The below is a guide. For specific legal advice contact our criminal lawyers in Sydney.
In Australia, enrolment and voting is compulsory for every citizen aged 18 years or older.
It is estimated by the Australian Electoral Commission that there are 17,371,123 Australians enrolled to vote, which means that 97.1% of eligible persons are enrolled.
This figure is as of 31 December 2022, indicating that there may be 513,463 estimated eligible Australians who are not enrolled.
Enrolling to vote in federal elections was made compulsory in 1912, whereas actually voting was made compulsory in 1924.
The recent 2023 NSW State Election saw Labor leader Chris Minns become NSW Premier, with more than 4 million votes already counted, and 445,000 postal votes received thus far.
It is estimated the completion of counting and declaration of all results will occur by 20 April 2023.
NSW is the state with the highest proportion of enrolled electors (98.3%), and therefore most enrolled electors at 5,504,731, which may be attributed to the state’s population size.
In Australia, there are three ‘levels’ of elections that you must vote in being Federal, State, and Local elections.
There are numerous methods which a person may utilise to vote, in certain circumstances, including the standard form, pre-polling, postal voting, provisional voting and absent voting.
The standard form of voting involves attending a polling place on the election date, receiving their ballot paper, and submitting their vote by marking it and placing it in the box.
Pre-poll centres will largely be located at similar places to those found on the actual election date, and enable persons unable to vote on this date to do so earlier.
A postal vote allows people to receive a ballet paper in the post (with a reply paid envelope) which they mark and return.
In order to vote via pre-poll or a postal vote, on the election date, the person must be outside the state, territory, or division for which they are enrolled, travelling and unable to reach a polling booth, or unable to leave their workplace to vote on the date.
Circumstances specific to postal votes include those seriously ill, infirm, or about to give birth, or are looking after someone who is, including patients in a hospital and can’t vote at the hospital.
It also includes those who have religious beliefs which prevent them from attending a polling booth or who have a reasonable fear for their safety if they were to attend.
It is also applicable to persons serving a term of imprisonment or other forms of detention (but not including those serving a term of imprisonment exceeding 3-years).
The Australian Electoral Commission has noted that even if you have not enrolled before, you can do so now, and you will not be fined.
However, if you continue to remain unenrolled, you will face fines for not voting at election time.
- What is the Fine for Not Voting in Federal Election?
- Fine for Not Voting NSW | Penalty for Not Enrolling to Vote in NSW
- Fine for Not Voting QLD
- Fine for Not Voting VIC
- Fine for Not Voting South Australia
- Fine for Not Voting Western Australia
- Fine for Not Voting Australian Capital Territory
- Fine for Not Voting Northern Territory
- Can you Go to Jail for Not Voting in Australia?
What is the Fine for Not Voting in Federal Election?
At a federal level, voting is governed by the Electoral Act 1918 (Cth).
After polling occurs, the Electoral Commission will create a list of those who did not vote at each electoral division.
Within 3-months of this occurring the Divisional Returning Officer (‘DRO’) (the officer in charge of voting in the relevant division) will issue a penalty notice to persons on this list.
However, the DRO will not issue a penalty notice if they believe the person:
- is dead,
- was absent from Australia on the election date,
- was ineligible to vote,
- has a valid and sufficient reason for failing to vote.
As per section 245 of the Act, the penalty notice amount is a $20 administrative penalty.
If you receive this, you may choose to:
- provide the particulars of you voting (if you actually did so),
- provide the DRO with a valid and sufficient reason for failing to vote,
- pay the penalty notice.
If any of the above factors occur within the prescribed time, the matter will be finalised.
If you fail to do this, you can be prosecuted and taken to court, with the court able to impose a fine of $222 (one Commonwealth penalty unit).
You may also seek to elect for the matter to be heard in court, however it is important to note that the maximum penalty of a $222 fine remains applicable (as well as any court costs).
Whether a reason is deemed ‘valid and sufficient’ will ultimately depend upon the particular case.
Notably, it may include sickness, a serious accident or other natural event that may have arisen.
Merely not wanting to vote, having no preference for a candidate, or being unaware an election occurred will not be a valid or sufficient reason.
Section 93 of the Act provides that those who are not entitled to vote, include any person who:
- is serving a prison term of 3 years or longer,
- has been convicted of treason or treachery and has not been pardoned, or
- is of unsound mind and is thus incapable of understanding the nature and significance of enrolment and voting.
A person is not authorised to vote more than once in an election.
Fine for Not Voting NSW | Penalty for Not Enrolling to Vote in NSW
In NSW, voting in a state election is governed by the Electoral Act 2017 (NSW), whereas voting in a local council election is governed by the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW).
The fine applicable for not voting in a state or local council election is $55.
If you do not provide details noting you actually did vote, pay the fine, or provide sufficient reasons for not voting within 28 days, you will be sent a further reminder notice to respond.
Valid Reasons for Not Voting in Australia
Some valid reasons for not voting in Australia may vary across States and Territories. Here are some of the main reasons you will not be fined or penalised for failing to vote.
