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Glossary

Updated 2 Oct 2014

Below is a glossary of terms used throughout ACT's Electoral System.

A
Absent vote
A vote made at a polling place by an elector who is outside his/her electorate on polling day. In the ACT all voters are able to cast ordinary votes, regardless of the electorate in which they vote. In all other states, the NT and for federal elections, absent voters must cast a declaration vote.
Absolute majority
Fifty percent plus one of the formal vote. Generally applies in single member electorates.
Act
A bill which has become law after being passed by the Legislative Assembly and then gazetted by the Chief Minister.
Australian Capital Territory Electoral Commission
The independent statutory authority established in 1994 to conduct ACT Legislative Assembly elections and referendums (see Elections ACT).
Australian Electoral Commission
The independent statutory authority established in 1984 to conduct federal elections and referendums. Also maintains the commonwealth and ACT electoral rolls.
B
Backbenchers
Members of the Legislative Assembly who are not the members of the Ministry or the Shadow Ministry.
Ballot
The voting process by which a choice is made between candidates in an election or between options in a referendum; the vote itself.
Ballot box
The sealed container into which an elector places a completed ballot paper.
Ballot paper
Either the paper printed for an election showing the candidates' names and affiliations or the paper containing questions to be decided in a referendum, which voters mark to record their vote. It also contains voting instructions.
Bicameral
Having two houses of Parliament. All Australian Parliaments are bi-cameral except Queensland (which abolished its Upper House in 1922) and the Parliaments of the ACT and NT. (see unicameral)
Bill
A proposal for an Act of Parliament.
By-election
The process used generally in single member electorates to fill a casual vacancy. This is not used in the ACT. (see casual vacancy)
C
Cabinet
The Cabinet in the ACT consists of either four or five Ministers. They are appointed by the Chief Minister.
Campaigns
The activities undertaken by parties, candidates and pressure groups in an election to persuade electors to vote in a particular way. Also called canvassing.
Candidate
A person who stands for election to the Legislative Assembly. Candidates can be nominated by political parties or stand as independents.
Casual vacancy
A vacancy in the Legislative Assembly caused by the retirement, death or resignation of a Member. Where a casual vacancy occurs in the ACT it is filled by recounting the votes received by that Member. (see by-election)
Certified list of electors
The electoral roll used for the election that has been certified as correct by the Electoral Commissioner.
Chief Minister
The leader of the government. Elected by Members of the Legislative Assembly.
Close of rolls
The day that rolls close for an election. This is usually about four weeks before the election so that there is sufficient time to print rolls for the election.
Coalition
An alliance (or combination) of political parties for the purpose of securing a working majority in parliament.
Compulsory enrolment
Every Australian citizen of 18 years and over must enrol.
Compulsory voting
All enrolled electors must vote at ACT elections and referendums.
Constitution
The set of basic rules by which a country or state is governed. In Australia's case it is a document written in the 1890s which sets out the structure of Australian federal politics. The Constitution can only be amended through a constitutional referendum.
Continuous roll update
A term used to cover various methods used to keep the electoral roll up-to-date.
Court of Disputed Elections
A candidate, elector or the Electoral Commissioner may dispute the validity of an election by a petition to the Supreme Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Elections. The court has wide powers to resolve the matter.
D
Declaration of poll
The announcement by the Electoral Commissioner of the result of the election and the names of the candidates elected.
Declaration votes
Votes that are sealed in an envelope signed by the voter. Enrolment details are provided by the elector on the declaration vote envelope, the completed ballot-papers are placed inside and the envelope is then sealed. These votes are cast when:
  • the voter's name cannot be found on the electoral roll;
  • the voter's name is marked off the electoral roll as already having voted; or
  • the voter casts a postal vote.
Democracy
Derived from two ancient Greek words demos (the people) and kratos (strength). A system of government in which governance of the people is by elected representatives.
Disenfranchise
To deprive a person of the right to vote.
Disputed elections
See Court of Disputed Elections.
