Why voting below the line means you control where your votes go

Many people have asked us what value there is in voting below the line in the upcoming Council elections.  With help from the NSW Electoral Commission below we will explain how to vote below the line and then also answer that question.

By Grant Cairncross, (CCO Editor), and Rob Stuermann

You can vote below the line for Councillors only if: 

  • you want to vote for candidates within a group in the order of your choice, 
  • you want to vote for candidates from different groups in the order of your choice
  • you only want to vote for ungrouped candidates, or
  • you want to vote for a mixture of grouped and ungrouped candidates.

To vote, you must place at least the number of preferences indicated in the ‘Directions for Voting’ on the ballot paper. This will be at least half the number to be elected (rounded up).

For example:

  • if there are nine to be elected, as is the case for the Coffs Harbour City Council, then you must vote for at least five candidates in the correct numerical order. 

However, we believe you should vote for all nine.  Make sure you control where your vote goes, take a minute extra and think hard about who you want on your Council for the next three and a half years. 

Vote 1 to 9 below the line.

Your first preference is indicated by placing a ‘1’ in the square next to the candidate of your choice, your second preference a ‘2’, your third preference a ‘3’, and so on.

Only use numbers.  No ticks, crosses or similar.  These could invalidate your vote.

If you vote below the line, do not put any numbers in any squares above the line as this may invalidate your vote.

But what if I want to vote for a certain ticket?

Fine, do it!

Go below the line for that ticket and either vote as per their how to vote card or number them in your own preferred order.

So you may now have numbered off against four candidates.  That means you need to number off against another five.  Ask yourself who you think could best work with who you have voted for and/or who also represents your views.  Now number from five to nine under the line.


So why should I do this?

It lessens the chances of candidates on tickets you don’t want getting elected.  It can overcome preference deals you either don’t know of or don’t approve of.  And it makes you think harder about the sort of representatives you want on your council.

Vote 1 to 9 under the line


This article is the fourth in a 2021 CCO series on the Local Government Elections.

12 thoughts on “Why voting below the line means you control where your votes go

  1. Ed., will it be possible for you to publish a copy of an actual ballot paper, or a facsimile of one, before the day, so that we can have a practice?

    Editor: We certainly hope to do so if it can be done legally yes.

  2. I believe our current local government voting system was designed by urban Sydney politicians. It’s not fair, it’s not democratic and it needs to be changed. Agree. Vote below the line.

  3. For what its worth I will try to give my two cents worth about how I will choose to vote for the next 9 councilors .
    Using the list that CCO supplied.
    First I will delete all those who affiliations with a political party .
    Second I will delete all those involved with Adendorff.
    Third I will delete all those involved with Townley.
    Fourth I will delete all those involved with Cecato.
    Fifth I will delete all those involved with Swan.

    That leaves me with 14 to sort out down to 9 .
    Now is when the answers to the questions we are going to ask all the candidates will help me decide which five to delete.
    That’s my simple rational you are welcome to copy .

    1. If in each of the 128 LGAs all people took the initiative of first eliminating all inappropriate candidates from their voting list, as you have, Bill, and being a guess, the efficiency of the local government system in the state of NSW would lift by a minimum of 30% immediately — in February 2022 — with incredibly strong flow-on improvements throughout the term as the better quality councillors began seeing results in changes to paid council management.

      One inappropriate councillor, as we have seen locally, can reduce a council meeting efficiency by a massive 40% – that’s every council meeting in which that councillor speaks – so the improvement across the state may be double that guess.

      Doing what you have done, Bill, is a failsafe method of improving the CHCC by a figure which I think is many times that state average. So much, in fact, in both the short and long term, that the new CHCC would be unrecognisable in terms of its quality to the CHCC of the last five and ten years, and a figure that is so large it bears respect beyond guesswork.

      The only area I think people may take issue with is the elimination of Cr Swan (and those in her brochure), about whom as a councillor I cannot reasonably comment other than to say she consistently works harder than any other councillor in researching an agenda item, because she is representative of people outside of my demographic, and, irrelevently, expected style of councillor.

      Having said that, proposing as an electoral platform that she should be elected to the hypercritical position of mayor on the basis of positively changing statistical gender and age imbalances without proposing a vision for what she would actually seek to do is I think political naivete in the extreme.

      Your rationale “for what it’s worth” is commended by the above very big extent, and it’s constructive to see it provided. Thank you.

