Franchise


Athol Townley voting in Hobart, 1960 (AOT, PH30/1/3558)

Franchise, or voter enrolment, was determined by income, property, education and gender between 1851 and 1903, when universal adult suffrage was instituted for the House of Assembly. In 1851, at Tasmania's inaugural elections for the partly elective Legislative Council, enrolment eligibility began with freehold ownership of £100, and plural voting applied for multiple property owners. Voters had to be males over 21 years.

In 1856, upon bicameralism, the franchise was widened: Legislative Council became £50 freehold and for the House of Assembly £100 freehold or £10 annual rental. Ecclesiastical ministers, military officers, doctors, lawyers and university graduates could vote even if otherwise unqualified.

From 1871, Legislative Council franchise dropped to £30 annual freehold and added £200 leasehold. Hardly democratic, this occurred because waning land values excluded some enrolled electors. Wages were also declining, so Assembly enrolment requirements dropped to £50 freehold, with rental at £7. Also, salary earners of £80 a year could vote for the Assembly, except if paid weekly, which limited working-class eligibility. These changes broadened the Assembly's franchise only from 23 percent to 28 percent of the adult male population. Voting remained voluntary and polling booths opened only from 9 am to 4 pm, making voting difficult for employees.

Multiple election dates were replaced by single-day polls in 1884, and the Legislative Council franchise dropped in 1885 to £20 annually for freehold and £80 for leasehold. House of Assembly eligibility expanded to accept any owner or leaseholder and salary earners of £60 annually, which dropped to £40 in 1896. Even this enabled franchise for only 35 percent of adult males, although polling-booth hours widened to 8 am to 6 pm. Meanwhile, Legislative Council eligibility was reduced to £15 for freehold or occupiers over £50. Nonetheless, enrolment only grew from 3128 males in 1861, to 7185 males by 1894.

At the time of Federation in 1901, plural and graduate voting was abolished and Legislative Council franchise began at £10 annually or £30 rental. In 1900 universal male suffrage was enacted for the House of Assembly, and in 1903 universal female suffrage, to establish enrolment parity with federal elections. Assisting employees, Saturday elections for the Assembly became routine after 1916, and from 1920 First World War ex-servicemen and war-service female nurses could vote for the Legislative Council. However, women could not stand as parliamentary candidates until 1921.

Compulsory voting began in 1928, to match its national application. To help enforce shared electoral rolls, compulsory enrolment commenced in 1930. In the Legislative Council from 1941, female as well as male ex-service personnel could enrol, and in 1946, polling switched from Tuesday to Saturday, further assisting employees. The Legislative Council reduced property enrolment for males in 1954, and allowed their spouses to enrol. Finally, Council franchise was matched to that of the House of Assembly in 1968, and since 1973 all franchise begins at 18 years for candidates who meet citizenship conditions. But anyone of unsound mind or in prison cannot nominate for election, and residential requirements also apply five years in Tasmania at any one time, or two years immediately preceding nomination.

Terry Newman