What you need to know about voting in the Voice referendum

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More than half a million Australians have already voted in Australia’s first referendum since 1999, with less than two weeks before the rest of the nation decides if it will support an Indigenous Voice to parliament.

Voters will be asked whether to alter the Constitution to recognise Indigenous peoples through the creation of a body that advises the parliament and executive government on policies affecting them.

Australians are heading to the polls on October 14 for the first referendum since 1999.Credit: Marija Ercegovac

To be successful, the referendum requires a majority of all voters across Australia as well as a majority of voters in at least four of the six states to support the change.

A record 17.6 million, or 97.7 per cent, of Australians are enrolled to vote in the referendum, including a record-high 94 per cent of Indigenous people. But more than 8.4 million people on the electoral roll weren’t on it when the last referendum was held.

Knowing when and how to vote – and what to do if you can’t – is important.

We answer the key questions you might have ahead of the national poll.

When is the referendum?

The referendum, the first since Australia said no to becoming a republic, is being conducted on Saturday, October 14.

What is the referendum question?

Voters will be asked to indicate yes or no to the following question:

“A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”

How do I vote?

Voting is compulsory for eligible Australians aged 18 and over, just like in a federal election, but instead of voting for a candidate, they will be asked whether they “approve” the proposed alteration to the Constitution.

Voters are advised to clearly write “yes” or “no” in English in the box provided on their ballot paper.

Where do I vote on the day, and when do polling places open and close?

As in local, state and federal elections, voters can head to local schools, town halls and community centres to cast their ballot on polling day.

There will be more than 7000 polling places open on the big day from 8am-6pm.

Head to the AEC website to find your nearest polling station.

Can I vote early?

About 500 early voting centres started progressively opening across the country this week.

Reasons that might make you eligible to vote early include that you:

  • are outside the division where you are enrolled to vote
  • are more than 8km from a polling place
  • are travelling
  • are unable to leave your workplace to vote
  • are seriously ill, infirm, or due to give birth shortly (or caring for someone who is)
  • are a patient in hospital and can’t vote at the hospital
  • have religious beliefs that prevent you from attending a polling place
  • are in prison serving a sentence of less than three years or otherwise detained
  • are a silent elector
  • have a reasonable fear for your safety.

Early voting centre locations, opening days and hours can be searched directly on the AEC voting centre location tool.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called the referendum a “once in a generation chance” to improve the lives of the country’s Aboriginal population. Credit: Getty

How do I postal vote?

Postal voting is available for anyone who is unable to vote in person.

Voters can apply for a postal vote until 6pm on Wednesday, October 11. The AEC suggests voters do this on its website to ensure it receives and processes applications in time. You must complete your postal vote on or before voting day, and to be included in the count the AEC must receive it by the 13th day after the referendum.

The same eligibility criteria apply as at pre-poll stations.

Can I vote overseas?

Australians living overseas are entitled and encouraged to vote in the referendum, although it is not compulsory.

The AEC website includes a long list of countries where eligible voters can cast a ballot at Australian high commissions, consulates and embassies. Each has its own opening hours and information for referendum voting, so Aussies overseas must ensure they check the relevant country.

If they can’t vote in person, they can apply for a postal vote.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard at the launch of the Yes campaign in London.

What happens if I don’t vote? Will I be fined?

As voting is compulsory for eligible Australians aged 18 and over, you may be fined $20 if you don’t vote without a “valid and sufficient reason”.

When will the referendum result be known?

While there could be an indication of the likely result on the night, if the vote is close, it could be days or even weeks before all pre-poll votes, overseas votes and postal votes can be counted.

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