Above-the-line Voting – since 1983 the Senate ballot paper has been divided by a horizontal line. To vote above a voter need only to indicate a preference for a single group and thereby adopt that group’s set of preferences.

Absentee Voting – Casting a vote on polling day from outside an elector’s home Division.

Absolute Majority – 50% +1 of the valid vote.

AEC – Australian Electoral Commission.

AEO – The senior AEC officer for a state.

Additional Member System – Another term for a Mixed Member Proportional system.

Alternative Vote (AV) – A preferential, plurality-majority system used in single-member districts in which voters use numbers to mark their preferences on the ballot paper. A candidate who receives over 50% of first-preferences is declared elected. If no candidate achieves an absolute majority of first-preferences, votes are re-allocated until one candidate has an absolute majority of votes cast.

Australian Ballot – secret voting on an officially issued ballot (1856)

Ballot Structure – Whether the ballot paper requires a single choice for one candidate or rank ordering.

Bi-cameral Parliament – A legislature consisting of two chambers.

Block Vote (BV) – A plurality-majority system used in multi-member districts in which electors have as many votes as there are candidates to be elected. Voting can be either candidate-centred or party-centred. Counting is identical to a First Past the Post system, with the candidates with the highest vote totals winning the seats.

Block/Majority Preferential – the AV system used for the Senate 1919-1949.It was excessively majoritarian.

By-election – An election to fill a single vacancy in a legislature.

British Subject Notations – Those (ca 160 000) British subjects permitted to vote because they were on the roll before 1984.

Casual Vacancy – The Senate does not employ by-elections and vacancies are filled by state parliaments—see Constitution s15.

CCDs – Census Collection Districts of ca 200 households.

CEA – Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

Certified List – a list of eligible voters compiled for polling day.

Closed List – A form of List Proportional Representation in which electors are restricted to voting for a party only, and cannot express a preference for any candidate within a party list.

Common Roll – The one roll that can be used for federal, state or local government elections.

Communal Roll – A register of voters in which ascriptive criteria such as race or ethnicity determine which electors can enrol to vote, and which candidates can be elected, within the wider electoral contest.

Compensatory Seats – The List PR seats in a Mixed Member Proportional system which are awarded to parties on the basis of their proportion of the national vote and designed to correct any disproportionality in the results of the elections held in plurality-majority district seats.

Compulsory/Mandatory Voting (or turnout) – requires those eligible to vote or pay a fine.

Constituency – A synonym for district, used predominantly in Anglophone countries outside of the United States.

Contingent Voting – A variety of preferential voting under which all but the two leading candidates are simultaneously eliminated and their preferences distributed to one of those two. Used in Queensland 1892 to 1942.

Contiguous Districts – Districts comprising areas which are geographically adjoined or touching.

Courts of Disputed Return – The High Court and the state Supreme Courts determine disputed election results (returns).

CRU – continuous roll update where additions and subtractions are made when they occur.

Cube Law – States that ‘the ratio of seats between two parties approximates the cubed ratio of their votes’. (It has been superseded).

Deposit – the monetary sum required for a candidate to nominate.

d’Hondt Formula – One way of working out List PR results by the highest average method. Uses divisors of 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

Dauer Kelsay Index – A measure of malapportionment where equality is 50%.

Declaration Votes – if an elector’s name is not on the certified list they may cast a vote but it will not be entered into the count until verified. Also called provisional votes.

Direct Enrolment – where EMBs use information from other trusted data bases to ‘automatically’ enter and update the roll.

District – Geographic areas into which a country is divided for electoral purposes. Districts may return one member to parliament, or more than one.

District Magnitude – The number of members to be elected in each district.

Donkey Votes – the sequential numbering of ballot papers—usually from the first candidate down.

DROs – District Returning Offices. The Division- level administrative units of the AEC.

Division – the correct name for a federal electoral district.

Double Majority – To succeed, an Australian constitutional referendum needs to be approved by a national majority and by a majority of voters in a majority of states

Droop Quota – Used in highest average List PR and STV electoral systems to determine how seats are awarded. The quota is ascertained by the following formula: total vote divided by the number of seats plus one, then one is added to the product.

Dual Citizenship – Those holding dual citizenship may vote in Australia but cannot be candidates for federal parliament.

Electoral Event – A term that covers both elections and referendums.

Electoral Formula – That part of the electoral system dealing specifically with the translation of votes into seats.

Electoral Fraud – Deceptions or dishonest tricks in the electoral sphere which may or may not be criminal offences.

Electoral Law – The constitutional and legal provisions governing all aspects of the electoral process.

Electoral Roll – an authoritative list of those eligible to vote. Enrolment in Australia is compulsory.

Electoral System – That part of the electoral rules which determines electoral outcomes; chiefly, the electoral formula, the ballot structure, and district magnitude.

Electoral writs – The ‘electoral period’ begins when the writ is issued by the Governor-General or Governor and concludes when the writ is ‘returned’.

EMB – an Electoral Management Body such as the AEC.

Exhausted Ballot – Under preferential voting there can be circumstances in which, although no candidate has yet been elected, there are no more preferences to be ascertained from a particular ballot paper. Hence, it has ‘exhausted’.

FAD – Funding and disclosure regime for campaign finance.

