Counting the votes for the House of Assembly

A majority system of voting and counting called preferential voting is used to elect members of the House of Assembly. Preferential voting was first introduced in South Australia in 1929. 

In order to win a seat in the House of Assembly, a candidate is required to obtain an absolute majority (more than 50%) of the total formal votes cast in an electoral district.

If, at the first count, no candidate has gained more than 50% of first preference (or number ‘1’) votes, the candidate with the least number of first preference votes is excluded. The excluded candidate’s ballot papers are then distributed to the remaining candidates according to the the second preference (or number ‘2’) votes on his/her ballot papers. The process of excluding the candidate with the least number of votes and distributing the next available preference continues until one candidate wins the seat by gaining more than 50% of the vote.

All House of Assembly election counts continue until only two candidates remain, regardless of whether any one candidate gains an absolute majority earlier in the count. This full distribution of preferences allows the Electoral Commission to calculate the two-candidate-preferred results.

If in the final count two candidates have an equal number of votes the matter is referred by the Electoral Commissioner to the Court of Disputed Returns where the Court may determine the validity of disputed ballot papers or, in the event of this action not resolving the dead-lock, order a new election. 

An example of how preferences work in the House of Assembly

Kate, Lyn, Tom and Steve stand for election.
They receive the following formal first preference votes:image1

There are a total of 20,000 formal votes.

To be elected a candidate needs an absolute majority (more than 50% - or more than half of the vote)

As none of the candidates has gained an absolute majority of the votes (more than 10,000) at this first count, the candidate with the least number of votes (Kate) is excluded and her ballot papers are transferred to the other candidates according to which candidate was allocated the number 2 (second preference).

Kate’s votes are transferred as follows:

After Kate’s ballot papers have been distributed, neither Lyn, Tom, nor Steve have yet gained an absolute majority. Lyn is now the candidate with the least number of votes so she is excluded and her ballot papers are distributed according to who was marked as the number ‘2’ (or the number ‘3’, if the ballot paper was previously transferred from Kate) preference.


Once the preferences on Lyn’s ballot papers have been distributed (4,000 are marked for Tom and 1,750 for Steve) the ballot papers for each of them are totalled.

Tom now has more than half of the total votes cast (an absolute majority) and is declared the elected candidate.

Counting the votes for the Legislative Council

A proportional representation system of voting called single transferable vote is used to elect members of the Legislative Council. This system has been used in South Australia since 1975.

In order to win a seat in the Legislative Council, a candidate is normally required to obtain a ‘quota’ of the formal votes. This quota - or minimum number of votes required to win a seat – ensures that winning candidates are elected with approximately equal numbers of votes. 

Counting the votes for the Legislative Council is both slower and more complicated than the count for the House of Assembly. On election night only first preferences are counted, leaving the major part of the count – i.e. the calculation of the quota, the distribution of surplus votes and the exclusion of candidates - to the days after the election.

Five steps are followed to count the votes for the Legislative Council:

A detailed explanation of the steps involved can be found below.

1. Counting the first preference votes

The first step in the process is to sort the ballot papers into first preferences for each group above the line and below the line, as well as first preferences for each ungrouped candidate. The first preference figures are then transmitted to the media and published on the ECSA website.

Once all declaration votes have come in from across the state and around the world – which cannot take place until the final postal votes have been received seven days after polling day - the total number of formal (or valid) votes can be calculated. This number is essential for the second step in the process, calculating the quota.

2. Calculating the quota

To be elected to the Legislative Council, candidates need to gain a minimum number – known as a quota - of the total formal votes. This quota is calculated by dividing the total number of formal ballot papers by one more than the number of Legislative Council members to be elected, and then adding one to the result (disregarding any remainder).


Example of calculating the quota using the 2014 State Election figures:
Calc3Therefore, the quota required to be elected at the 2014 State Election was 84,245.

3. Election of candidates who reach the quota

Candidates who receive a number of first preference (or number ‘1’) votes equal to or greater than the quota, are elected immediately. 

It is possible, although very unusual, for this to lead to all the vacant seats being filled, and therefore, the election being finalised. It is much more frequent however, for the Electoral Commission to need to move on to the next two steps in the counting process.

4. Distribution of surplus votes

If any elected candidates received more votes than the quota, their surplus votes are distributed to the remaining candidates according to the further preferences indicated on the ballot papers. 

Because it is not possible to determine which votes actually elected the candidate and which votes are surplus, all the elected candidate’s ballot papers are transferred at a reduced value called a ‘transfer value’. 

The transfer value is calculated as follows: 


As surplus votes are distributed, other candidates may be elected. However, if at any point all the surplus votes from elected candidates have been distributed and there are still positions left unfilled, the Electoral Commission proceeds with the next step in the counting process.