Donkey vote
The term used to describe a ballot paper marked with preferences for candidates without consideration of their policies or abilities. A classic donkey vote is one which records preferences straight down the ballot paper in the same order as the names printed. Usually refers to a ballot paper for a single member election. (See party linear vote)
Draw or Lot
An object such as a slip of paper drawn from others to make a choice. The order of candidates' names on the ballot-papers is determined by a draw or `lot'.
E
Election
The choosing of representatives by the voters.
Election day
See polling day.
Elections ACT
An alternative name for the ACT Electoral Commission.
Elector
A person entitled to vote at an election.
Electoral Act
The legislation which sets down the rules for the conduct of parliamentary elections and other electoral procedures.
Electoral Commissioner
The statutory officer responsible to the Minister for the administration of the Electoral Act, including the proper conduct of elections and the implementation of appropriate publicity, education and research programs.
Electoral offence
Any action which breaches electoral law as specified by the Electoral Act.
Electoral roll
A list of the names of all the people who are entitled to vote in an election.
Electoral roll review
A house to house survey conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission in each division to check that electors are correctly enrolled. (See continuous roll update)
Electorate
An area represented by one or more members of parliament. Also known as a seat, division or a constituency. For the Legislative Assembly there are three electorates: Brindabella, Ginninderra and Molonglo. Brindabella and Ginninderra each elect five Members and Molonglo elects seven Members.
Enfranchise
To grant a person the right to vote.
Enrolment
The act of enrolling or having one's name added to the list of electors entitled to vote.
Enrolment form
An application to enrol to vote or to change your address on the electoral roll. Enrolment forms are available at all post offices, postal agencies, Elections ACT, the AEC and ACT government shopfronts.
Excluded candidate
A candidate who is taken out of the count of votes because he or she has fewer votes than any other candidate.
Exhausted vote
A ballot paper that can no longer be distributed because no preferences are shown for any candidates remaining in the count.
F
Federal or Commonwealth Government
The national government of Australia. The Australian Constitution distributes formal authority between a central government and those of the states. At Federation in 1901 the States handed over certain powers to the Federal government for administration on an Australia wide basis while other functions were reserved for state government responsibility.
Federation
The unification of Australian Colonies which formed the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901.
First past the post
A voting system in which the candidate with the most votes is elected whether or not that person has more than half the votes counted. This system is used in many countries including the UK, USA, and Canada.
Formal vote
A ballot paper cast in an election or a referendum that has been marked according to the rules for that election. In the ACT under Hare-Clark electors must use numbers to show their preferences. Electors are asked to vote for at least as many candidates as there are vacancies in their electorate. (See informal vote)
Fractional transfer value
See transfer value.
Franchise
The right to vote.
Funding and Disclosure
This scheme has two main parts: public funding of election campaigns and disclosure of certain financial details by candidates, political parties and other persons and groups who submit returns to Elections ACT. It helps to manage public funding and disclosure provisions in accordance with the Electoral Act.
G
General Postal Voter (GPV)
Electors who have difficulty getting to a polling place on polling day can register as a GPV. GPVs include people with a disability, silent electors, prisoners, those in remote communities, and people who have religious objections to attending a polling place on polling day. GPVs are sent postal ballot papers and certificate envelopes as soon as possible after nominations close.
Gerrymander
The drawing of electoral boundaries in a way which gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections. Named after Governor Gerry of Massachusetts (1812) who approved a rigged boundary shaped like a salamander, hence the term 'gerrymander'.
Government
The political party or coalition of parties which is lead by the Chief Minister.
H
Hare-Clark
An electoral system which draws its name from two men: Thomas Hare (1806-1891), an English solicitor who wrote a famous book on proportional representation and Andrew Inglis Clark (1848-1907), a Tasmanian Attorney-General who introduced proportional representation into State law.
House of Representatives
The Lower House of Federal Parliament.
How-to-Vote Card
A card (in the form of a ballot-paper) distributed by parties and independents indicating to electors how they should record their preferences. These are banned within 100 metres of a polling place in ACT Legislative Assembly elections.
I
Independent
A candidate or Member of Parliament, who is not a member of a political party.