    2. Bill you’ve stolen my thunder, and I’m pleased to read that someone else will be using the same strategy as me. I’ll give consideration to Tegan Swan, but I’ll eliminate all of the others as you have done. I’ll post the strategy on Facebook, as well.

    3. I still don’t understand why Sally Townley is on the ballot. She is a Bellingen resident. Can someone explain?

      Editor: Apparently Cr Townley pays rates on a CH based business and also has a small CH landholding too. The latter of which some believe to be somewhat controversial.

  4. Number 1 to 9 below the line = 9 candidates you are voting for.

    That looks a hell of a lot like 9 votes. Power to you.

  5. Good advice on how to vote below the line. Thank you.
    Please advise how to vote above the line and its implications. Can you vote for just 1 group/ticket?
    Please also advise how to vote for mayor. Just 1 or 1, 2, 3, 4 ….

    Editor: Hi John, above the line you can just vote for one ticket. If you vote 2 for a second once 9 councillors are covered you can not vote anymore above the line In regards to Mayor you can Vote 1 for a single preferred candidate.

  6. 40c re issue with is the elimination of Cr Swan, as you can see this was my last choice for elimination , yes I agree she seems to work hard at the job but a number of things cannot be overlooked IMO when she addresses a problem her speech appears to be aimed at a juvenile audience
    and sometimes I cannot follow her, also to aim for Mayor is way out of her depth IMO. Sorry, but I made some hard decisions to get to my rationale.

    1. I get it, Bill. Don’t worry. My thoughts regarding Tegan Swan being elected again simply resolve to the belief that people have a pretty clear idea about her time as a councillor. Perhaps also to add that her vivaciousness challenged me throughout all of those meetings, and I didn’t at all mind that challenge. Her time as a councillor this term was very interesting, unique, and left a strong impression, indeed.

      At the end of the day, after this term, and because she is authentic in how she presents as a councillor, and immensely strong and true to her own style, I have a heap of respect for her. I’m confident people will or will not vote for her with clarity of thought and purpose. And I believe that is the absolute best a councillor can expect, and grateful for her because she deserves that.

      Tegan Swan is one of only two councillors who can, I think, at the result of this election, know confidently within themselves that their tallied result is an expression of clarity and purpose. For that reason, whatever the result, she can hold her head high.

      That clarity doesn’t exist with others, again, due to vagaries of a system which saw people elected and because of that now possess an electoral benefit for which I don’t think they deserve, due to a wide audience being otherwise occupied than with local politics (as a commenter said, there were usually 25-30 people listening to meetings according to Vimeo stats), local media being as ever incredibly and for those commercial operations unavoidably beneficent, that benefit to those councillors being “name recognition”. There is real danger in that, for this next term, and it’s a bit of a worry to be honest.

      That clarity is also affected by councillors who changed and were themselves affected by being given power, then dealing with issues of huge financial and social and futuristic consequence, during the term.

      It was a term, I think, of rapacious opportunism. Not least, in my view, by a management undeserving of the gift of public money and their personal benefit they intend, still, for use of that extraordinary money.

      That is a use of public money, unheralded across the state, including the big Sydney councils, that wants to put their personal beings in offices high above the community they’re entrusted to serve, and high above other council managers around the state — an opportunistic grab at self-bestowed stature that stinks.

      All the while, sitting on the unacknowledged cushioning of that “blow-up pillow” I mentioned. And all the while, not a word for the societal harm for which they are reponsible. Pretending, they are, still, that they are innocent and deserving and no harm exists.

      Were Steve McGrath in another LGA, of less natural gifts, absent of that cushioning, of a place where his work record would have to speak for itself, have to sustain his employment, he would I expect have been booted out long ago.

      It has been a fool’s term in y opinion.

      But I’m trusting of this electorate, this time. Very. I think by and large the community will get it right.

      Vote one to nine below the line is the answer, the mantra. It’s also a phenomenal motivator; the best we could expect from an elective system.

      It in effect gives a citizen nine votes. Not one vote. Like you have done, Bill, it empowers a voter to design their own, entire governing body. By using it you are essentially designing your own council and submitting it.

      That’s exactly what this community needs. I won’t ‘harp on it’, we get it, and it’s going to be no less than sensational to see what comes of it.

  7. I have one question that should be asked of the candidates- ALL OF THEM.

    Q 1. Will you vote to remove Council offices from the new CCS in Gordon Street?

    Q 2. Will you Vote to extend the current offices in Castle Street, by 2 floors at an estimated $15 million?

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