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How does an election work? Part 2 – Run for your life

  • Written byCampbell Rhodes
  • DateFri, 17 Jun 2016

During elections in Australia, we are bombarded with advertising and see politicians hitting the campaign trail. The handshakes, corflutes and baby-kissing are all part of the democratic process. 

After the election date is announced, people in power and people aspiring to be in power all go through a process of getting your votes, and while it may seem chaotic, there is method to the madness and a system and process in place to keep everything above board.

After the writ for an election is issued, people have just one week to make sure they are eligible to vote. Normally this means people who have turned 18 since the last election need to enrol to vote, although it is also a good time to make sure your enrolment address is up to date.

Between 10 and 37 days after writs are issued, the deadline for nominations arrives. Most parties conduct their preselection process, choosing their candidates, long before the election is even called, and nominate all their candidates at once. To nominate for a seat, a candidate has to be eligible under the constitution and either be endorsed by a party or, alternatively, have the signatures of 100 eligible voters in their seat or state.

Campaigning for elections is governed by law as well, but the general process is well-understood. Candidates advertise on TV and radio, on the web, and drop flyers into letterboxes. Many a young, eager party volunteer has spent hours wandering the streets letterboxing in the hope of picking up a few extra voters. The leaders of the parties debate, millions is spent on advertising and promotion, and Members of Parliament or their hopeful successors hit the shopping centres and talk to voters.

Advertising for elections is regulated, and there are limits to what can be said and by whom. For example, every official election advertisement needs to be authorised by the party and carry not just the name but the address of the authoriser and the printer. If an ad doesn’t include this information, authorities can investigate. If it turns out it was created by a party or candidate, they can be fined or even jailed for breaking the law. This rule doesn’t apply to things like t-shirts and badges, and so you see that kind of ad created by supporters of parties or candidates free of having to go through official channels.

Three days before polling day, the media blackout hits. From midnight on Wednesday until polling day, political advertising by candidates is against the law. Exactly what constitutes advertising is up for debate, but in general TV and radio ads stop. The prohibition doesn’t extend to print, nor does it include the internet. The theory is that this allows for some quiet reflection and lets voters make up their minds without being bombarded. Some people think this law is against freedom of speech, and there is an argument that since it doesn’t apply to the internet, the law is somewhat archaic.

To learn about how candidates work and what rules they have to follow, you can read the AEC’s Candidate’s Handbook, available online.

With all the campaigning over, it’s time to get out and vote. Keep a look out for Part Three to find out more about how the process of casting and counting votes works.


Campbell Rhodes is MoAD's Copyright and Research Coordinator.