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Guide to Councils

Voting in a council election

The entitlement to be enrolled and vote in a council election is restricted to people who are residents or ratepayers of the municipality. People who are entitled to vote are listed on the council’s voters’ roll and are entitled to vote for a councillor to represent their ward or district.

The exact voting procedure will depend on whether the council has decided to conduct an election entirely by postal voting or whether the election will be predominantly by attendance voting at voting centres.

A voter in a council election must be at least 18 years of age by the election day, and must be entitled to be enrolled on the voters’ roll. To be entitled to be enrolled, a person must qualify as a resident or as a ratepayer.

Voter eligibility

A person can only be enrolled once in a council area, even if the person has entitlements in more than one ward.

  • If a person is on the state electoral roll for an address in the municipality, he or she will only be enrolled for that address, irrespective of any other entitlement.
  • If a person owns more than one property, he or she can only be enrolled for one of those properties.

A person cannot apply for enrolment as an occupier or a corporation representative if he or she is enrolled as a resident or as an owner.

Some people are entitled to apply to be silent voters. A silent voter is entitled to vote but their address is not shown on the printed voters’ roll.

  • A person can apply for silent enrolment if they believe that having their address printed on the publicly available electoral roll could put their personal safety or their family's safety at risk.

Applications to be silent voters need to be made to the: 

  • Victorian Electoral Commission if the voter is enrolled on the state electoral roll as a resident of the council area 
  • Chief Executive Officer of the council if the voter is enrolled as a ratepayer of the council.

Enrolment as a resident on the state roll

For council elections, a resident is a person who is enrolled on the state electoral roll for an address in the council area. (State rolls are maintained by the Victorian Electoral Commission.)

Residents of a municipality who are Australian citizens must apply to the Australian Electoral Commission or the Victorian Electoral Commission to be enrolled on state rolls. Once they are on the state roll, they will then automatically be enrolled for council elections.

A state elector must be an Australian citizen (or a British subject who was on an Australian electoral roll on 26 January 1984). The address for which a state elector is enrolled must have been the person’s principal place of residence for at least one month prior to application.

Enrolment as a ratepayer on the council roll

For council elections, ‘ratepayers’ are: 

  • owners of rateable property 
  • occupiers who pay rates under a lease
  • representatives of corporations who own or occupy rateable property

The council will generally enrol the owner of the property without requiring an application. There are exceptions to this:

  • If there are more than two owners, a maximum of two can be enrolled.
  • If an owner is a corporation the council will not automatically enrol it. A corporation can apply to enrol one of its directors or company secretaries as a voter.
  • If an owner lives at the property the council will not automatically enrol them because they will normally be on the state electoral roll. A resident owner, who is not on the state roll, can apply for enrolment on the council roll.

Note: The following properties do not give rise to an enrolment entitlement: 

  • properties that are only single-vehicle car parks
  • single boat moorings 
  • lockable storage units with floor areas not exceeding 25 square metres.

Some occupiers of rateable property are required to pay council rates as a condition of their lease. They may apply for enrolment on the council roll as ratepayers and the following conditions apply:

  • Owners and occupiers may not both be enrolled on the council roll for the same rateable property. If occupiers are enrolled, owners will not be enrolled for the property.
  • No more than two occupiers can be enrolled for a single rateable property.
  • The enrolment of occupiers is subject to written agreement from the owner(s) unless council rate notices are addressed directly to the occupiers.

Applications for enrolment by ratepayers and enrolment appointments by corporations are valid for a single term of the council. Before the next election the council will send a letter to each person or corporation whose enrolment is due to expire, advising them on how they can re-enrol if they are still eligible. All enrolment applications must be lodged by the entitlement day. 

Enrolment arrangements for Melbourne City Council are different. 

The voters’ roll

The voters’ roll names all those people eligible to vote at a council election. It is prepared by a ‘Registrar’ who is generally a person appointed by the electoral commission conducting the election, but may be the Chief Executive Officer of the council.

