Counting mayoral votes

The system of election for a Mayor is optional preferential.

Election Night Count

On election night, the first preference votes for each candidate and the informal ballot papers will be counted and recorded in each polling place and in the Returning Officer's office for some, but not all, other vote types (eg: Pre-poll, Postal and Declared Institutions).

Check Count

On the Sunday after Election Day, Mayoral ballot papers are checked and counted again at the Returning Officer’s office to ensure accuracy of the 1st preference counts of all polling place ballot papers.

Other vote types (e.g. pre poll, postal, Declared Institutions, enrolment and other special vote categories) are check counted as well.

To be elected under the Optional Preferential system, a candidate has to receive 50% + 1 of the total formal votes in the count. This is called an 'absolute majority'.

If a candidate has an absolute majority, that candidate is elected and no further counting is necessary.

Distribution of Preferences

The distribution of preferences in a Mayoral election cannot commence before 9am on the Tuesday following Election Day to ensure that all postal votes are included following the deadline for receipt of postal votes at 6pm on the Monday following Election Day.

The distribution of preferences in a Mayoral election is conducted in the Returning Officer’s office.

To cast a formal vote, the elector must place the number ‘1’ in the square next to their first choice candidate. They have the ‘option’ to show further preferences by placing the number ‘2’ in the square next to their second choice candidate, the number ‘3’ next to their third choice and so on. They may number as many or as few squares as they wish.

If a candidate has an absolute majority, that candidate is elected and no further counting is necessary.

For example - If there are 8,756 formal first preference votes in an election the absolute majority is calculated as: 8,756 ÷ 2 = 4,378 + 1 = 4,379

If no candidate has an absolute majority, the candidate with the least number of votes is 'excluded' which means the excluded candidate’s votes are re-sorted to the other candidates according to the 2nd preference shown on each ballot paper.

However, if any of those ballot papers do not have 2nd preferences, those ballot papers are known as 'exhausted' ballot papers.

The process of exclusions is repeated until such time as a candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes remaining in the count. Therefore, that candidate is elected.

The absolute majority needed to be elected is recalculated after every candidate is excluded. This is due to the number of formal votes decreasing at every count due to the exhausted ballot papers not forming part of the formal votes.

Where a Mayor is elected by the electors, this result must be determined before the Councillor count can be finalised. Any first preferences on the Councillor ballot paper for the person elected as Mayor are disregarded and any subsequent preferences are reduced by one i.e. a 2nd preference becomes a 1st preference; a 3rd preference becomes a 2nd preference, and so on.

The process is explained in the following example:

Optional Preferential Count Example
Candidates Count 1 First Preference Votes Distribution of Candidate D Ballot Paper Preference Votes Count 2 Progressive Totals Distribution of Candidate C Ballot Paper Preference Votes Count 3 Progressive Totals
Candidate A 3,024 250 3,274 822 4,096
Candidate B 2,552 441 2,993 1,189 4,182 Elected
Candidate C 2,290 87 2,377 Excluded not applicable
Candidate D 890 Excluded not applicable not applicable not applicable
TOTAL FORMAL VOTES 8,756 778 8,644 2,011 8,278
Absolute Majority needed4,379 not applicable 4,323 nil 4,140
Informals 278 not applicable 278 not applicable 278
Exhausted not applicable 112 112 366 478
TOTAL VOTES 9,034 890 9,034 2,377 9,034

Animation: How votes are counted (Optional Preferential)

This animation is a general and simplified explanation of how votes are counted for an 'optional preferential' election.

While this animation was developed specifically to explain the counting process for the NSW Legislative Assembly at State Elections, it is also relevant as a general explanation of the counting process at Local Government elections where there is an election for Mayor or there is 1 councillor to be elected.


Any candidate can request a recount of ballot papers. This request must be in writing to the Returning Officer within 24 hours of being notified of the election result, setting out the reasons for the request and signed by the candidate. A deposit to cover the cost of the recount must also be lodged.

The Electoral Commissioner may, if considered necessary, direct that a recount be undertaken (at no cost to the candidates).