About council elections

Councils are part of our everyday life – together with its communities, they provide roads and footpaths, parks and playgrounds, libraries, sports ovals and much more.

The decisions about these services and facilities are made by an elected group of councillors. Council elections is your opportunity to influence who they may be to make your neighbourhood and area a better place to live.

On this page:

Did you know? Council elections are the biggest voluntary civic participation activity in the state with nearly 400,000 people voting in the 2018 council elections.

Getting involved in council elections

As a resident, business owner, investor, worker, or visitor to your council area, you can get involved in council elections. This means you can influence what happens in your local community, mainly:

  • by nominating for a position on council
  • by voting for a candidate who represents your views.

To ensure you can vote or nominate, you must be enrolled on either the state (House of Assembly) electoral roll, or your council’s voters roll (also known as the council supplementary roll).

If you are enrolled for state elections, you will automatically receive a ballot pack in the mail. You can check your current enrolment online.

How are council elections run?

Elections are your chance to vote for the people you want to represent you and other matters that are important to you on the local council. You can even nominate to run in council elections yourself.

There are two forms of elections held in local government:

  • Periodic elections, held on a regular four-year cycle
  • Supplementary elections (also known as by-elections or special elections), held when a position becomes vacant.

The 2022 Council Elections has ended. The next periodic election is scheduled for 2026.

What electoral system do council elections use?

The electoral system used in council elections in South Australia is proportional representation.

Proportional representation is where you elect candidates who receive a set proportion of the vote. For example, when there is one position available the winner must receive over 50% of the votes.

Votes are cast through preferential voting. This is where you indicate an order of preference for your candidates on the ballot paper, for instance, who you select as your 1st choice, 2nd choice and so on.

How are votes counted?

After the close of voting on Friday, the Electoral Commission of South Australia organises all the packs, and count begins on Saturday morning.

How does voting work?

South Australia uses a preferential voting system. This means that when you vote, you rank candidates in order of preference.

In a preferential voting system election:

  • The votes are counted
  • The candidate with the lowest number of votes is excluded from the count
  • That candidate’s votes are distributed to candidates continuing in the count, according to the next preference on the ballot papers
  • Each continuing candidate's total votes are calculated and the exclusion of candidates continues until all vacancies are filled

An example of counting votes

Four candidates, Anna, Bill, Chung, and Daniel are running to be mayor in their local council election. There is only one vacancy. After the election, the ballot papers are counted and there are 10,000 formal votes.

First count

The results are:

  • Anna has 2,500 first preferences
  • Bill has 1,500 first preferences
  • Chung has 3,200 first preferences
  • Daniel has 2,800 first preferences.

The person with the lowest number of votes is Bill with 1,500 votes. Bill is eliminated.

Second count

  • Bill’s votes are distributed to the second preferences marked on these ballot papers:
  • Anna gains 800 second preferences, taking her total to 3300 votes
  • Chung gains 200 second preferences, taking his total to 3400 votes
  • Daniel gains 500 second preferences, taking his total to 3300 votes.

No candidate has a clear lowest number of votes.

Third count

Another candidate must be excluded. Anna and Daniel both have 3300 votes. In this situation the candidate with the lowest number of votes in the first count is excluded. Anna is excluded. Her votes are distributed by the next preference marked on those ballot papers:

  • Chung gains 1500 votes, taking his total to 4900
  • Daniel gains 1800 votes, taking his total to 5100.

Daniel now has the majority of votes and is elected. Daniel was not the candidate who had the most votes in the first count. He gained an absolute majority on preferences.

In this election, voters’ first, second, and third choices were needed for a final result.

Who runs elections?

The returning officer is responsible for running South Australian council elections.

The Returning Officer is independent of councils, and is responsible for running the elections and ensuring they are conducted in accordance with the law.

The South Australian Electoral Commissioner is the Returning Officer for all council elections.

Election results

You can view the election results on ECSA’s website.

Provisional results may be declared on the first day that votes are counted (scrutiny and count day).

These provisional results indicate what is the likely result of the election, based on the votes that have been counted. It may be challenged by a candidate to a recount.

Results will typically appear in the hours and days after voting closes (depending on the council and the closeness of the vote).

Under the Local Government (Elections) Act 1999, ECSA must declare the provisional result of the poll once the result is clear.

Supplementary elections

A supplementary election (also known as a by-election or a special election) is an election used to fill a position on council that has become vacant between general elections.

Supplementary elections are held outside of the normal scheduled timetable of elections for that council.

It must be held if a councillor is unable to fulfil their duties for reasons including:

  • death
  • resignation
  • failure to meet minimum attendance requirements
  • criminal conviction
  • disqualification (or ceasing to be qualified)
  • ineligible to continue in office (because of a recall or election)
  • appointment to a prohibited dual mandate)
  • failure to take up office
  • an election is invalidated by voting irregularities.

In some cases, a vacancy may be filled without an election, or the office may be left vacant.

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