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Guide to Councils

Voting in a council election

The entitlement to be enrolled and vote in a Victorian 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 municipal district.

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

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 a rateable property  - up to two owners, not otherwise on the State roll for an address at the council, may be enrolled

• occupiers who pay rates under a lease - up to two occupiers, not otherwise on the State roll for an address at the council, may be enrolled

• representatives of corporations who own or occupy a rateable property – one representative may be enrolled

Owners – new enrolment provisions apply for the 2020 and 2024 general elections

• Prior to the 2020 general elections, up to two owners of a rateable property not residing in the municipality were enrolled for that property without requiring an application.

• For the 2020 elections (and any subsequent by-elections), those non-resident owners enrolled on the last council voters’ roll will again be enrolled without application.

• Other owners not otherwise already on the State roll – regardless where they live – may apply to be enrolled.

• At and from the 2024 general elections, all owners not otherwise on the State roll may apply to be enrolled on the council voters’ roll.

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.

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.

Applications for enrolment by owners are valid for future elections, as long as the owner retains their entitlement for the relevant property.

Applications for enrolment by occupiers 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 close of the roll. 

Enrolment arrangements for Melbourne City Council are different. 

Silent voters

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. 

The voters roll

The voters’ roll names all those people eligible to vote at a council election. It is prepared by the Victorian Electoral Commission conducting the election.

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 for communicating with or consulting constituents about council matters.

The Victorian Electoral Commission 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. 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

Voting in council elections is compulsory for all residents 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 Election Manager will conduct the draw at the election office after nominations have closed. Candidates will be advised of the time for the draw.

For all council elections, 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 Election Manager

• place the ballot paper envelope in the reply-paid envelope and return it to the Election Manager. The ballot paper envelope must be posted no later than 6pm on the day before election day and be received by 12 noon on the Friday after election day.

If voters have changed address after the close of the roll 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 are entitled to lodge ‘candidate statements’ for inclusion in the ballot packs sent to voters.

A ‘candidate statement’ includes a 300-word statement and a photograph. This statement must be lodged by the candidate, no later than 12 noon on the day following the close of nominations.