Under both Acts, a sufficient reason will include:
- being absent from NSW on the election date,
- being ineligible to vote,
- having an honest belief that abstention from voting was part of your religious duty,
- a lack of mental capacity (as certified by a registered medical practitioner), or
- being unable for any reason acceptable to the Electoral Commissioner.
If the notice is not responded to, the matter will then be referred to Revenue NSW for further action, which will incur a further fee of $65.
You may choose to dispute the fine at court, however, the court may impose a maximum penalty of a $110 fine (as well as any court costs).
If you wish to know whether or not you have a fine, here you can check fines in NSW.
Fine for Not Voting QLD
In Queensland, voting in a state election is governed by the Electoral Act 1992 (Qld), whereas voting in a local council election is governed by the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 (Qld).
How much do you get fined for not voting in Qld? The fine applicable for not voting in a state or local election is $143.
However, if you pay the fine prior to the due date indicated, it will reduce the penalty to $71.50 (one-half of the penalty unit).
Instead, you may seek to provide a valid and sufficient reason for not voting or provide details of voting if you actually did so.
If the fine is not paid, it may be referred to the State Penalties Enforcement Registry where additional charges may apply (which is usually a further ‘registration fee’ of $75.60).
Fine for Not Voting VIC
In Victoria, voting in a state election is governed by the Electoral Act 2002 (Vic), whereas voting in a local council election is governed by the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic).
If you do not vote, you will be issued with an ‘apparent failure to vote’ notice which must be responded to within 28 days with details explaining that you did actually vote, or that you had a valid and sufficient excuse for not doing so.
After this period, if you do not respond, or your reason is not deemed valid and sufficient, you will have 28 days to pay the fine of $92.
If you fail to pay the fine, you will be issued with a penalty reminder notice, which is accompanied by a further fee of $26.60.
You may seek an internal review of the decision to fine you or elect to take the matter to court.
Fine for Not Voting South Australia
In South Australia, voting in a state election is governed by the Electoral Act 1985 (SA), whereas voting in a local council election is governed by the Local Government (Elections) Act 1999 (SA).
In this state, unlike State elections, it is not compulsory to vote in South Australian council elections.
If it appears from the role, that you failed to vote in a State election, you will be sent an ‘apparent failure to vote’ notice within 90 days of the election.
You will then need to respond with why you didn’t vote or provide details if you actually did vote.
If your reason is accepted, there will be no further action, however if you do not respond, you will be issued with a fine of $104.
If you also fail to pay this, the fine rises to $172 (the original fine plus a fee of $68).
You may seek to pay the fine, enter into a payment arrangement, apply for an internal review or court-elect the matter.
After these notices have been issued, and if they are not responded to or other action is not taken, the matter will be referred to the Fines Enforcement and Recovery Unit, with this process incurring further fees.
Fine for Not Voting Western Australia
In Western Australia, voting in a state election is governed by the Electoral Act 1907 (WA), whereas voting in a local council election is governed by the Local Government Act 1995 (WA).
Notably, voting in local government elections is not compulsory, however, it remains compulsory in state elections.
If you fail to vote at a state election, and do not provide a valid and sufficient reason for doing so, you will be issued with a fine of $20 (if it is your first time doing so).
This increases to $50 if you have previously failed to vote.
The process in Western Australia begins with a first notice (sent within 3-months of the election), and if you do not respond to this a second notice is sent, which may then result in a third notice (referred to as a ‘final demand’).
The final demand notice will be accompanied by a prosecuting authority fee, which increases the amount payable.
Furthermore, if it is not resolved following issuance of this notice, it will be referred to the Fines Enforcement Registry which incurs further fees.
Fine for Not Voting Australian Capital Territory
In the Australian Capital Territory, voting in elections of the territory’s Legislative Assembly is governed by the Electoral Act 1992 (ACT).
The ACT is the only state or territory without a separate system of local government.
If it appears that you have failed to vote, a letter or email will be sent out by the ACT Electoral Commission which will essentially ask for an explanation.
If this is not provided, or you have no explanation, you will be fined $20.
If you fail to pay the penalty or seek to dispute it, the matter may be taken to court where the relevant penalty can be increased to $80 (as well as any court costs).
Fine for Not Voting Northern Territory
In the Northern Territory, voting in elections of the territory’s Legislative Assembly is governed by the Electoral Act 2004 (NT), whereas voting in a local council election is governed by the Local Government Act 2019 (NT).
The penalty for not voting is a $25 fine, which must be paid within 28 days unless you provide a sufficient reason for not doing so or details of voting.
However, if you do not pay this, or decide to dispute the fine in court, a maximum penalty of a $162 fine may be applicable (one penalty unit).
Can you Go to Jail for Not Voting in Australia?
Failure to pay a fine on time will result in a debt collection agency (Revenue NSW) to collect the debt from you. They will issue you a penalty reminder notice. Failure to pay this on time will result in you being issued with an overdue fine notice adding an overdue fee to the debt. Failure to pay this overdue fine debt can result in serious consequences, including an enforcement order. This can result in the suspension or cancellation of your driver licence, cancellation of the registration of your vehicle, or enforcement through the court by way of a property seizure order.
Failure to comply with a court order can result in community service order or imprisonment.
By Poppy Morandin and Jimmy Singh.
Image credit: Nils Versemann