Development of Modern Electoral Administration
a postgraduate project of the ANU and the Electoral Council of Australia
funded by a grant (no: LP0453987) from the Australian Research Council
About this site
A good line
This man is Lyndon Johnson, American President from
1963 to 1969, and he has nothing to do with my research.
However, President Johnson once said that talking about economic policy
was like peeing your pants - it feels hot
to you but no-one else notices*.
Writing and researching a PhD thesis, I've
discovered, can be like that. Plugging away towards a 100,000 word academic tome destined to be read about a
handful of people. You make wonderful discoveries along the way but are only
able to share with a couple of others. So like all personal websites, this one
involves a degree of attention-seeking
behaviour. But it also provides me ways of thinking about the subject matter in more 'loose',
unstructured ways, it's fun to do, it's a way of getting information from
others. I also want to do my bit to encourage Australians (particularly) to take more interest
in their electoral and political institutions.
We Australians love to declare that in this or that
area, or just generally, Australia is 'the best country in the world', and
usually it's not really true. But in the development of electoral institutions we
can certainly lay claim to many firsts.
Did you know?
South Australia was the first 'country' (the Australian colonies all considered
themselves countries) in which women
could both vote and stand for election (1894). When picked up by the new
Commonwealth of Australia in 1902 it was still unique.
The government-supplied ballot slip, with a list
of candidates to choose from, was not only first used in Australia, but first
thought of here (Victoria, 1856).
South Australia had the world's first de facto chief electoral officer
South Australia had the world's first salaried electoral officials (1858->).
Postal/absent voting, using the
secret ballot, was first implemented here. It is generally thought that this
was in SA as well, in 1890, but a version of it appears in the WA legislation in
1877. However, this was just for the Legislative Council in the pre-independent
colony. It was suggested in SA in 1861.
Abolition of public nominations first occurred in Australia (1856, SA).
Continuous enrolment/registration, rather than once a year, was first practiced
Pro-active, 'census-like' approach to registration, sending people out armed
with forms knocking on doors was first done in - yes - South Australia. (The
return of these forms was at first mandatory, which hints at future Australian
The 'gagging clause', which prohibits politicians from opening their mouths in
public during election campaigns, was a South Australian invention (1856). (A
trick question, as it died a quiet death over a couple of decades. Must have
seemed a good idea at the time.)
You will have noticed that South Australia is the
main character of all the colonies, and it was mainly to SA that the new
federation looked in 1901 for ways to run elections. But the few post-federation
Australian 'firsts' - preferential voting (a version was actually used in
Queensland from 1892), compulsory registration and then compulsory voting - were
not generally taken up overseas.
Dapper chappy at left registers his vote at the 1898 Federation referendum. If we
didn't know it was under the Secret Ballot the picture would tell us: a ballot
box and a couple of officials. It wasn't just the secrecy that Victoria introduced to the
world in 1856, but the whole organisational kit & caboodle. Read about the Australian
The form of my study keeps changing, to the consternation of
my supervisor, and things I wrote a year ago turn out to be substantially
untrue. Lately I've been concentrating on South Australia, as this was where
much of the innovation took place. But stay tuned, it will change again.
*Upon investigation, Johnson's
actual words were 'it seems hot to you, but never does to anyone else', but I
prefer my version.
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