Council elections (local government) in South Australia


The term local government refers to the system in which 68 local councils operate in South Australia. Visit the Local Government Association of South Australia to learn more.

How many councils are in SA?

There are 68 councils in South Australia, with 67 councils involved in periodic elections every 4 years in November. Roxby Downs Council is currently run by an administrator and does not have elected councillors.

How often and when are council elections held?

The Local Government Act 1999 requires council elections to be conducted by full postal ballot every 4 years in November.

Who conducts council elections?

The Electoral Commissioner, as the returning officer, conducts all council elections.

Who is elected at council elections?

Elections are held for the positions of area councillor, mayor and ward councillors. Councils may have a combination of these positions.

How are members of the council elected?

The electoral system used in council elections in South Australia is the proportional representation electoral system or PR for short. 

Proportional representation is the term that describes a group of electoral systems used for elections in multi-member electorates to elect candidates who receive a set proportion of the vote. In Australia, these systems are classified into 3 categories - list systems, mixed-member proportional systems and single transferable vote (STV) systems. In South Australia, the electoral system used is the STV type. Under the STV system, each vote can be transferred between candidates in the order of the voter's preferences.

A candidate is elected when their total number of votes equals or exceeds the quota.

How much do council elections cost?

Section 13 of the Local Government (Elections) Act 1999 requires that all costs and expenses incurred by the returning officer in carrying out official duties must be paid from council funds. Accordingly, councils are charged for electoral services on the basis of cost recovery. 

The returning officer

Who is the returning officer?

In South Australia, the Electoral Commissioner is the returning officer for all council elections and polls. This includes periodic elections and supplementary elections, which are held when a vacancy occurs for a member in between periodic elections.

What does a returning officer do?

The returning officer is responsible for managing the electoral process and ensuring that the elections are conducted fairly and transparently. For more information about the returning officer's role, refer to the Local Government (Elections) Act 1999.

Who is the deputy returning officer?

The Electoral Commissioner appoints deputy returning officers to undertake important election duties, such as accepting nominations, mailout of ballot material, receiving returned postal votes and conducting the count.

The council voters' roll

What is the council voters' roll?

For council elections, a council voters' roll is created, which is a combination of the state electoral (House of Assembly) roll and electors on the voters roll which is managed by councils. You may be eligible to be on the council voters' roll if you are a landlord, organisation, business owner or occupier, or resident non-Australian citizen.

How do I know if I am on the roll?

If you are correctly enrolled for state elections in South Australia, you are automatically included on the council voters' roll and will receive ballot papers through the post.

If you are not on the state electoral roll but are eligible to be on the council supplementary roll, you must re-enrol from January 1 of every election year. For further information on eligibility visit our council voters' roll page. 

Can I vote if I am not on the roll?

No. You must be on the electoral roll by the time it closes.

How do I check or update my enrolment?

 If you need to check our update your electoral enrolment you can choose one of the following options:

I own a business or investment property in the local council area. Can I vote in that council?

You may be eligible to be on the council voters' roll if:

  • you own or occupy property in a council area but you are not eligible to be on the House of Assembly electoral roll for that area, or
  • you are the designated person of a body corporate or group which owns or occupies land in the council area. For more information visit our council voters roll page.

To enrol under these special provisions you need to contact your local council or visit the Local Government Association of South Australia.

Can I vote if I am not an Australian citizen?

You may be able to enrol on the council voters' roll if you live in the council area but are not entitled to be enrolled on the House of Assembly electoral roll. For more information visit our council voters' roll page.

Candidate nominations

Who can nominate for council elections?

In general, you are eligible to nominate if you are an Australian citizen and an elector for your council area. Visit our council candidates page for detailed information on who can and cannot nominate.

How do I know who has been nominated for my council?

After the close of nominations, we announce the names of candidates whose nominations are accepted. Once all candidates are announced, a draw for positions of candidate names on the ballot paper takes place.

