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Elections and voting

Voting in council elections enables people to influence who is given the responsibility to decide on some key things that will happen in their local communities. By voting you can help to influence what sort of place your community will be.

Periodic elections for all South Australian Local Government councils (except Roxby Downs) are held every four years.

  • The next general elections will be held in November 2014.
  • Voting in Local Government elections is voluntary.
  • Local Government elections are conducted with secret ballot postal voting.
  • To vote you must be on the council’s Voters Roll.
  • If you are on the voters roll for Commonwealth and State elections, then you will be automatically enrolled for Local Government elections as well.

Supplementary elections are held if a periodic election fails or if a casual vacancy occurs for reasons such as resignation or death of an elected councillor. There are some exceptions – supplementary elections are not held if the vacancy occurs on or after the 1st January of the year of the periodic election and councils can decide not to fill a single casual vacancy at other times if the vacancy is for a councillor position and the council does not have wards.

The rules for voting in all Local Government elections, standing as a candidate, and all other election matters are set out in the Local Government (Elections) Act (SA) 1999.

Frequently asked questions about Local Government elections and voting

  1. When do the Voters Rolls close?

1. Who runs Local Government Elections in South Australia?

The person responsible for running Local Government elections is the “Returning Officer”. The Returning Officer for all Local Government elections is the State Electoral Commissioner, who is appointed under Section 10 of the Local Government (Elections) Act. The State Electoral Commissioner is also responsible for conducting State parliamentary elections.

The Returning Officer may appoint one or more Deputy Returning Officers for each council to help run the elections. The Deputies are usually employees of State or Commonwealth Electoral Offices or they can be nominees of the council approved by the Returning Officer. Other people, called Electoral Officers, also help out during the elections and provide people with information and advice about what to do.

All these people are trained by the Returning Officer and it is their job to carry out their role in strict adherence to directions and delegations from the Returning Officer.

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2. Who can enrol to vote in Local Government elections?

You must be enrolled to be able to vote in your own right. If you are on the voters roll for Commonwealth and State elections, then you will be automatically enrolled for Local Government elections as well.

If you are not already enrolled for Commonwealth and State elections, and you want to vote in a Local Government election, you can apply for enrolment if you are:

  • 18 years or older (or will turn 18 by the time the polls close) and have been a resident for at least one month before the rolls close (resident non-citizens are entitled to enrol under this provision).
  • The sole owner of land in the council area (e.g. a landlord)
  • A sole occupier of land in the council area, other than a resident (i.e. a business lessee).

In addition, a company, an incorporated association, a couple or other partnership can get its "body corporate or group" onto the electoral roll, by nominating one "designated person" to exercise a vote on its behalf. The "designated person" must be 18 years or older, and cannot be anyone who it already on the electoral roll as a resident for the same electoral area.

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3. When do the Voters Rolls close?

You must enrol before the electoral roll closing date, which is fixed by the Returning Officer for periodic elections. The closing date must not be less than 13 weeks before polling day.

Enrolment forms and change of address forms are available at any Post Office or the Electoral Commission of South Australia

The Chief Executive Officer is responsible for maintaining the council's voters roll, which must be available for public inspection at the council’s principal office.

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4. How do I get my postal voting papers and what do I do?

The returning officer must, as soon as practicable after the twenty-first day before polling day, and in any event not later than 14 days before polling day, issue to every natural person, body corporate or group postal voting papers consisting of:

  • Ballot papers and envelopes;
  • A profile of each candidate; and
  • Information about what to do and how to vote.

If you do not receive your papers or lose them, go to your local council office where you can fill out a form to get new ballot papers.

  • Follow the instructions in the Ballot Pack and complete the ballot paper.
  • Fill out and sign the declaration on the back of the ballot paper envelope.
  • Post it back so the Returning Officer receives it by the polling day close of voting date stated on the Ballot Pack, which will be at 5pm on the last business day before the second Saturday of November of the year of the election. 

All instructions for completing the ballot paper must be followed carefully as a ballot paper will be rejected as informal if you have not completed the ballot paper correctly, or have not signed the declaration on the back of the ballot paper envelope.

The "designated person" of a body corporate or group that is enrolled on the voters roll may vote on behalf of the body corporate with its authority.

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5. How can it be a secret ballot if I have to sign the declaration on the ballot paper envelope?

The laws about elections require each voter to complete the declaration on the back of the ballot paper envelope to enable the Returning Officer or Deputy Returning Officer to check that the voter is on the Electoral Roll.

