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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about South Australia

Electoral matters

During the development of the Commonwealth Constitution in the 1890s, the issue of who should be entitled to vote in federal elections was of concern as colonies had different arrangements. In South Australia men had the right to vote from 1857 and women from 1895 – these arrangements included Aboriginal men and women.

Section 41 of the Constitution stated that anyone who had the right to vote in a state must be allowed a Commonwealth vote. This enabled South Australian men and women to vote in the first federal election.

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902 enfranchised both men and women but Aborigines and other 'coloured' people were excluded unless entitled under Section 41 of the Constitution. This was interpreted to mean that those Aboriginals who were entitled to vote in 1901 could continue to vote, and it seems that some Aboriginal people in South Australia did vote in federal elections until about the early 1930s. However Aboriginal people's right to vote was gradually eroded through administrative decisions. Aboriginal people eventually secured the right to vote in federal elections in 1962.

The Commonwealth Electoral Act set out arrangements relating to the electoral system and conduct of elections and referendums, and created a Chief Electoral Officer and Commonwealth Electoral Officer in each state. The South Australian branch of the Commonwealth Electoral Office was created in 1903.

Divisional returning officers, who were responsible to the state Commonwealth Electoral Officer, were appointed for each division in the state. The number of electoral divisions in each state was determined by the number of state members in the House of Representatives.

In 1903 South Australia was divided into seven divisions – Adelaide, Angus, Barker, Boothby, Grey, Hindmarsh and Wakefield. Until 1911 South Australia had a unique operation of representation to the federal parliament. The first election was for seven members of the House of Representatives, returned by one multi-member state-wide electorate (as well as six senators). From 1903 until 1911, eligible electors resident in the Northern Territory were included in South Australian representation as part of the electorate of Grey. By 1973 there were 12 divisions. The Archives holds official rolls for each of these divisions.

The Commonwealth Electoral Office South Australia was replaced by the Australian Electoral Office South Australia in 1973, which in turn became the Australian Electoral Commission South Australia in 1984.

Records held by the Archives that relate to electoral matters in South Australia include correspondence, electoral rolls and election files.

Canberra and Sydney
Recorded by: Chief Electoral Office
Correspondence files, 'E' (elections and referenda), 1901– A406
Recorded by: Commonwealth Electoral Office, South Australia
Folders of electoral redistribution papers, 1906–84 D4768
Printed electoral rolls, South Australia, 1909–49 AP94/1
Printed electoral rolls, South Australia, 1909–95 D236
Pamphlet – distribution of South Australia into electoral divisions, 1940–75 AP975/3
Commonwealth electoral rolls, South Australia, 1940–75 AP1024/1
Election files containing papers of importance, 1950–56 AP359/1
Electoral rolls and supplements, 1955–64 AP257/1
Correspondence files, 1939–89 D3313
Correspondence files, 1939–89 AP102/1
Index cards to correspondence files, 1964–86 D3227
Microfilm copy of electoral claim cards, 1911–80 D57
Microfilm copy of electoral claim cards, 1980–88 D56
Map of Commonwealth electoral division – South Australia, 1906 A408, 59
South Australia – performance of electoral duties by postal officials, 1907–08 A406, E1908/91
Recommending polling places at military hospitals and requests from South Australia, 1916 A406, E1916/3219
Report of the Royal Commission on Electoral Districts in South Australia, 1927 A406, E1928/73


Chapter 8
Federation and government