The nominations and ballot paper order are published in newspapers in South Australia and candidate information is published on the Local Government Association's website.

What is a candidate profile?

Each candidate must provide a candidate profile of up to 150 words with their nomination form. They may also provide a photograph.

Candidate profiles are sent to each elector within the voting pack.

Voting in council elections

Who can vote in council elections?

If you are correctly enrolled for state elections in South Australia, you are automatically included on the council voters' roll and will receive ballot papers through the post.

If you own or occupy property in the council or are the designated person of a body corporate or group which occupies or owns property in the council area, you may be eligible to vote. For more information see our council voters' roll page.

How can I vote?

Voting in council elections is conducted by post. All election materials, including your ballot papers, are mailed directly to the postal address you provided on the electoral roll. The mailout of postal voting packs begins after nominations close. For more information visit our voting in council elections page.

Is voting compulsory?

No. Voting in council elections in South Australia is not compulsory.

How do I receive my voting pack?

The mailout of postal voting packs begins after nominations close. Packs that contain your ballot papers, are mailed directly to the postal address you provided on the electoral roll.

What happens between the close of nominations and issuing the voting packs?

After the close of nominations, the Electoral Commission SA begins printing all ballot papers and candidate profiles for each council where there is an election. Council elections are very complex with 67 councils involved and each council has different combinations of area councillor, mayor and ward councillors. It takes considerable time to coordinate the different combinations of ballot papers and candidate profiles.

What does the voting pack contain?

The voting pack contains:

  • a ballot paper for each election being contested in the council area for which you are entitled to vote (for example - mayor, area councillors or ward councillors)
  • a candidate profile brochure
  • a ballot paper envelope (this envelope must be signed by you as the elector to ensure ballot security)
  • a reply paid envelope
  • a postal voting guide

What happens to the envelope that contains my details and ballot papers?

When we receive your ballot paper envelope the barcode is scanned to mark your name off the electoral roll. This check is to ensure that you have not already voted.

When the count begins, all flaps (that contain your details and declaration) are removed and separated from the envelopes. Envelopes are then opened and ballot papers are extracted and counted. 

Is my vote kept secret?

Yes. On receipt of your ballot paper envelope, and after it is scanned to mark your name off the electoral roll, electoral officers separate the flap (that contains your details and declaration) from the envelope itself.  All envelopes containing ballot papers are then combined, opened and ballot papers extracted and counted. This ensures that your vote is kept secret.

Scrutiny and count

What happens after the close of voting?

Once voting closes, the Electoral Commission SA accounts for all returned ballot packs. The preliminary scrutiny and count then begin.

What checks are undertaken?

When you vote, you put your ballot papers into a declaration envelope which needs to be signed before you place it in the reply paid envelope. To ensure that each elector only votes once, the elector’s roll number on each returned declaration envelope flap is scanned. Ballot paper envelopes received throughout the course of the election are checked daily by electoral officers to determine whether they can be accepted or rejected. Following the check, all envelopes are stored securely until the start of the preliminary scrutiny and count.  

When are ballot papers removed from envelopes?

Ballot papers are not removed from envelopes until the preliminary scrutiny and count begin.

Following the close of voting, electoral officers undertake 2 major processes. Firstly, the preliminary scrutiny involves the removal of declaration flaps from envelopes after checks have identified any envelopes that are ineligible to be included in the count (for example, if they have not been signed by the elector). Once the declaration flaps are removed from envelopes, the envelopes are opened and ballot papers removed. The ballot papers are then checked for formality and counted.

For more information, see our scrutiny, count and results page.

When are the elections finalised?

Elections are finalised when the results are officially declared. Once all ballot papers for each council are counted, the deputy returning officer provisionally declares the results. If no requests for re-counts are received within 72 hours, the results are officially declared by the returning officer. Final results are published in newspapers across South Australia, on this website, and on the Local Government Association's website once all elections are finalised.