To protect individual privacy, access to voters’ rolls is strictly limited by legislation. Penalties may apply if rolls are accessed or used contrary to the Local Government Act. Ways in which voters’ rolls can be accessed are:

Candidates may obtain copies of the voters’ roll for election campaigning, but subject to strict conditions and a requirement that all copies be returned or destroyed afterwards.

A council may use the voters’ roll in connection with an election or for communicating with or surveying constituents about council matters.

The Privacy Commissioner may also allow use of a voters’ roll for a purpose deemed to be in the public interest. This is subject to application and, again, strict conditions apply.

An individual can access his/her own details on a voters’ roll under privacy legislation. If you require information about your personal enrolment records at the council, you may need to make your request in writing to the Chief Executive Officer.

The voting process

Local council elections can be conducted by either postal voting or attendance voting. Each council chooses its preferred method before each election. 

Voting in council elections is compulsory for all residents who are aged under 70 and listed on the voters’ roll. Residents on the voters’ roll who do not vote may be fined if they do not have an acceptable reason.

The order of names on the ballot paper is determined by a single random draw. The Returning Officer will conduct the draw at the election office after nominations have closed. Candidates will be advised of the time for the draw.

Postal and attendance voting

The council decides whether voting in a council election will be entirely by postal voting or primarily by attendance voting.

In an all-postal election, voting papers are posted to voters by the Returning Officer and voters vote by completing their ballot papers and returning them to the Returning Officer in the reply-paid envelope provided.

In an attendance election, voting is conducted at voting centres on election day, although voters may also vote at early voting centres or by pre-poll postal votes.

Voting in postal elections

In a postal election, voting is conducted entirely by post. Voters are mailed ballot packs containing their ballot papers, instructions and information about the candidates. These are posted to the address at which voters are enrolled. Voters cast their votes by returning the ballot papers in the mail.

To vote, a voter must:

  • complete the ballot paper
  • place the completed ballot paper in the ballot paper envelope
  • sign and date the declaration on the outside of the ballot paper envelope
  • comply with any other instructions of the Returning Officer
  • place the ballot paper envelope in the reply-paid envelope and return it to the Returning Officer. This must be done in time for it to be received no later than 6pm on the day before election day.

If voters have changed address after the entitlement date or can’t collect their mail when ballot packs are mailed out, they can apply to have their ballot pack redirected to another address. Applications for redirection must be received by the close of nominations. After the close of nominations, voters can request an early postal vote if they have a good reason for requiring it.

Candidates in postal elections are entitled to lodge ‘candidate statements’ and ‘indications of preferences’ for inclusion in the ballot packs sent to voters.

A ‘candidate statement’ includes a 150-word statement and a photograph. This statement must be lodged in person by the candidate, or by a person authorised in writing by the candidate, no later than 12 noon on the day following the close of nominations.

An ‘indication of preferences’ describes the candidate’s recommendations to voters as to how to number their preferences on the ballot paper. These must be lodged in person by the candidate, or by a person authorised in writing by the candidate, no later than 12 noon on the third day after the close of nominations.

Voting in attendance elections

In an attendance election, most people vote at voting centres on election day. The locations of voting centres are advertised in local papers and can be accessed from the  Victorian Electoral Commission before elections.

If you wish to vote before election day, you can visit an early voting centre. Early voting is possible from the day after the close of nominations until the day before the election.

Alternatively, you can apply to the Returning Officer for a postal vote.

Information about early voting and postal voting will be advertised in local newspapers and will be accessible from the Victorian Electoral Commission before elections.

Candidates who wish to distribute how-to-vote cards at voting centres during an attendance election must have their cards registered by the Returning Officer in advance.

How-to-vote cards can be submitted to the Returning Officer from the first working day after the close of nominations until 12 noon on the sixth working day before election day. The Returning Officer is required to register or refuse a how-to-vote card by noon on the day following the day it is submitted. Only registered cards can be handed out at or near polling places.