Pre-poll stats update


One of the developing stories this week has been the continuing increase in pre-poll voting at this year’s election. The AEC publishes daily updates with the number of votes cast at each pre-poll centre per day, allowing us to track how many people are choosing to vote early. In this post I’ll run through what the stats look like after three days of voting (data up to date as of the end of voting Wednesday).

As of the end of voting on Wednesday, 375,793 voters had cast a ballot using pre-poll. The equivalent figure was only 143,611 in 2016, 89,761 in 2013 and 53,474 in 2010, although I should note that voting started on a Tuesday at the last two elections, so I’m comparing three days of voting to just two.

This chart shows the cumulative number of pre-poll votes cast per day at each election. You can see that the same number of voters hadn’t cast their vote for five more days in 2016, seven more days in 2013, or nine more days in 2010.

It’s worth noting that this data isn’t perfect. Some booths are missing data for the final days of the campaign, although it appears the early days are more complete. The total number of votes doesn’t quite add up to how many pre-poll votes were cast. For example, in 2016 the daily counts add up to 107,000 less than the actual total. But the trend overall gets close to the final result, and the early days seem more complete.

If you compare the total pre-poll vote so far to the first three days of voting, there have been 67% more votes cast. If you compare to the votes cast by the first Wednesday of voting, there have been 162% more votes cast.

Just over 3 million pre-poll votes were cast in 2016, out of a total of 13.5 million votes, which was 22.8% of the total. If the current increase stays at 67%, you’d expect five million votes to be cast via pre-poll, which could be over one third of the national total.

The other point of interest is the breakdown of the vote by seat. Some seats naturallywill have more pre-poll votes than others for reasons that have nothing to do with the outcome – different geography and demography, as well as convenient placement of pre-poll booths, can have an impact. I don’t know whether seats with a big spike in pre-poll votes compared to the last election may be places where you’d expect something exceptional to happen on election day, but I thought they’d at least be interesting to examine.

Bear in mind that I have not been able to adjust for redistributions, and in some seats there is obviously a big impact caused by the addition of a new convenient polling place. There are 7 seats where less votes have been cast over the first three days of voting. One of these, Fenner, is down 1.3% despite losing about a third of its population in a redistribution. The other six are Parramatta, Parkes, Solomon, Melbourne, Maranoa and New England. The latter has only recorded 63% of the 2016 vote.

The following are the ten seats with the biggest increase in the pre-poll vote over the first three days:

  • Braddon – 309%
  • Lyons – 270%
  • Mayo – 241%
  • Flinders – 231%
  • Cowper – 206%
  • Hume – 199%
  • Dunkley – 191%
  • Swan – 183%
  • Flynn – 178%
  • Boothby – 176%

Almost every seat on this list either a conventional marginal seat or a seat with a strong independent challenge (Flinders and Cowper). Only in Hume is the incumbent considered relatively safe.

The trend towards more pre-poll voting has been continuing not just in Australia but in similar countries for well over a decade. It has increased at a faster pace in some jurisdictions where the electoral commission is more open to early voting (Victoria rather than New South Wales).

I’m personally not that concerned about the increase in pre-poll voting, even if it does make it harder to do some of the analysis I specialise in. In the end I don’t think the decision-point for the population needs to be concentrated on one day rather than a few weeks, and the majority of people make up their minds well in advance. While it is difficult for smaller parties and independents to staff the pre-poll booths, I’m not sure that’s a good reason to reduce the availability of the ballot.

Having said that, I think it would make sense to reduce pre-poll down to two weeks, which is the case for most (possibly all?) state elections. This was recommended by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters after the last election.

I’ll keep watching the pre-poll data over the next week and may report back on how it is tracking, and it’s sure to come up in one of my upcoming podcast episodes.

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  1. I think people want to keep their vote confidential and do not want to run the polling day gauntlet of party workers. This is particularly a problem in smaller communities where pressure can come from your workplace, school or other social/church group. On ANZAC day I had a discussion with a pretty large group of people who all agreed that running the gauntlet was the thing they hated the most about voting.

