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Elections Part 2: Cast a vote and eat a democracy sausage on election day

Donna Coutts, March 21, 2022 7:45PM Kids News

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These students from Manifold Heights Primary School helped cook up democracy sausages to raise money for their school at the last Victorian election in 2018. Picture: Alison Wynd media_cameraThese students from Manifold Heights Primary School helped cook up democracy sausages to raise money for their school at the last Victorian election in 2018. Picture: Alison Wynd


Reading level: green

All Australian citizens aged 18 and over have the right to enrol to vote to elect people to represent them in the Australian parliament, where laws and other big decisions about running the country are made.

This means Australia is a representative democracy.

Representative democracies function best when almost everyone votes, because the result is a more accurate reflection* of the wishes of the nation’s people.

Voting is compulsory* in Australia. In countries where voting is optional* or some groups of people are excluded* from voting, people can win an election despite* only a small proportion of the population wanting them to win.

Election Day - Macarthur MP Mike Freelander media_cameraVoting is compulsory for people aged 18 and over in Australia, which makes us a representative democracy. Picture: AAP Image

Achieving the right to vote and stand for parliament was a long struggle for some Australians.

In 1894, South Australia became the first electorate* in the world to allow women to vote and to stand for state parliament. But women weren’t allowed to stand for state parliament in Victoria until 1923.

In 1902, Australian parliament set a law allowing white women to vote and stand as a candidate in federal elections. However, women who the laws at the time identified as “aboriginal natives” (including women with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, African, Asian and Pacific Island heritage) were not included in this new law.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples didn’t achieve the right to vote in federal elections until 1962. In 1965 Queensland became the last state to remove restrictions on election voting for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It is compulsory and your responsibility to both enrol to vote and to actually vote.

You can vote once you turn 18, though you can enrol when you’re 16 or 17 in preparation for turning 18.

Once you’re old enough, you can enrol with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), the organisation that runs federal elections. Alternatively, you can enrol with the electoral commission in your state or territory. Electoral commissions share enrolment information, so you only need to enrol once. You can enrol online or fill out a form and submit it an office of the organisation with which you are enrolling.

It is your responsibility to keep enrolment details up to date, for instance, if you move house.

2019 Federal Election media_cameraQueenslanders Emma Dunbar and Emily Smith voted for the first time at the 2019 federal election. Picture: Zak Simmonds

As of September 30, 2021:

  • 16,952,117 Australians were enrolled to vote.
  • The AEC estimated 17,642,612 Australians were eligible* to enrol to vote. This means an estimated 96.1 per cent of eligible Australians are enrolled.

If you don’t enrol or vote, you are committing an offence under laws called the Electoral Act and you can be fined.

If you live overseas, including Antarctica, you are allowed to vote but it’s not compulsory.

Australia’s electoral system encourages as many eligible people as possible to vote. If you know you won’t be able to attend a voting centre on election day, you can vote early or submit a postal vote. A person booked to have an operation or due to have a baby on election day, or who is going to be a long way from any voting centre can choose to do this.

If you are away from your electorate on election day you can go to a voting centre in another electorate and submit an absentee* vote.

Mobile voting teams visit people who can’t attend a voting centre, such as residents of nursing homes or patients in hospitals.

To vote on election day, enrolled voters visit an official voting centre, also called a polling booth. These are often at schools, community halls or sports centres.

At the voting centre, an official crosses each voter’s name off the electoral roll and gives the voter two ballot papers: one for the House of Representative candidates in that electorate and one for the candidates for the Senate. Each paper includes instructions.

A New South Wales House of Representatives ballot paper is seen at a pre-polling booth at Central Station, Sydney, Sydney, Monday, April 29, 2019. The Australian Electoral Commission has opened Early voting for the 2019 Federal Election with the expectation that the election is set to attract record numbers of pre-poll votes. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi) NO ARCHIVING media_cameraVoters receive a green ballot paper for the House of Representatives and a while ballot paper for the Senate. Picture: AAP Image

Voters go to a small booth (made of cardboard) to mark their preferences on the ballots in private. Putting a 1 next to a name means that is your first preference. Putting a number 2 next to a name makes that your second preference, and so forth.

Election day – always a Saturday – can be fun. People are out and about in their neighbourhood with an activity in common and there is an atmosphere of anticipation* as everyone waits to learn the results.

You’ll see volunteers outside voting centres handing out information about the election candidate they support. You’re welcome to take a copy of each. When you’re finished with them, pop them in the recycling bins provided.

media_cameraLabor politician Bill Shorten tucks into a democracy sausage, watched on by wife Chloe, on federal election day in 2019. Picture: AAP Image

The day even has its own special menu!

The host school or community organisation often runs fundraising stalls, selling cakes and other treats and a special election food called a democracy sausage.

Democracy sausages (really just a barbecued sausage in bread or a roll) have become an Aussie tradition famous around the world. A politician eating a sausage when they go to vote makes for a fun news photo.



  • reflection: a sign or result of wishes or actions
  • compulsory: required by law or rule
  • optional: a choice, not compulsory
  • excluded: left out
  • despite: without being affected by; even though
  • electorate: an area represented by one member of parliament (MP); also sometimes used to refer to all the people in the electorate entitled to vote
  • eligible: having the right, or meeting the requirements, to do something
  • anticipation: expecting or waiting for something
  • absentee: someone who is not at the place they are meant to be at


Australia is off to the polls

Step inside the houses of federal parliament

Australia’s system of government

Parties line up in the game of politics

On the election campaign trail


  1. Is voting compulsory in Australia?
  2. How old must you be to vote?
  3. What year did Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples get the right to vote in federal elections?
  4. How many voting papers must voters fill in on election day?
  5. What is the name of the traditional election day food popular in Australia?


Refer to the accompanying Elections Education Kit classroom workbook with 20 activities. It’s FREE when teachers subscribe to the Kids News newsletter.

Extra Reading in elections