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How voting will work in Australia’s most expensive and ‘most complex’ election ever

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The election race has begun.

For the next six weeks, politicians will be throwing themselves before the people all across the country, asking you to allow them to lead Australia for the next three years as war rages overseas, the nation recovers from a pandemic, and rising costs put household budgets under stress.

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The Australian Electoral Commission’s head, Tom Rogers, says this election will be Australia’s biggest, most expensive and likely most complex ever.

The day most will cast judgement on who is fittest to run the country is a little while away yet, but here’s what it will look like when it comes.

So when will I vote?

Voting day is Saturday, May 21.

Polling places will be open from 8am to 6pm, local time.

The sausage sizzle — you may know it as a “democracy sausage” — will be back on, but you can probably expect a delay at the voting booth due to the COVID-19 measures that will be in place on voting day, the AEC says.

Can I vote before then?

Pre-poll voting starts 12 days before voting day, on May 9. 

You can vote early, either in person or by post for a whole range of reasons, including if you will be out of the electorate you are enrolled to vote in on voting day, are further than 8 kilometres from a voting booth, are seriously ill or about to give birth (or caring for someone who is), in hospital or prison, travelling or unable to leave work, or if you are a silent elector.

An illustration of a slip of paper hovers over a ballot box.
There is more than one way to vote, though most people will do it in person at the ballot box on voting day.(ABC News: Emma Machan)

You can also vote early if you have a reasonable fear for your safety.

In February, the AEC said a reasonable fear of getting COVID-19 “could be a reason” to justify an early vote in person or by post.

If you want to vote by post, you will have to apply in advance to do so.

The last day to register for postal voting is the Wednesday before voting day, May 18.

The AEC is expecting a surge in postal votes, which could delay the election result.

Oh, and if you find yourself in Antarctica, or on your way to “The Ice”, you can use the AEC’s telephone voting service, which is also available for people who are visually impaired.

Who is running?

The election will be a battle between Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who leads a Coalition government made of the Liberal Party and the Nationals, and challenger Anthony Albanese, who leads the Australian Labor Party.

The government enters the election holding 76 of the 150 seats, meaning it will need to keep the same number of seats to form a majority government.

Labor, which has a nominal 69 seats thanks to some changed electoral boundaries, will need to pick up at least seven seats to win a majority.

However, there are a host of smaller parties also running, and several high-profile independents looking to knock established politicians from their seats.

If neither the Coalition nor Labor win enough seats to form a majority, they will have to deal with those parties and independents to form a minority government.

ABC election analyst Antony Green has written a guide on which seats to watch as the election campaign unfolds.

There’s still a pandemic, so how will I vote this time?

This won’t be the first pandemic election.

The ACT, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland have all had state elections since the start of COVID-19, including some before vaccines were approved and rolled out.

So the electoral commission has had plenty of experience handling elections in a COVID-19 world.

Still, this time will be different. Many of the restrictions that were active during recent state elections are gone, and COVID-19 is now widespread in the community.

The commission is recruiting 100,000 additional workers to staff the election, including “hygiene officers”, who will be cleaning surfaces and pencils.

It will also maintain social distancing, capacity limits and masks, where required — that will depend on the rules set in each state and territory.

Workers who are staffing voting booths will be required to be vaccinated, but you do not need to be vaccinated to enter a voting place nor to cast your vote.

The AEC is still working through options for voters who catch COVID-19 and are forced to isolate after the cut-off date for postal voting, to ensure they can still cast a ballot on voting day.

While lockdowns and other more-severe restrictions have become highly unlikely, COVID-19 has thrown up curve balls several times already — the AEC says it is prepared to handle any COVID-19 scenario, even one that is “wildly different” to right now.

What if I don’t like any of the candidates?

Are you thinking about drawing a crude illustration on your ballot paper because you don’t like any of the candidates?

Well, the Australian Electoral Commission says your decorated form will still be a valid vote, as long as the candidates you have chosen are correctly marked and clearly visible.

However, as long as you are enrolled, you will have to show up on election day.

There is a $20 administrative penalty for not doing so.

But, if there is truly no candidate you support, you can cast an informal vote — which is a blank ballot with no candidates marked.

Casting an informal vote means it will not be included in the count, and you will not have a say in who governs the country.

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The key battlegrounds in the 2022 Federal Election.

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