A secret ballot occurs when an elector is able to cast a vote that cannot later be distinguished from other votes.
The essence of the secret ballot is that the voter’s choice is made secretly without coercion. The Commonwealth Electoral Act requires the Australian Electoral Commission to provide separate voting compartments for voters. These compartments must be provided with a pencil.
Voters are required to have their names crossed off an electoral roll when they arrive to vote. Their ballot paper contains no information other than a list of the candidates in the election and the initials of the polling official. After casting their vote in the voting compartment, they deposit the ballot paper in a sealed ballot box.
Postal and absentee voters have their votes sealed in two envelopes in order to conceal their identity when the votes are opened and counted.
The secret ballot was first used in Victoria and South Australia following the granting of responsible government in 1856.
Other states introduced secret ballots as follows:
- 1856 – Victoria & South Australia
- 1858 – New South Wales & Tasmania
- 1859 – Queensland
- 1893 – Western Australia
All Federal elections since 1901 have used the secret ballot.