Informal vote
A ballot paper which has not been marked correctly. In the ACT, examples of informal votes include:
  • a ballot paper with no first preference;
  • a ballot paper with two or more first preferences; or
  • a ballot paper where the name of the voter can be identified.
Itinerant elector
A person who does not have a permanent address, but whose name has been placed on the electoral roll.
L
Legislation
The name given to a law or set of laws that have passed the Legislative Assembly and been gazetted by the Chief Minister.
Legislative Assembly
The lower house of some parliaments and the only house in the ACT. A total of 17 Members are elected from three electorates to represent the citizens of the ACT and make decisions on their behalf.
M
Majority
See Absolute Majority.
Malapportionment
A geographic zoning in an electoral system (that was once commonplace throughout Australia) which results in bias in favour of some voters and against others. Now most commonly caused through rapid population growth occurring in some electorates and not others.
Mandate
The Government's claim that once elected they have the right and responsibility to implement their policies. Member Any person elected to the Legislative Assembly.
Minority government
A government formed by a party or a coalition of parties (two or more parties) when they don't have a parliamentary majority.
MLA
See Member.
Mobile polling
Mobile polling teams bring the polling place to the elector. Mobile polling is carried out around the ACT during the 5 days before polling day and on polling day. Mobile polling teams visit voters in hospitals and nursing homes.
N
Nomination
The formal process by which a person becomes a candidate in an election.
O
Offence
See Electoral Offence.
Opinion poll
A survey conducted by private organisations between and before elections to get an idea of how people would vote if an election were held.
Opposition
The party, or coalition of parties in the Legislative Assembly which has the next highest number of seats after the Government.
Optional Preferential Voting
The voting system used in the ACT in which an elector shows by numbers his/her preference for individual candidates but does not need to show a preference for all candidates listed for the vote to be formal.
Ordinary vote
A vote cast where the voter's name is marked off the certified list of electors at a polling place. In ACT Legislative Assembly elections this may be in any polling place in the ACT on polling day or during the pre-polling period.
Overseas elector
An elector who is going overseas for three years or less can apply to be an overseas elector within 3 months before leaving Australia or within 1 year after the day on which they ceased to reside in Australia.
P
Parliament
The political assembly in which elected representatives debate and vote upon proposed laws. The word 'parliament' comes from 15th century English, and from a French word meaning 'talking place'. In the ACT, the Legislative Assembly is the parliament.
Parliamentary democracy
A system of government where the people exercise their political power by electing representatives to parliament to make laws. Australia is a parliamentary democracy.
Party linear vote
The term used to describe a ballot paper in a multi-member election marked with preferences for candidates for a particular party without consideration of individual candidate's policies or abilities. A classic party linear vote is one which records preferences straight down the party's column in the same order as the names printed. Robson rotation is designed to minimise the effect of this. (See donkey vote)
Platform
The policies or plans that the candidates and parties say they will carry out if elected.
Political party
A group of people with similar ideas or aims, some of whose members nominate as candidates at elections in the hope that they will be elected to parliament. A political party can register with Elections ACT for ACT elections. This is to fulfil legislative requirements under the Funding and Disclosure provisions of the Electoral Act and to enable party names to appear on the ballot paper.
Poll
Another word for an election.
Polling day
The day on which the majority of voters vote.
Polling place
Location where voting takes place. Usually a school or hall.
Postal vote
A vote lodged before polling day by an elector unable to attend a polling place during normal voting hours on polling day. An application form for a postal vote is completed, and once received by Elections ACT, ballot papers are posted to the elector for completion and return.
Pre-poll vote
Electors who won't be able to vote on polling day can vote before polling day at a pre-poll voting centre.
Preferential voting
A system of voting in which the voter lists candidates in order of preference. That is, by putting the number '1' in the box beside their first choice candidate, the number '2' beside their second choice and so on until the required number of candidates are numbered. (See optional preferential voting)
Premier
The leader of a State Government. (See Chief Minister)
Preselection
The choice by a political party of its candidates for an election.
Prime Minister
Leader of the Federal Government.
