1. The election countdown
Before the official start to an election, parties have already pre-selected and endorsed their candidates and have begun their unofficial campaigns. The Electoral Commission has prepared election material and designed training for polling staff. The minimum election period is 26 days and the maximum, a marathon 56 days from the issue of the writ until polling day.
2. The announcement is made
On the advice of the Premier, the Governor dissolves Parliament. The parties and independent candidates begin their official election campaigns.
3. The writ is issued
Almost immediately, the Governor issues a writ for the election to the Electoral Commission. The writ is the legal document that instructs the Commission when to hold the election.
The Commission publishes a copy of the writ in the Government Gazette and notifies each Returning Officer for each of the 89 districts. The Returning Officers begin their election preparations.
4. Closing the electoral roll
Certified copies of the electoral roll for each district must be printed and delivered throughout Queensland to be available at polling booths on polling day. The electoral roll is closed to new enrolments not less than five days, nor more than seven days after the issue of the writ.
5. Closing nominations and printing the ballot papers
Ballot papers, with candidate names for each district, are printed and sent to all polling places in Queensland. Nominations of candidates are closed not less than eight days, nor more than 18 days after the issue of the writ.
Voting can’t begin until nominations are closed and the ballot papers are printed. The Returning Officer for each district randomly draws the names of candidates to determine the order they will appear on the ballot paper. This is done to ensure against the bias of the so-called ‘donkey vote’, where a small number of voters simply number their ballot paper in order (from top to bottom or, more rarely, vice-versa), regardless of the candidates listed. Many people think that the order of candidates on the ballot paper can give an advantage to the first candidate listed, but this is rarely the case.
The ballot papers are printed on opaque security paper and delivered to the Returning Officers. Ballot papers used for some early voting – before printed ballot papers are ready - are printed without candidate names or party affiliations, with the names written in by hand.
6. Early voting
About eleven per cent of voters cast their vote before polling day. If you are unable to vote at a polling booth on polling day, you may be entitled to one of these special voting arrangements:
- Postal voting
- Pre-poll voting in person
- Electoral visit voting
- Declared institution voting
- Remote area voting
7. Polling day
Queensland elections are always held on a Saturday. This is to make sure polling day is as convenient for the voter as possible and to maximise the number of people who turn out to vote. Polling booths are open to take votes from 8am to 6pm. Polling Officials ask electors their names, mark off the names from the electoral roll and then hand electors their ballot papers.
Where to vote on polling day
- Vote at a booth closest to your home.
- Lists of booths (by district) are published by the ECQ prior to polling day.
- If outside your district on polling day, you can vote as an absent voter at any polling booth in Queensland.
8. Counting the votes
Ballot papers are not counted until the close of polling at 6pm on polling day. Once any remaining voters in the booth at 6.00pm have voted and have left the booth, tables are prepared for the election night count of first preferences.
Ballot papers are sorted into two batches: ordinary and absent votes. Absent votes (sealed in declaration envelopes) are parcelled and forwarded to the Returning Officer of the relevant district to be counted. Other polling day declaration votes (unenrolled votes, voters of uncertain identity) are set aside to be validated later by the Returning Officers.
Ordinary votes are then sorted into formal and informal piles. Ballot papers are considered formal and admitted to the count when the voter’s intention is clear. About two per cent of voters cast informal votes, and in most cases, informal votes appear to be cast deliberately.
Polling booth officials then count first preferences by looking for the number ‘1’ on each ballot paper and sorting the papers into bundles by candidate. First preference votes for each candidate are tallied and phoned through to the Returning Officer, who then relays the figures to the central tallyroom.
The voting system for Queensland elections is Optional Preferential Voting (OPV). For information on how Queensland's voting system works, see our OPV fact sheet.
A partial count of further preferences is then conducted by the Polling Officials and relayed to the Returning Officer. A partial count can indicate who may be the winner in closely contested districts.
9. At the tallyroom
Many have questioned the need for a tallyroom when results can now be gathered from media sources and the web. Australian elections have traditionally used the tallyroom to focus on election results. The tallyroom has also been a meeting place and backdrop for political party leaders to make their victory speech or to acknowledge defeat when results are announced.
Television and radio stations in the central tallyroom broadcast the results as they unfold on the night. The tallyboard is used to display the provisional election results district by district.
First preference results, from ordinary votes only, are displayed on the night. These results are usually sufficient to see which candidates have been elected. They are not conclusive for districts where the result is very close.
10. The official count
The results of closely contested districts are determined after polling day. Absent and postal votes are counted and preferences are fully distributed. The official count for all districts is conducted by the Returning Officers and begins on the Monday following polling day.
To win an election in each of the 89 districts a candidate must win:
- either outright on first preference, or primary, votes (more than 50% of the formal first preference votes).
- or after preferences have been distributed (with a majority of votes remaining in the count).
To win government in Queensland, a political party or coalition of parties must win a majority, that is 45 or more of the 89 districts.
The results of the 1995 Queensland General Election were so close that the outcome was not determined until 10 days after polling day - the last day for postal votes to be legally returned and counted (according to the Electoral Act 1992).
11. Declaring the results and returning the writ
As soon as possible after the official count, Returning Officers notify the Electoral Commission of the names of the winning candidates in their districts. When all notifications have been returned, the Commission enters the names of the winning candidates on the writ for the election, and returns the writ to the Governor. The name of each candidate elected is then published in the Queensland Government Gazette. Official statistical results are prepared, then delivered to the new Parliament and published for the public record.
Registered political parties and independent candidates who qualify (more than 4% of the first preference vote) may claim re-imbursement of their campaign costs up to the level of their entitlement. Following the election every candidate must submit returns outlining details of gifts received, loans received and electoral expenditure. Details of this process can be obtained in the Political Parties section of this site.
12. The Court of Disputed Returns
Under the provisions of the Electoral Act 1992, a candidate, an elector or the Electoral Commission may dispute the results of a district election by petition to the Supreme Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. The petition must be filed within seven days of the date the writ was actually returned.
The Court may order that:
- an elected person is not elected
- another candidate is to be elected
- the petition is upheld or dismissed in whole or part
- a new district election is to be held, and
- costs are to be awarded.