so there’s an election, now what?

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard called an election today (17 July 2010) for 21 August 2010.

When the Prime Minister pays the Governor-General a visit, it is more likely than not that an election is imminent and the media converges in Canberra. That is exactly what Julia Gillard did today. She visited the Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, at her official residence at Yarralumla, following from which she called a federal election; carrying on a tradition every other Prime Minister before her had done.

Below are the important dates for this year’s federal election, with the process beginning today.

Important dates for Australia’s election 2010

  1. Dissolve parliament: 17 July 2010
  2. Writ issue: 19 July 2010
  3. Closing of electoral roll: 22 July 2010 (new enrolments will not accepted from 8pm 19 July 2010)
  4. Close of nominations: 29 July 2010
  5. Declaration of nominations: 30 July 2010
  6. Polling day: 21 August 2010
  7. Return of the writ: 27 October 2010

The numbering of the above dates relate to their respective step in the electoral process provided below.

Step by step: the electoral process

1. Dissolve parliament

The Prime Minister will decide on a date for an election, then obtain the approval of the Governor-General to dissolve parliament (the House of Representatives). Following this, the Prime Minister will announce their intention to call an election (the proclamation).

The Governor-General will proceed to dissolve parliament.

It is within the Governor-General’s power to dissolve the House of Representatives at anytime, but the convention has been that they do so on the advice of the Prime Minister. This convention was broken in 1975 when the Governor-General dismissed the Whitlam government.

It should be noted that the House of Representatives will automatically expire if not dissolved within three years after its first sitting. The duration of the House of Representatives is contained in section 28 of the Australian Constitution (pdf).

2. Issuing the writ

As per section 32 of the Australian Constitution, the Governor-General may issue a writ within 10 days of the proclamation of, or the expiry of a term of the House of Representatives.

A writ is a document issued by the Governor-General (for a federal election with respect to the House of Representatives, or territorial Senate elections), or the respective state Governor (for state elections, and federal Senate elections), directing the electoral officer to conduct an election.

The writ contains dates for the close of rolls, the close of nominations, polling day and the return of the writ.

3. Closing of the electoral rolls

According to section 102(4) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (CEA), no new names can be added onto the electoral roll from 8pm on the day the writ for an election is issued until the close of polling.

In other words, the electoral roll will not accept new enrolments or remove enrolled persons after 8pm on the date the writ is issued.

The electoral roll will close three working days after the writ is issued (s155 CEA). This means that any adjustments to details of registered persons can still be made until that time.

4. Close of nominations

Should a candidate wish to contest in the election, they are required to lodge a nomination. For further information on nominations, refer to the Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) Nomination Guide for Candidates (pdf).

As mentioned above, the writ will specify this date. The date of nomination shall not be less than 10 days or in excess of 27 days from the date of the writ’s issue (s156 CEA).

Nominations must be lodged by candidates before 12pm on the date specified.

5. Declaration of nominations

This is the public declaration of all nominations lodged for candidates contesting the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The declaration time for an election is noon on the day after the close of nominations (s157 CEA).

6. Polling day

Polling day is the day that all enrolled persons must vote.

Polliny day must be on a Saturday (s158 CEA), and must not be less than 23 days or more than 31 days from the date of nomination (s157 CEA).

Not voting without a “valid and sufficient” reason will result in a penalty being imposed. The AEC will write to all apparent non-voters to request a reason for not voting, or the payment of a $20 penalty. If the person fails to reply, refuses to pay or provides an unsatisfactory response, the AEC may institute court proceedings. If found guilty, the person may be fined up to $50 plus court costs. Refer to section 245 of the CEA for further information.

7. Return of the writ

The very last step in the election process is the return of the writ, whereby the writ is returned to the issuer (the Governor-General for the House of Representatives or the respective state Governor for the Senate) with the names of the successful candidates for each electorate.

This must be done within 100 days from the issue of the writ (s159 CEA).

(Sources: Australian Electoral Commission, Commonwealth of Australia Law)


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