    At the last State election a candidate continually stepped into the path of voters as they tried to enter the polling booth area and despite complaints, the polling staff did nothing to prevent it. Fortunately I have made travel arrangements for the day of the election and have already lodged my postal vote.

    I think the AEC need to look at the pre-poll trend and understand what are the issues that drive it.

  2. In-electorate pre-poll votes are counted on the night. Out-of-area pre-poll votes need to be transported to the appropriate electorate. Postal votes start being counted on the Sunday.

  3. Greg Mc – Most of the preroll centres are staffed by party volunteers so it is no different from what happens on polling day – you still have to run the gauntlet

  4. Is there any data on how many people affected by franking credits are in these seats? I would figure that unless there are a lot the big increase would be based around wanting to get rid of the government.

  5. A lot of the inconsistencies arise because of aec mistakes such as counting DEC votes as ordinaries when they should not have benn so counted.

    This is why Monday seemed so huge.

    This error had been corrected by wed afternoon.

  6. Doug — you are correct that HTV distributors are also at prepoll centers, but nevertheless I find the prepoll experience is still quite different from election days. In my own experience (normal caveats for a sample of one) with prepolling there was only one person per an approach distributing for each of the Libs, ALP and Greens, and none for the rest. Whereas election day there seem to be a much larger swarm. Election day distributors also seem a lot keener to get you to take their HTV card. I agree with Greg Mc’s general point that navigating the HTV distributors is the single most unpleasant part of election day and that prepoll voting is a definite improvement in the experience.

  7. @Doug

    The gauntlet is far less though.

    Anecdotal evidence of my social circle suggests the diminished gauntlet is probably the biggest factor in favour of pre-poll.

  8. Canberra may be different – nothing diminished about the gauntlet- independents as well as Greens, Liberal & ALP all represented at preroll — lots of elderly and handicapped people for whom it seemed to be a preferred alternative to postal votes. proportion of people barrelling through would be about the same as on polling day. Sheer convenience seemed to be the key motivator aside from actually being away on the day

  9. The marginal/independent challenge seats being the most of the ones with the biggest increases in pre-polling may indicate that campaign fatigue is a driver of pre-polling.

    Given the higher vote security and voter intimidation risks with postal voting, pre-poll is preferable to postal voting and the postal voting criteria should be altered to require that the eligibility requirement not to be near a polling station on polling day be altered to bar people who will not be near pre-polling stations on pre-polling days from postal voting as well.

    I also think 3 weeks pre-polling is excessive and should be reduced to 2 weeks.

    The increase in pre-polling stations, to multiple stations per district (even in urban areas), may help with geographical analysis of pre-polling.

  10. I only expect the end increase to be ~33% at most-so a total around 4M, could be lower. The first week has previously had the biggest uplift. 5M is possible but unlikely I think. We’ll know more on Tuesday next week.

    Which PPVCs are open also impacts electorates significantly. New England had a major PPVC finally open yesterday and hence saw a resulting surge.

  11. Now that many Australians are prepoll voting in huge numbers both the ALP And Libs yesterday were whinging with Albanese saying “we may have to have a look at pre-polling” and Frydenberg saying pre-polling was “to long” (ABC News). Apparently this has affected the two parties campaign planning with the later messages being irrelevant if we have voted but so what !!

    Also the late campaign launch wrought need to be stopped as the two major parties get taxpayer funded travel only before the official launch. What a waste of our money so Shorten and Morrison can fly to a country town to take teas and scones at the local bowls club or a CWA gathering. Australia is not a Presidential system so the presence of the leaders in electorate other than their own is not really needed.

    In Macnamara there were half a dozen town hall type forums (a went to two of them and I was aware of others in various parts of the electorate) as well the ABC Radio Melbourne drive programme coverage in Acland St, St Kilda.

    What the parties must remember is that the voters come first with early and other voting not the parties nor the media for that matter.

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