The forthcoming Council elections – how voting works. Part 2. “Vote below the line!”

Here in Part 2 of our two articles looking at how the NSW local government elections work we look primarily at the differences between voting above the line and below the line.

We argue strongly that by voting below the line you have far more control over where your vote goes.

By the Editor and Rob Steurmann

Firstly, however, we need to explain how votes are counted and how councillors are eventually elected to office.  Again, all the information below, other than our clearly stated opinion, has been provided by the NSW Electoral Commission.

Distribution of preferences explanation – proportional representation system

Councils, such as the CHCC, are elected by using a proportional voting and distribution of preferences system.

The proportional representation system is described in Schedule 5 of the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005.

In a proportional voting system, a candidate is elected if they receive votes equal to or exceeding the quota.

The quota is determined by first dividing the aggregate number of first preferences by one more than the number of candidates to be elected. The quotient (disregarding the fraction) is increased by 1 to give the quota. After the count of first preferences is complete, each candidate who has reached quota is elected.

So if there are 9,999 valid votes cast and nine councillors need to be elected, and where the mayor has been elected, the quota is; 9,999/8 = 1,111.

Where an elected candidate has a surplus of ballot papers over the quota of 1,111, this surplus is transferred to the continuing candidates (i.e. those not yet elected or excluded). If multiple candidates are elected, each candidate’s surplus is transferred (one at a time) to the continuing candidates, from the highest surplus to the lowest.

To transfer a surplus, all the ballot papers received by the elected candidate are sorted to their next preferred continuing candidate. Each ballot paper is then worth a portion of that surplus. This portion is called the transfer value.

Example: if an elected candidate had 100 ballot papers and their surplus was 10 votes, then each ballot paper would be worth 0.1 of a vote. A continuing candidate receiving 20 of these ballot papers would therefore receive 2 of the 10 surplus votes.

 After each transfer of ballot papers (and their associated votes), if any more candidates have reached quota, they are elected and added to the queue of surpluses to be transferred. This transfer of surpluses continues (one at a time) until all have been transferred. 

Then, if vacancies remain, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is excluded. All the ballot papers received by this candidate, including those received from surplus transfers, are sorted to the continuing candidates according to their next available preference.

This process continues with candidates being

  • elected when their votes equal or exceed quota, with their surplus distributed as above or
  • excluded, with their ballot papers distributed as above until either:
  • no vacancies remain to be filled or
  • the number of remaining candidates equals the number of remaining vacancies or
  • all remaining vacancies can be filled by candidates whose total votes cannot be overtaken by the remaining candidates in the count.

In these circumstances, the elected candidates are elected despite not reaching the quota.

Your questions on notice - Question details

Above the line or below the line?

Group, or above the line, voting tickets (GVTs) are used in the federal Senate, the NSW Legislative Council and for council elections in NSW such as the one now scheduled for September 4 this year.

GVTs have been criticised because electors do not know, and have no practical way of finding out, where their preferences are being directed.

In other words voters lose control over where their vote goes. 

As a result some Councillors get elected with very low primary votes and arguably may not have been wanted by electors who simply put a one above the line next to the relevant group.

We are aware of two examples from the 2016 CHCC elections that are similar to this.  This will be covered in a future article in roughly six week’s time when we finish a full review what happened at that election.

Using GVTs, the potential for tactical voting by parties or council groupings is greatly increased.

Because voters are not usually aware of how a party’s preferences are directed, GVTs have allowed Councillors with low support in the community to be elected almost exclusively on the preferences of others.

For example, where groups with divergent views have agreed to exchange preferences, or where larger parties have sought to minimise votes for opponents with similar views.

A notable case was the 1999 New South Wales state election when the Outdoor Recreation Party‘s Malcolm Jones was elected to the Legislative Council with a primary vote of 0.19%, or 0.042 of a quota.

Voters need to make sure their vote counts and reverse the climb shown in this graph at Federal, State and Local Government levels.

Vote below the line!

By voting below the line up to a minimum of five candidates in this year’s council election you can have far more control over where your vote goes and help elect a council that is more reflective of the vote overall.

It might take only a minute at the most longer.  But in the long run it is well worth it.


Part 1 of this article can be found at;


Abbreviated versions of these two articles will be published again closer to the Council election.

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