Voting and Elections: The Secret Ballot - Voting in Australia

Level: Lower to middle secondary

Duration: Three to four sessions plus an election

Curriculum Links

Links to the Australian Curriculum


Students participate in classroom activities to develop an understanding of the secret ballot and the process of voting in Australia. Working in large and small groups they use the secret ballot and the stages in an election to identify, develop and vote on a school-based issue.


'Australian Democracy Magazine' may be downloaded from the Australian Electoral Commission
handout 'Stages in an Election'
prepared ballot papers
materials for posters.


1 Introductory Activity

Prepare ballot papers with the following information: 'What should be the legal age for drinking alcohol? Circle one: 16, 18, 21.'

Distribute the ballots at the beginning of class and tell the students to mark their secret ballot to record their opinions on the legal age for drinking. Have them fold the ballots and collect them in a box. Now ask the same question using a show of hands. Record the results on the board. Ask the students if they think this result will be different from the secret vote. Group the students into about three groups to count the ballots, distributing an equal number of ballots from the box. Record the results on the board. Discuss reasons for the results.

Tell the class that Australia was the first country in the world to introduce the secret ballot. It was introduced in 1856 in Victoria and South Australia and was used in all Commonwealth states and territories by 1924. This secret ballot was known in other countries as the 'Australian Ballot'. Lead a discussion to have students explain why the secret ballot became generally used. Tell the students that in addition to the secret ballot, the process of voting in Australia is designed to preserve privacy and fairness. Distribute copies of the 'Australian Democracy Magazine' or the hand-out 'Stages in an Election'. Have the students discuss these in groups and clarify any questions. Tell them they will use this procedure to vote on some issues in their classroom.

2 Identifying Issues

Ask the students to identify something they would like to change in the classroom or the school. (Alternatively, they may want to identify several of the election issues being debated in their local area.) Divide the class into five groups and assign each group the task of identifying one issue they would like to change. This issue will be the one they use for a class election.

3 Having a Class Election

Depending on the background information your students have about elections and on the time available, you may want to structure teaching activities around a class election. Detailed information is available from the Australian Electoral Commission on all aspects of the electoral process.

The 'Stages in an Election' hand-out below was adapted from the Australian Electoral Commission. It can be used to have students identify what has to happen first in the steps for an election. Work through these stages, interpreting each one in ways appropriate for the class (for example, the principal issues the writs, the teacher produces the electoral roll, students nominate candidates and prepare ballot papers, etc). Provide class time for debates about the issues among the candidates. On 'election day' follow the procedure for secret ballots and for scrutinising the votes.

4 Follow Up

Follow up the election by having students choose work groups to write about the campaign for the school newspaper, write essays on the secret ballot or use the 'Stages in an Election' as a timeline to write in the details for a current election. They can also record their ideas on compulsory voting by going to the activity on voting on this website. Where feasible, students may work out a plan to implement their changes.

Other Resources

The units 'Should the People Rule?' and 'Democratic Struggles' in the Discovering Democracy School Materials Project have lesson plans for students to investigate democracy as a system of government and to examine struggles for democratic reform.

Back to Lower Secondary Teaching and Learning Activities

Stages in an Election