Saturday, February 13, 2010

Australian federal electoral rolls - part 1

One of my most used sources at the moment is the Australian federal electoral roll. I have used the electoral rolls in the past on microfiche at the National Library of Australia, but searching in that format was very time consuming. In the last few years, a selection of the rolls have become available to search or browse on Ancestry. It has changed the way I search in and use the electoral rolls, but I'll come to that in a future post.

I found the description of the rolls on the Ancestry website to be lacking, so I did a little digging.


Australian voting history, in brief 
The various colonies (now States and Territories) became what is now known as Australia at Federation in 1901. From 1902, both men and women aged from 21 were eligible to vote in federal elections. Enrollment to vote became compulsory in 1911, and actually casting a vote became compulsory in 1924. The voting age was reduced to 18 in 1973. Voting is still compulsory.

The history of the vote for indigenous Australians (and some other groups) is more complex than I feel able to cut down to a few lines. There's a lot of information linked from the Australian Electoral Commission's Australian Electoral History page (which is also my source for the above facts and figures).

Individual States of Australia passed the equivalent laws in respect to State elections at different times, some before Federation, some after. At various points in time there were people - women and indigenous people being the two most obvious groups - eligible to vote in some State elections but not Commonwealth elections, or vica versa.

Reading the rolls 
The rolls are arranged by electorate, then by polling place, then by surname. For each person on the roll the surname, first names, address, occupation and sex are shown. I'll talk more about how I have used the rolls and the information they contain in a future post.

One of the things I discovered while poking around the Electoral Commission site, is that people who were listed on the Commonwealth electoral roll because they were on a State roll, but were not eligible to vote in Commonwealth elections, were marked on the Commonwealth rolls with an "o". This sounded familiar to me, I was sure I had seen some of those "o"s, so I started hunting through my downloaded pages. The first instance I came across was this:

Australian federal electoral roll for Ferntree Gully, Flinders, Victoria, 1924

She's not a relative of mine, just on the same page as one. I checked at the end of the roll to see why Amy Augusta Robertson was not enrolled as a Commonwealth elector, but the way browsing works on Ancestry I couldn't find the right page.

Moving on, I came across a page with many "o"s, including my great-granduncle, Edwin Ernest Baker Lee:

Australian federal electoral roll for Flagstaff Gardens, Melbourne, Victoria, 1924

This time I did find the explanatory page.

Particulars regarding Electors enrolled on this Roll in virtue of a property qualification as Electors for the State Assembly.
Australian federal electoral roll for Flagstaff Gardens, Melbourne, Victoria, 1924

I thought that he must have been enrolled for the federal election at his home address, as he should have been eligible. He didn't come up at any other address in the search results, so I navigated to Caulfield myself. There I found his wife, but not him.

Australian federal electoral roll for Caulfield, Balaclava, Victoria, 1924

He was listed in the roll in each of the previous and subsequent years searchable on Ancestry so I suppose he must have failed to re-enrol in time at his new address when he moved sometime between 1919 and 1924.

Did this post help you? Can you add anything that would aid in understanding the rolls? 
If so, please leave a comment! If not, leave a comment and say Hi! anyway!



1 comment:

  1. Hi Shelley
    Thanks for the great post!  I had never noticed the O on electoral rolls before but if I come across any now I'll know what they are.  I'm wondering if you might know the answer to this question.  In Victoria I often find ancestors listed twice in the same year in the rolls.  Sometimes the entries are identical and sometimes the exact same person has a different address.  I'm accessing the rolls via ancestry.com

    Kylie  :-)

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