This website will be progressively updated as the final outcome of the election of 2 July is known, and as the 45th Parliament meets.

Learning

Election processes and systems of representation

Closer Look – Parliament and Congress [PDF 1.59Mb, 16 pages]

 

Elections are fundamental to democracy. Both Australia and the US have regular elections in which the constituents–citizens who vote–elect other citizens to represent them. In Australia these people represent their constituents in Parliament; in the US these people represent their constituents in Congress.

The laws and conventions that define how and when elections occur vary between the two nations.

The following table provides an overview of the distinguishing features of both nations' federal election processes.

Elections
AustraliaUnited States

Frequency

  • Federal elections are held at least every three years, or earlier if requested by the Prime Minister and approved by the Governor-General.

Frequency

  • Congressional elections are held every two years in November and always in an even-numbered year.

House terms

  • 150 members of the House of Representatives, which includes the Prime Minister, are elected for a maximum of three years, although this term may be shorter depending on when an election is called by the Prime Minister.
  • After a federal election, the party or parties with the support of the majority in the House of Representatives forms the government for the term.

House terms

  • 435 members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year fixed terms.

Senate terms

  • Twelve senators are elected from each state for six-year fixed terms.
  • Two senators are elected from each territory for a period of three years.
  • State senators are elected on a rotating basis, with half the Senate elected every three years. State senators complete their terms in rotation, half on 30 June every third year. Newly elected senators begin their six-year term on 1 July.
  • The terms of territory senators are the same as the members of the House of Representatives.

Senate terms

  • Two senators are elected from each state for six-year fixed terms.
  • At each election for the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senate seeks re-election.

Organisation of elections

  • Federal elections are conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission.
  • The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 provides for a standardised national election procedure.

Organisation of elections

  • Article One, Article Two and various amendments of the US Constitution define how federal elections are held.
  • Elections are organised by each of the 50 states, which regulate most of the practical details of electoral law.
  • Although there are variations from state to state (for example, prisoners may vote in some states but not in others), voting arrangements are largely the same across the country.

Voting

  • Voting is compulsory for all Australian citizens aged 18 and over for state and federal elections.
  • Elections for the House of Representatives use a preferential voting system to elect one member for each electorate. Elections for the Senate use a proportional voting system to fill multiple vacancies in each state and territory.

Voting

  • Voting is not compulsory for US citizens.
  • Elections for both houses use the simple majority or ‘first past the post' system.
Similarities

Both systems:

  • elect one member to the House of Representatives to represent each electorate or district
  • organise electorates or districts so each have relatively equal numbers of voters
  • elect a uniform number of senators to represent states, regardless of their size or population.