After this is checked, the Returning Officer tears off the declaration section bearing the name and signature, leaving the sealed ballot paper envelope with the vote in it. After this is done to all returned ballot paper envelopes, they are put together and mixed up, so there is no way of identifying voters' envelopes. This means that it is a secret ballot.

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6. What voting system is used and how are votes counted?

The ‘Proportional Representation’ system is used for counting the votes in Local Government elections, similar to the system used in the Senate, and in South Australian Legislative Council elections.

This system is based on each candidate gaining a 'quota' of votes to get elected. The 'quota' is worked out on the basis of dividing the number of formal ballot papers by the number of vacancies plus 1, and adding 1 to the result as follows:

Number of formal ballot papers


+ 1 = Quota                            

Number of vacancies + 1


A candidate may obtain a quota by:

  • Obtaining a number of first preference votes equal to or greater than the quota;
  • Obtaining first preference votes plus a number of votes from the distribution of an elected candidate's surplus which when added together is equal to or greater than a quota;
  • Obtaining first preference votes plus a number of votes from the distribution of an excluded candidate's votes which when added together give a number equal to or greater than the quota;
  • Obtaining first preference votes plus a combination of votes received from exclusions and distribution of surpluses which when added together is equal to or greater than the quota.

It sounds quite complicated, but it is a fair way of counting votes especially where there are several vacancies to be filled. If you would like to know more about the way votes are counted, visit www.ecsa.sa.gov.au - ‘How your vote counts’.

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7. Who can nominate as a candidate in Local Government elections?

Generally, anyone who is entitled to vote can stand as a candidate. Candidates must be:

  • Over 18 years of age; and
  • A resident or ratepayer in the council area; and
  • An Australian citizen (or served on council between 5 May 1997 and 1 January 2000); and
  • On the electoral roll or the "designated person" of a body corporate or group that is on the roll.

People who are not entitled to nominate as candidates include members of Parliament, council employees, or candidates for election in other Local Government areas.

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8. What are the rules for candidates?

The Local Government (Elections) Act 1999 sets out the rules for nomination and standing as a candidate. Some of the requirements and procedures are as follows.

  • Candidates must nominate by 12 noon on the 6th Tuesday after the day fixed for roll close.
  • Nomination packs are available from the council office or the Electoral Commission of South Australia or Deputy Returning Officer.
  • Nomination involves completing and lodging the correct nomination form with an Electoral Officer appointed for the council, including an accurate candidate profile of no more than 150 words, plus contact details, and an optional photograph.
  • A copy of the voters roll is available to candidates at the council office.
  • All campaign material must be accurate, and include the name and address of the person authorising the publication and the name of the printer.
  • Candidates must keep records of campaign donations and after the election, submit a return to the Chief Executive Officer of the council, which lists any donations or gifts received for their campaign. A successful candidate who fails to lodge a campaign donations return within the time allowed by the Act loses office.

It is illegal to do certain things. For example, there are rules about being honest, not interfering with voters or the secret ballot, and not assisting people to vote. Some practices can result in a fine or imprisonment.

Further information about the rules for candidates are contained in the nomination kit provided to all prospective candidates by the Electoral Commission of South Australia.

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9. How will I know who wins the election?

After all votes are counted and the successful candidates are known, the Returning Officer advises the council office of the results, and notices are put in the “Government Gazette” and local newspaper. If you do not see the notice in the paper, you can ask at the council office about the election results.

The Local Government Association also publishes the results on its website.

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10. What do I do if I have a complaint about the conduct of a Local Government election?

All complaints about the conduct of a Local Government election are to be directed to the Returning Officer, Electoral Commission of SA, in writing.

Note: An unsuccessful candidate may request a recount by writing to the Returning Officer within 72 hours of the provisional declaration. The Returning Officer can also order a recount if considered necessary.

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11. What do I do if I am interested in finding out more about standing as a candidate for Local Government elections?

For further and more detailed information about standing as a candidate and the conduct of Local Government elections, contact the Electoral Commission of South Australia, telephone (08) 7424 7400 or 1300 655 232 (cost of a local call). More information on Local Government elections and voting matters can be obtained at your local council office, or visit the Local Government Association's Election page. 

The Australian Local Government Women's Association SA has a new resource aimed at assisting more women to stand for council elections called Getting Elected - Women Can.

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