Proportional representation
A system of voting where more than one candidate is to be elected in one electorate. Each elected candidate represents the same proportion of voters as each other elected candidate. (See Hare-Clark)
Provisional enrolment
Persons who are 17 and who, when turning 18, will be qualified to enrol may apply for enrolment. Provisional enrolment ensures that, should such persons turn 18 after the close of the rolls but on or before polling day for an election, they will be able to vote in that election.
Provisional vote
A provisional vote may be claimed by a person whose name cannot be found on the certified list of voters, or whose name is already marked off the roll but claims not to have voted. The provisional voter's name is checked by Elections ACT before the envelope containing the vote is included in the count. (See declaration vote)
Q
Quota
The proportion or percentage of votes required for a candidate to be elected to the Legislative Assembly.
R
Recheck
A recheck is a normal procedure undertaken by Elections ACT before a preference count is conducted. All polling place figures and ballot papers are re-examined. Scrutineers are entitled to be present and should be aware of any corrected figures before a preference count is commenced (this term should not be confused with the term "recount"). This process is now undertaken by inputting all ballot papers into a computer system.
Recount
A re-examination and count of all formal and informal ballot papers by Elections ACT before the declaration of the poll. This is only conducted if the Commission deems it necessary, for example if the results are close or there has been some other irregularity (not to be confused with "recheck").
Redistribution
Changes to boundaries of electorates in line with the principle that the number of voters in each electorate must not vary from a predetermined electoral quota by more than 5 per cent at the time of an election. Carried out before each Legislative Assembly election.
Referendum
A vote taken to allow electors to have their say on an issue or policy. The proposal must be approved by a majority of electors in the ACT (not a majority of voters). Registered Declaration Voter See general postal voter.
Returning Officer
The electoral officer responsible for conducting an election in an electoral area. In the ACT, the Electoral Commissioner is the returning officer for all electorates.
Robson Rotation
A system where the names in each column of candidates are printed in different orders on consecutive ballot papers so that no candidate in a column has the advantage of appearing in the same position on every ballot paper. Designed to minimise the effect of party linear votes.
Roll
See Electoral Roll.
S
Scrutineer
A person appointed by a candidate to observe the voting and counting of the votes to ensure that the process is conducted properly. Candidates can appoint scrutineers for each polling place. Scrutineers have the right to be present when the ballot boxes are sealed and opened and when the votes are sorted and counted so that they may check any possible irregularities, but they may not touch any ballot paper.
Scrutiny
The checking and counting of ballot papers to ascertain the result of an election.
Secret ballot
A vote made in secret. Sometimes called the 'Australian ballot'.
Senate
The Upper House of Federal Parliament. Twelve Senators are elected from each State and two from each Territory.
Silent elector
An elector who believes that having their name on the roll will place their personal safety or that of members of their family at risk can apply to have their address not shown on the roll.
Speaker
The Member elected by the Legislative Assembly to preside over debates, enforce the rules for preserving order and supervise the business of the Assembly.
Suffrage
The right to vote at elections. All Australian citizens 18 or over have suffrage.
Surplus
Votes that a candidate receives in excess of the quota. They are distributed to other candidates according to the further preferences indicated on the ballot papers by those voters.
T
Tally room
Location where provisional election results are displayed on election night.
Term
The length of time a Parliament may sit before an election must be called. From 1989 until 2004 the ACT has had three-year terms. From 2004, the ACT will have set four-year terms.
Transfer value
The reduced value at which a candidate's surplus votes are distributed to the next available candidate.
Turnout
The percentage of enrolled electors who voted.
U
Unicameral
Having one house of Parliament. The Parliaments of the ACT, Queensland and NT are unicameral. (See bicameral)
V
Vote
The formal act of an elector in an election to choose the candidate the elector most wants to be the representative for that division. Australia has a secret vote, and enforces compulsory voting.
Voter
Those people who vote in an election. (See elector)
Voting screen
A small compartment or cubicle at the polling place where people fill in their voting papers in secret at elections.
W
Westminster System
The system of parliamentary government developed in Britain, which has been adapted to form Australia's system of government.