General information and background from the Australian Government Solicitor

From secret ballot to democracy sausage: how Australia got to compulsory voting by Judith Brett (2019)

Case Study

Q: I am in the United States. I have heard about an Australian law that forces people to vote or they get a fine. Can you supply more details?

Voting at federal elections is compulsory for all citizens included on the Australian Federal electoral roll. The introduction of compulsory voting varied from state to state; you can read about the background and history of compulsory voting in Australia on the Australian Electoral Commission website.  

Anyone who is unable to provide a valid and sufficient reason to the Divisional Returning Officer for failure to vote at a federal election, and who does not wish to have the matter dealt with by a Magistrates Court may pay a penalty.

If the person refuses to pay the penalty then the matter may be referred to a Magistrates Court, where a higher penalty (plus costs) may be ordered on conviction.

On average about 5 per cent of enrolled voters fail to vote. In recent federal elections, with a voter turnout of approximately 95 per cent, informal voting (blank or not properly completed ballots) has accounted for about 5 per cent of all the votes cast (see: Compulsory voting in Australia from the Australian Electoral Commission).

National Tally Room

National Tally Room as seen from the second floor of the tally board during the Australian Federal Elections, Canberra, 24 November 2007 [picture] / Mark Arundel

Part of the collection: National Tally Room, Australian Federal Elections, Canberra, 2007.


A referendum is a vote of the Australian people on measures proposed or passed by the Australian Parliament. A number of different types of referendums can be held, the most common is a Constitutional referendum. More information, including a list of all referendums and results, is available at the Australian Electoral Commission.

The poll for a national song, held on 21 May 1977 was not a proposal to amend the Constitution, and voting was not compulsory. Details at the AEC

Advance Australia Fair

McCormick, P. D. (Peter Dodds), 1834?-1916. Advance Australia fair [music] 1915 (4 pages)


ABC Elections including Antony Green’s Election Blog

Psephos Adam Carr's Election Archive collects historical electoral statistics from 182 countries

Archived election campaigns : see the archive at The Australian Web Archive

Not sure where to start?