How To Vote For The Very First Time

Australian politics are wild, confusing and kinda gross. Voting in our elections is even harder. I’ve tried to explain to my non-Aussie friends how our voting works and they always give me the same responses: “That’s so weird, that’s so confusing, Jamie stop talking about politics let’s just finish the movie…”

And now, more than ever after the devastating bushfires that ravaged Australia from coast to coast, , the best thing you can do to help with this national disaster is to vote for candidates at the next election who have concrete plans for dealing with climate change and natural disasters.

The earliest we could possibly be called to vote in a federal election would be mid-2021, but many states, territories and local councils will have their elections this year. In Australia, you have to vote (which is a good thing, tbh, if you’re asking us) so before you head into the polling station, read this straightforward guide to voting.


Enrolling to vote

Before you can vote in any sort of election, you first need to make sure you’re enrolled. The electoral roll is just a list of all eligible citizens who are registered to vote in federal elections and referendums. In fact, if you’re eighteen or over, you actually have to enrol by law.

You can also enrol before you turn eighteen so that you’re ready to go by the time you officially become an adult, if you’re sixteen or older, and way more prepared than I was when I was sixteen lol.

It’s super easy to enrol, too. Just go to You’ll need your driver’s licence / an Aussie passport / have someone who is enrolled confirm your identity (you can’t use a Proof of Age card, unfortunately). 

If you’re not sure if you’re enrolled or not, you can also check your enrolment at The AEC website has all the info you need, bb.

What am I voting for?

It’s the million-dollar question isn’t it? Without trying to dumb shit down, I’ll try my best at a very broad explanation.

At its most basic level, you’re voting for who you think will do the best job of representing you and what you care about, and furthermore, what kind of politicians you want running the joint, whether that’s in federal, state or local politics. Essentially you’re voting for a collection of ideas —whether that’s a political party’s or an independent’s ideas.

Regardless of who you vote for or what level it’s at, do your research and figure out what each candidate stands for. Of course, if they belong to a political party, that’ll give you some clue. But at the end of the day, you’re voting for an individual, too, and every person has slightly different things they bring to the table.

Generally speaking, the party that has a majority of seats in the lower house of state/federal parliament gets to form government. (Queensland and the territories only have one house but it’s the same diff). For example, at the last Victorian state election in 2018, Labor won 55 out of 88 seats in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, meaning Labor formed government. 

Ok, things are getting tricky. What’s the point of having two houses? Again, generally speaking, they tend to have different ways of electing people, different electorates, and they act as counterbalances to each other.

Without going into too much depth, this is what’s at stake: you’re choosing who you want to represent you locally, as well as who you want running things overall.

Please don’t do this.

Actually voting

Ok so you’re enrolled to vote, you’ve rocked up to the polling booth, and you can smell the sweet, sweet scent of democracy sausages waiting for you at the other end of the queue. How do you actually fill out a ballot?

Every state and territory in Australia, as well as federal elections, run a bit differently. It’s important that you look up what the go is for where you’re living just so you don’t get confused.

Regardless of where you are, all elections in Australia use some form of proportional representation electoral system. This means that unlike other countries e.g. the U.K. or the U.S., rather than just voting for one candidate and whoever gets the most votes gets the seat (“first past the post” system), you get to number candidates in the order of your preference. It’s a fairer system and means you get more say as to what kind of people you want in power.

Most ballot papers in Australian elections will have a number of candidates on them, and you’re instructed to rank them in order of your preference. What’s important to remember is that in Australia it’s impossible to “waste your vote” like you can in other countries.

In fact, the system that’s used for a majority of elections in Australia—preferential voting—is a uniquely Australian voting system.

Here’s a great source from cartoonist Patrick Alexander that explains how preferential voting works (the system for the lower house in federal elections, virtually every lower house in state elections, and the upper house for Tasmania):

(Most other elections in Australia use the single transferable vote system, which works very similarly.)

TL;DR? Vote for candidates in order of how much you like ‘em.

Enjoy democracy, babes. Proud of u.

Jamie is a journalist, radio presenter, music nerd and shameless sneakerhead. When he's not writing, he's obsessing over the latest hip-hop and Nike releases. Is also baby.

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