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February 27, 2021

A guide to voting on September 8

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In NSW, council elections are held on the second Saturday in September every four years. However that date can be varied by the state government if it so wishes. This year they will be held on September 8. In addition, by-elections are held when a councillor vacancy occurs.

If a council area is ‘undivided’, then residents vote for candidates across the entire shire. If a council area is ‘divided’ into wards, as is the case with Ballina Shire, which has three wards, then residents vote for candidates within their own ward.

In some shires voters also elect a mayor, as in Byron, Lismore and Ballina. In others, the mayor is elected by fellow councillors, as in Tweed.

Voting for mayor

You must put a number 1 in the box next to your first choice. If you want you can show more choices starting with the number 2. This is generally known as the optional preferential voting system.

To be elected in the optional preferential system, a candidate has to get more than half of the votes in the count. This is called an ‘absolute majority’.

If no candidate is elected on an absolute majority, then the candidate with the least number of votes is ‘excluded’ and his/her votes are re-sorted to the other candidates according to the second preference shown on each ballot paper, unless of course no second preference has been made. The process of exclusion goes on until a mayoral candidate reaches the absolute majority.

Voting for councillor

If you are numbering the squares of individual council candidates, then you must show choices for at least half the number of councillors to be elected and, if you wish, you can go on to number all the squares. This is generally known as the proportional representation voting system.

Council candidates often organise themselves into ‘groups’, as you will discover at this election. This gives them the advantage of having a square ‘above the line’ and voters may choose to number just the square rather than number individual candidates ‘below the line’. We will know who the groups are after nominations close at midday on August 8.

A number ‘1’ for a group records a first preference vote for the first candidate in the group with preferences going to the other candidates in the group in the order in which they are listed. Preferences then go to the next group, if indicated. The alternative is marking squares ‘below the line’ in order of preference for individual candidates.

Some candidates will be elected on first preference votes alone. In these cases, all of the elected candidates’ surplus votes above a ‘quota’ – a calculation based upon the number of votes recorded – are distributed according to the preferences on them.

Other candidates will be elected only when they obtain a quota as a result of the distribution of preferences. In these cases, any surplus ballots received (ie ballots in excess of the quota) will be distributed to other candidates.

Candidates can also be elected if the remaining number of candidates in the count equals the number of vacant positions still to be filled.

For those really keen on the election system, you can read:

Schedule 5 – Local Government (General) Regulation 2005

Handbook for Parties, Groups, Candidates and Scrutineers – LG.200 (PDF)

Based on information from the NSW Electoral Commission.

See more at www.votensw.info

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