First Past the Post (FPTP) – The simplest form of plurality-majority electoral system, using single-member districts, a categorical ballot and candidate-centred voting. The winning candidate is the one who gains more votes than any other candidate, but not necessarily an absolute majority of votes.

Gallagher Index – measures the proportionality of an electoral system from 1 to 100. The lower the number, the greater the proportionality.

Gerrymandering – The deliberate manipulation of district boundaries so as to advantage or disadvantage a particular interest.

Gini Coeffecient – A measure of malapportionment where equality is 0.00.

GVTs – group voting tickets which parties register for ‘above the line’ ballot papers.

Habitation reviews – where electoral officials visit addresses to update the roll—used sparingly since 1991.

Hare Quota – Used in largest remainder PR electoral systems to determine how seats are awarded. The quota is ascertained by the following formula: total vote divided by the number of seats.

How-to-Vote cards – written instructions from candidates to electors issued at polling places.

Index of Disproportionality – A figure which illustrates the collective disparity between the votes cast for parties in an election and the seats in parliament they win.

Invalid/Informal Votes – Ballots which, due to accidental or deliberate errors of marking on the part of voters, are unable to be included in the count.

JSCEM – Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters of the Australian parliament.

List Proportional Representation (List PR) – In its most simple form List PR involves each party presenting a list of candidates to the electorate, voters vote for a party, and parties receive seats in proportion to their overall share of the national vote. Winning candidates are taken from the lists.

M—District Magnitude – the number of members representing an electorate. In House of Representative divisions M= 1, for normal Senate elections M= 6.

Malapportionment – The uneven distribution of voters among electoral districts.

Majority-Runoff (Two-Round System) – The most common method for the second round of voting in a Two-Round System is a straight “run-off” contest between the two highest vote-winners from the first round - this we term a majority-runoff system.

Manufactured Majority – Where a single party wins less than 50 per cent of the valid votes, but an absolute majority of the parliamentary seats.

Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) – Systems in which a proportion of the parliament (usually half) is elected from plurality-majority districts, while the remaining members are chosen from PR lists. Under MMP the list PR seats compensate for any disproportionality produced by the district seat results. Used in New Zealand.

Multi-Member District – A district from which more than one member is elected to parliament.

Nexus – Under s 24 of the constitution the number of members of the House of Representatives shall be as near as practical to twice the number of Senators. A referendum to ‘break the nexus’ failed in 1967.

Open List – A form of List Proportional Representation in which electors can express a preference for a candidate within a party list, as well as voting for the party.

OPV – optional preferential voting.

Personation – improperly voting for another person.

Plurality – a system in which the candidate with the most votes wins.

Plurality-Majority Systems – The distinguishing feature of plurality-majority systems is that they almost always use single-member districts. In First Past the Post system, the winner is the candidate with a plurality of votes, but not necessarily an absolute majority of the votes. When this system is used in multi-member districts it becomes the Block Vote. Majority systems, such as the Australian Alternative Vote and the French Two-Round System, try to ensure that the winning candidate receives an absolute majority of votes cast.

Polling Place – Premises previously designated for the purpose at which voting can take place during prescribed times and where special rules apply.

Postal Voting – Electors who are unable to attend on polling day may vote by post. Some local government elections are postal only.

Preferential Voting – Electoral systems in which voters can rank-order candidates on the ballot paper in order of their choice. The Alternative Vote and the Single Transferable Vote are all examples of preferential voting.

Pre-Poll Voting – After nominations close EMBs establish pre-poll voting places, usually one in each Division/District, at which electors may vote.

Primaries – Elections conducted among party members to select candidates.

Proportional Representation (PR) – Any system which consciously attempts to reduce the disparity between a party’s share of the national vote and its share of the parliamentary seats. For example, if a party wins 40 per cent of the votes, it should win approximately 40 per cent of the seats.

Public Funding – The provision by the government of money to parties and candidates usually to assist in election campaigns. The commonwealth has had such a system since 1983.

PVAs – Postal vote application forms.

Quota – The threshold for winning a seat in proportional representation systems - and in Australia the average number of voters in a district.

Redistribution – The periodic re-drawing of electoral boundaries. Known in the USA as redistricting.

Robson Rotation – ballot papers in which the order of names is varied. Used for the Tasmanian House of Assembly.

Scrutiny – The process of counting valid ballot papers and distributing preferences marked there.

Semi-Proportional Systems (Semi-PR) – Those electoral systems which provide, on average, results which fall some way in between the proportionality of PR systems and the disproportionality of plurality-majority systems.

Single-Member District – A district from which only one member is elected to parliament.

Single Transferable Vote (STV) – A preferential proportional representation system used in multi-member districts. To gain election, candidates must surpass a specified quota of first-preference votes. Voters’ preferences are re-allocated to other continuing candidates when an unsuccessful candidate is excluded or if an elected candidate has a surplus.

SMOS – The federal Special Minister of State with carriage of the electoral legislation.

Supplementary Election – required if a candidate dies between the issue of the writ and the close of the poll.

Treating – bribing electors by offering refreshments.

Threshold – The minimum level of support which a party needs to gain representation; usually expressed as a percentage of the total vote.

Turnout – The percentage of eligible electors who vote.

Vote-weighting – Malapportionment, usually in favour of rural areas.

Wasted Votes – Those votes which did not ultimately count towards the election of a particular candidate or party.


* Glossary provided by Professor Brian Costar, Swinburne University.