Unable to get to a polling station? How to vote early in the federal election

Scott Morrison announced last week that the federal election will happen on May 18. Source: Getty.

There are now less than five weeks to go until the country heads to the polls to elect the next prime minister of Australia, with Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten vying for people’s votes with an array of promises as the federal election campaign heats up.

But, what happens if you are unable to make it to a polling location on Sunday 18 May, or if you’re one of many Australians currently residing overseas?

At the last federal election in 2016, more than 30 per cent of the country cast their votes early. So, here is everything you need to know about pre-polling and voting by post.

How to register to vote

All Australian citizens over the age of 18 are required by law to vote in the federal election, in line with the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. Failure to do so, without an acceptable reason, could see you landed with a fine of $250.

With the election just weeks away, you must be enrolled to vote by 8pm local time on Thursday 18 April. You can enrol online by visiting the Australian Electoral Commission’s website or, if you’d prefer, you can collect an enrolment form at any AEC office or Australia Post store. If you need to update your details, you can also do this online.

To register to vote you will need to confirm your identity by presenting either your driver’s licence or Australian passport number, while someone who is already enrolled must also confirm that you are who you say you are.

If you are living overseas, you must complete an overseas notification form, which can also be found online or provided by the AEC, along with a list of overseas voting locations.

How and when to vote early

Early voting – or ‘pre polling’ – for the upcoming federal election is set to begin on Monday 29 April for those who are unable to make it to a polling place on May 18.

For anyone who cannot travel or perhaps has plans to be out of the country on election day, their vote can be cast ahead of time at any official ‘early voting centre’. However the Australian Electoral Commission have not yet provided an updated list of locations for this election. In 2016, there were more than 600 of these centres nationwide.

To be eligible for early voting, according to the Electoral Act, you must have plans to be interstate, outside of your electoral division or more than 8 kilometres from a polling place on election day. Those with religious duties, poor health or reasonable fears for their safety also fall within the eligibility guidelines.

Voting at these centres is carried out in the same way you would vote on election day, with voters selecting their preferred candidates on official ballot papers.

How to vote by post

To vote by post you must submit an application to the Australian Electoral Commission before 9pm on May 15. Your ballot paper will then be sent out to the address you have provided, as soon as ballot papers are available and all candidates have been declared.

You must then ensure that you have filled in your paper, which also needs to be signed by an authorised witness, either on or before election day on May 18. For someone to act as an authorised witness, their name must appear on the Electoral Roll. However, if you are voting by post from outside of Australia, you can also have your ballot paper witnessed by officers in the armed forces of any Commonwealth country, a member of the civil or public service, a Justice of the Peace, a religious minister, medical practitioner or an Australian citizen.

Once completed, papers must be sent back to the AEC as soon as possible and there is then a period of 13 days following the federal election to allow ballot papers to be received.

Other voting options

There are also other voting options available to those who cannot make it to a polling place, particularly for those restricted by health issues. Mobile polling teams visit many voters who cannot vote in person, with mobile stations set up in hospitals, nursing homes and prisons across the country, as well as in rural and remote areas.

While it is not yet available, the AEC will make a list of mobile locations available on their website ahead of the election.

Telephone voting is also available for Australians who are blind or have low vision.

Do you know who you will be voting for at the federal election? Will you be voting early?

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