2020 Northern Territory Election – Tracking the Early Vote

In this post I will keep track of the surging rate of early voting ahead of the Northern Territory election’s formal polling day on 22 August.

After the last day of early voting on Friday 21 August

  • In total 75,537 votes have been recorded in advance of polling. This total includes all pre-polls, remote mobile votes and postal votes returned to date. The total in 2016 was 51,155. The 2020 total will increase as more postal votes return in the two weeks allowed after polling day. Already the 2020 figure represents a 48% increase on the early voting in 2016.
  • The total early votes currently represents 53.5% of enrolment. Given turnout is generally around 75%, that means roughly 70% of all votes to be counted have been completed before election day.
  • The breakdown at the end of voting was Pre-poll 60,292 (42.7%), Remote Mobile 12,019 (8.5%) (this might include on the day mobile votes) and returned Postals 3,953 (2.8%). A total of 10,242 (7.3%) of voters had been sent a postal vote pack, though not all will be used or returned in time.


(For all you need to now about the 2020 Northern Territory Election, check out my guide at the ABC Election Website.)

In the graph below I will keep track of the day by day totals of Pre-poll and Remote Mobile polling. I hope to add return rates for Postal Votes in coming days.

Below the graph I provide comparative information for previous elections. Note that a separate Mobile vote and Postal vote total has not been released every day.

A total of 36,260 pre-poll votes were taken in two-weeks of pre-polling at the 2016 election. That number has now been easily passed.

Most pre-poll votes will be counted on election night, though the volume of votes to be counted may cause delays.

Remote Mobile Polling will take place over two weeks, mobile teams fanning out across remote indigenous communities where voters are registered. In four remote electorates there will be no dedicated polling place on election day, with mobile teams collecting votes in advance, and in several cases, conducting part-day polling on 22 August.

Over half of votes at the 2016 Northern Territory election were taken before polling day. Already that record looks set to be smashed in 2020. Early voting by District is shown below.

NOTE: The graph below includes pre-polls, remote mobiles, and postal votes that have been completed and returned.

Votes by Type at the 2016 Northern Territory Election

At the 2016 election, the following votes by category were recorded. Percentages are quoted as both a percentage of total votes and as a percentage of enrolment.

  • 38.0% of votes were recorded on polling day within district at static polling places. (28.1% of enrolment)
  • 10.5% were absent votes cast on polling day at a static polling place away from a voter’s home district. (7.8% of enrolment)
  • 36.2% of votes were taken at early voting centres during the two week campaign. (26.8% of enrolment)
  • 10.5% were ordinary votes taken in remote districts by mobile polling. (7.8% or enrolment)
  • 4.3% of votes were cast by post and another 0.5% were declaration votes.

Overall 48.5% of all votes were taken on polling day, either within district or as absents,  and 51.5% taken before polling day.

In 2020, several polling places that were conducted as static election day polling places in 2016 will be conducted by mobile teams and results counted and reported as part of the mobile team.  This will further depress the reported rate of polling day voting in 2020.

On election night, static polling places, mobile teams, most pre-polls and some postal votes will be counted. Based on 2016 numbers, this means around 80% of all votes will be available for counting on election night, though the low turnout means that the count will only reach about 65% of enrolment on election night.

The bar chart below shows percentage vote by type, and percentage of non-voters, as a percentage of enrolment in each electorate at the 2016 election. For an explanation, read the commentary below the chart.

  • Turnout was under 65% in all remote and majority indigenous districts. (Arafura, Arnhem, Barkly, Namatjira, Nhulunbuy, Stuart)
  • All votes were taken by remote polling teams in Stuart in 2016. For the 2020 election, all votes in Arafura, Barkly, Gwoja and Nhulunbuy will be taken by mobile teams, though some teams will be taking votes on polling day.
  • Rates of Pre-poll voting are much higher in urban districts where there are dedicated early voting centres.
  • Absent voting is largely a feature of voting in Darwin and Palmerston’s small urban districts.

Turnout at Northern Territory Elections

Turnout at Northern Territory elections has always been lower than the 85-93% that is standard in other Australian jurisdictions. Among the reasons for this are –

    • Low turnout in remote districts by indigenous voters. In remote districts votes are collected by mobile polling teams and for various reasons many indigenous electors do not get the opportunity to vote.
    • Postal voting is nearly impossible in large parts of the NT.
    • High population turnover in urban areas creates a less accurate roll with electors who have left the Territory still appearing on the roll.
    • Short election campaigns mean voters who are away do not have access to pre-poll or postal voting.

The table below shows turnout at Northern Territory elections since 1974. The 74.0% turnout in 2016 was the second lowest after 71.2% in 1987. The low turnout in 1987 reflects two factors. First, 1987 was the first NT election after compulsory voting was introduced for indigenous voters. Second, the election was held in March and to date is the only election not to be held in the dry season.

3 thoughts on “2020 Northern Territory Election – Tracking the Early Vote”

  1. Dear Antony,

    Considering 22.3% of NT electors have already voted, as of Friday, and your statistic that 38.0% of voters were recorded to have cast their votes within district on polling day at the last election, what is your estimate of the percentage this time around? (Referring to the 38% of ‘normal run-of-the-mill-line-up-on-a-Saturday’ type votes?

    COMMENT: My estimate is lower than 2016.

  2. The low turnout in majority-indigenous districts is a real tragedy, verging on shameful. I wonder if having mobile voting begin earlier would be helpful, or if it’s more of a problem of the methodology. Ultimately I suppose improving turnout in those areas will require a lot of involvement from the communities themselves, but I can’t see how the current disparity is sustainable if the NT Assembly seeks to represent both sorts of communities.

    COMMENT: Mobile polling can’t start until after the close of nominations. The campaign could be extended from two weeks to three, but I’m not sure that would fix the problem.

  3. Hi Antony, are you are there is no full day polling in Nhulunbuy on 22 August?
    It is certainly our understanding that there is.

    COMMENT: There will be polling in Nhulunbuy between 8 and 6 on election day. The results will not be reported separately but be counted in with one of the mobile polling teams.

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