It’s the right of all adult Australian citizens to vote in the upcoming Federal election, but not all voting options are accessible.
- There are elections coming up across Australia and it’s the right of every adult citizen to be able to vote
- There are several voting options that may be more accessible to people with disability
- Most of the specific details of when, where and how you can vote are released after the date of the election is announced
Voting can already be confusing for the general public – making sure you are ticking the right boxes, the right amount of boxes, and have filled in the different sheets correctly. But for people with disability it can be quite challenging, and at times inaccessible, so it’s good to know there are support services to help you have your say.
In this article, we explain the different options you can explore to find a voting system that works for you, all of which are valid ways of voting during elections.
Most of these options work in the same way for State and Territory elections and local government elections, although each State and Territory has its own electoral commission.
All Australians who are 18 years or older must enrol to vote.
After you enrol to vote your details go on the electoral roll, which is used to make sure everyone votes fairly and legally.
If you are unable to sign your name on the enrolment form you can get someone else to fill it out and sign it for you, but you also need a registered medical practitioner to complete and sign the medical certificate which is part of your enrolment form.
More information on the specific form you need for enrolment can be found here.
Accessibility at voting centres
Most people will go to a voting centre, also known as a polling place, to cast their vote in an election. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) releases a list of all the different polling places you can attend to vote soon after the election is announced.
Every polling place has an accessibility rating, either: wheelchair accessible, assisted wheelchair access or not wheelchair accessible. With the list on the AEC website you can click on the accessibility rating of a polling place you want to attend to read more about the physical features of the building where the site is located.
If you need to attend a polling place but can’t get into the building and the staff agree that you don’t have access they can bring the forms out to you to complete.
While inside the polling place staff can also help you to understand how to vote and are trained to assist with making the process accessible for you. Assistive tools like pencil grips and magnifying sheets should be available for you to use.
Chairs will be available if you can’t stand for long periods of time and staff can prioritise a place in the queue for you so you don’t have to wait in a long line.
You can also take a friend or family member to support you while you vote, as long as they don’t use your vote to vote for their own preferences.
In-person voting centres are available before election day, known as early voting centres, but you do need a reason to attend these.
The list of early voting centres is available in the weeks after the announcement of the election date.
Accessibility at home
Postal voting is available to people who can’t attend a polling place for various reasons and to people who may find it more accessible.
There are two options with postal voting – either voting by post only for a single election or becoming a general postal voter who votes by mail in every election.
You might only want to vote by post for one election because you will be travelling during that time, or postal voting might be the most accessible form of voting for you and therefore you want to vote that way for every election.
If you are any of the following you can become a general postal voter:
- Enrolled at an address more than 20 km away from a polling place
- A patient at a hospital or nursing home and unable to travel to a polling place
- Unable to travel due to being infirm at home
- Caring for a seriously ill or infirm person who you can’t leave at home or bring with you to a polling booth
- Serving a prison sentence of less than three years
- Registered as a silent elector (only available under specific circumstances where your residential address needs to be kept a secret)
- Unable to attend a polling place due to religious beliefs
- Unable to sign your name due to a physical incapacity
- Registered as an overseas elector
- A member of the defence force, or a defence civilian serving outside Australia
- An Australian Federal Police officer or staff member serving outside Australia
Once you have enrolled as a general postal voter for one election you don’t need to reapply for future elections.
You can apply to be a general postal voter through the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website, by selecting which State or Territory you are from. This system can sign you up as a postal voter for either the Federal or State/Territory elections coming up, as long as the date has been set.
You will be given a link to download a PDF form to be a general postal voter, which you will need to fill in, scan, and upload the completed document to the AEC.
If you don’t have a computer, you can pick up a form from your local AEC office or post office. You can send this form back by faxing the form to the AEC office, mailing it to your local AEC office, or take it back in person to the AEC office. To find an AEC office near you, visit the website.
Accessibility in other settings
People who are blind or have low vision can vote from anywhere using telephone voting. This type of voting doesn’t have to be done on election day and details about how to go about it are released after each election is announced.
Voting via a phone call is private and confidential but has strict eligibility requirements, both in Federal elections and State or Territory elections.
If you are also deaf or hard of hearing, you can utilise the National Relay Service to assist you with contacting the AEC.
For some who can’t attend a polling booth on election day because they are sick, recovering from a procedure or residing in a nursing home, the AEC has a mobile voting system.
Teams of polling staff visit hospitals and residential aged care facilities on the days leading up to the election to collect votes from people who won’t be able to leave these facilities to go to a polling booth.
Mobile polling is not available at all hospitals and aged care homes though, so it’s important to check whether your facility is on the list. If it isn’t, you can apply for postal voting.
People who are in prison still have to enrol and vote if they are serving a short term. For the Federal election people with a full-time prison sentence of less than three years need to vote, but there are different rules for each State and Territory.
Eligible prisoners enrol using an appropriate address of somewhere they lived in the community before going to prison and their votes are submitted by post.
The AEC has easy read resources for how to enrol to vote and how to vote via the different options including in-person and by mail.
The official guide to election information on when and where to vote, assistance which is provided at polling booths and how to vote correctly – which is made available soon after the election is announced – can be provided in other formats.
The AEC also produces this guide in braille, large print and audio.
The list of candidates in the Federal election and their political party is available in these accessible formats as well.
Other information about voting is also available in Auslan and captioned videos on the AEC website.
Keeping COVID-safe while voting
Due to the current spread of COVID-19, voting booths will have COVID-safe measures in place for everyone that attends.
These measures include:
- Social distancing
- Hand sanitising stations
- Queue management
- Frequent and thorough cleaning of high-touch surfaces by dedicated hygiene officers
- Single-use pencils, if you forget to bring your own
- Mandatory masks
- COVID check-ins (which may differ depending on the State/Territory you live in)
- Election staff will be double vaccinated
Have you got any tips about accessible voting? Tell us in the comments below.