People voting at booths.

A student's guide to the Voice: what is a referendum and how do I vote?

Make sure you're prepared

It's been a long time since we've had a referendum, so it's worth getting a refresher. Find out what a referendum is and how to vote, check your eligibility and update your electoral enrolment details. 

This year, eligible Australians will vote in a referendum. The referendum will comprise of a single yes or no question about adding words into the Constitution about an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. The referendum is set to be held sometime between September and December 2023. 

To help you prepare for the upcoming referendum, we've created a series of articles answering the most common questions you might have, including the voting process, what education resources are available and the University's role in facilitating political discussion and debate. This article is the first in our series – a student's guide to the Voice

What is a referendum? 

A referendum is a national vote on a question about a proposed change to the Australian Constitution. The Constitution is a set of rules by which Australia is governed and can only be changed by holding a referendum. 

A referendum can contain a single question or several proposed changes to the Constitution for voters to consider at the same time.

Who is eligible to vote?

Australian citizens aged over 18 and eligible British subjects are allowed to vote in a referendum. Non-Australian citizens and Australian's under the age of 18 are not eligible.

It is compulsory for all eligible Australians to vote in a referendum. 

How do I enrol to vote? 

If you're eligible to vote or are an Australian citizen aged 16 or 17, you can enrol to vote via the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). 

You can enrol to vote online, via the enrolment PDF form or by picking up an enrolment form at an AEC officeOnce you have successfully enrolled, you will be placed on the electoral roll. 

How do I check or update my enrolment details? 

You can check your current electoral enrolment by entering your personal details into the AEC's electoral enrolment verification system. If you cannot confirm your electoral enrolment online, you may still be on the electoral roll. Contact the AEC to check your enrolment details. 

If your personal details or residential address changes, you must update your details on the electoral roll. You can update your enrolment details online, via the via the enrolment PDF form or by picking up an enrolment form at an AEC office

How do I vote? 

There are a number of voting options in a referendum to cater to the circumstances of voters. Here are the most common voting options: 

Polling day is held on a Saturday with thousands of polling places open from 8 am to 6 pm around the country. Voters can cast their vote at any polling place within their state or territory, or at a designated interstate voting centre. Polling places are usually located at local schools, churches and community halls, or public buildings, and some places have BBQs and bake sales on the day. 

Eligible voters will be able to vote at early voting centres in two weeks leading up to polling day.

Voters unable to vote in-person, either on polling day or during the early voting period, may be able to vote via post. 

Voters who are overseas on polling day or during the early voting period may be able to vote at an overseas polling centre or via post. 

Voters who are blind or have low vision will be able to vote via a dedicated telephone voting service.

How do I complete a referendum ballot paper?

If you're voting in person or via post, you will recieve a ballot paper with the proposed alteration to the Constitution on it, followed by a question asking if you approve the proposed alteration.

To vote, you will need to clearly write: 

YES in the box if you approve the proposed alteration, or 

NO in the box if you do not approve of the proposed alteration. 

You can practice voting in a referendum on the AEC website

How is the vote decided? 

The proposed change to the Constitution must be approved by a 'double majority'. A double majority consists of two parts: 

  • a national majority of voters (more than 50 percent) from all states and territories, and 
  • a majority of voters (more than 50 percent) in a majority of states (at least four of the six states) 

If the referendum is approved by a double majority, this is the final step in approving the Bill setting out the changes to the Constitution. 

If the referendum is not passed by a double majority, the Bill is not approved and cannot be presented to the Governor-General for assent. 

When will we know the outcome? 

While there could be a public indication of results on the night, if the vote is close it may take days or several weeks for additional pre-poll votes, overseas votes and postal votes to be counted. 

Every vote will be counted more than once to check that the initial count was correct, and all counting is supervised by scrutineers. 

7 August 2023

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