In accordance with the Referendums Act 1998, the Northern Territory Electoral Commission (as successor to the Northern Territory Electoral Office) is the authority legislated to undertake a referendum in the Northern Territory.

A referendum takes place on the motion of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly that a question be put to electors. The Writ is issued by the Administrator to the Electoral Commissioner who must make appropriate arrangements to conduct the referendum.

The key stages in a referendum from the issue of the Writ are:

  • Publish notices, including the Writ, as provided for in the legislation
  • Close the rolls and prepare the certified lists or voters roll
  • Distribute to electors the arguments for and against the referendum question
  • Arrange for mobile polling and determine places to be polled
  • Establish arrangements for, and undertake pre-polling, ordinary voting in polling places and declaration voting including un-enrolled, postal and absent voting
  • Determine and declare the result of polling
  • Return the Writ and undertake post election tasks including the investigation of non-voters

Provision is made in the Act that a referendum can take place at the same time as an Northern Territory Legislative Assembly election (NTLA) or federal election.  In the latter case, the Act provides that officers of the Commonwealth can undertake tasks detailed in the legislation and adopt election procedures and materials used at the federal election.

Conduct of a Northern Territory referendum

The process of conducting a referendum is very similar to conducting a Legislative Assembly election.

The major difference is the method of response to a referendum question printed on the ballot paper. Rather than vote for candidates, electors are required to write the word ‘yes’ or the word ‘no’ in the space provided on the ballot paper.