5. Exclusion of unsuccessful candidates

Starting with the candidate who received the lowest number of votes, unelected candidates are excluded from the count. The excluded candidate’s ballot papers are distributed to the remaining candidates based on preferences. 

If any of the remaining candidates obtain a quota through this process of distribution, they are elected. 

Their surplus votes (if any) are distributed before any other candidates are excluded. This process of distributing surplus votes from elected candidates and excluding the candidate with the fewest votes is continued until all vacant Legislative Council seats are filled. 

Exhausted ballot papers

As a result of voting reforms before the 2018 State Election, the Legislative Council now has a partial preferential rather than fully preferential voting method. This inevitably leads to an increase in the number of votes that are ‘exhausted’ – i.e. ballot papers where no further preferences have been expressed. Once a vote has been ‘exhausted’, it must be set aside from the count.

Candidates elected without a quota

If, as a result of exhausted ballot papers, there are not enough votes left in the count to fill the remaining vacant seats, the candidate or candidates with the highest number of votes are elected regardless of whether they have reached the quota.

Information in Auslan

Voting at the 2018 State Election - Auslan Video

This AUSLAN video contains information on enrolling and voting for the March 17 2018 State Election. The video also includes a voiceover and English captions.

Electors per district at the 2018 State Election

Following the close of rolls at 12 noon on Friday 23 February, 1,201,775 South Australians were enrolled to vote. 

  District Name Number Enrolled  
  Adelaide 24928  
  Badcoe 24640  
  Black 27870  
  Bragg 25730  
  Chaffey 23495  
  Cheltenham 26051  
  Colton 27600  
  Croydon 24628  
  Davenport 24794  
  Dunstan 25411  
  Elder 26110  
  Elizabeth 28399  
  Enfield 25644  
  Finniss 23814  
  Flinders 22756  
  Florey 26734  
  Frome 23319  
  Gibson 25808  
  Giles 23484  
  Hammond 25023  
  Hartley 24489  
  Heysen 25026  
  Hurtle Vale 26093  
  Kaurna 26254  
  Kavel 24139  
  King 27184  
  Lee 26500  
  Light 25990  
  MacKillop 23359  
  Mawson 25044  
  Morialta 25995  
  Morphett 26419  
  Mount Gambier 24768  
  Narungga 24599  
  Newland 25889  
  Playford 26374  
  Port Adelaide 27895  
  Ramsay 26796  
  Reynell 24828  
  Schubert 25727  
  Stuart 23420  
  Taylor 27494  
  Torrens 25110  
  Unley 26211  
  Waite 27160  
  West Torrens 25777  
  Wright 26997  

Disability Access and Inclusion Plan


Message from the Electoral Commissioner 

The Electoral Commission of South Australia (ECSA) is committed in making the 2018 State Election as inclusive and accessible as possible to all South Australians, including those living with a disability. 

Our Disability Access and Inclusion Plan sets out the objectives, outcomes and services that will guide ECSA’s approach to the Election. 

The Plan has been developed through consultation with a range of disability sector organisations, and focuses on delivering practical outcomes that will improve the accessibility of our voting and information services. 

The Plan has three main objectives: 

  • Deliver tailored and accessible information for electors with a disability. 
  • Deliver tailored and accessible voting services for electors with a disability. 
  • Improve the awareness of Electoral Commission SA staff regarding the needs of electors with a disability. 

Following 17 March 2018, ECSA will evaluate the success of the Plan in conjunction with representatives of South Australia’s disability sector as part of continuing commitment to improving the participation of people with disability in the democratic processes. 

Disability Access and Inclusion Plan 2018 (PDF 820 kB)

Mick Sherry

Electoral Commissioner



Deliver tailored and accessible information for electors with a disability.

Outcomes Services

Strategies to engage and support people with a disability are designed, delivered and evaluated on the basis of consultation and collaboration with sector stakeholders.

  • Sector stakeholders are consulted prior to the election to identify challenges and opportunities for engaging and supporting people with a disability.
  • Collaboration with sector stakeholders prior to and during the election period to raise electoral awareness and disseminate information.
  • Sector stakeholders are consulted after the election to evaluate the success of information and voting services.

Accessible publications and promotional material are available.

  • All election material is written in plain English in line with South Australian Government guidelines.
  • Easy read publications are available for people with an intellectual disability or low literacy.
  • A dedicated page is available on the website containing information for people with a disability.
  • Publications are co-designed with sector partners.
  • The EasyVote Guide that is mailed to every elector includes information about the nearest wheelchair-accessible polling places.
  • A smartphone app displays nearby wheelchair accessible polling places and associated wait times.
  • Large print, braille and audio letters are distributed in partnership with sector stakeholders.
  • Television commercials and online video content feature closed captioning.
  • An instructional Auslan video is available on the website containing information about enrolment, voting options and how to complete the ballot papers.
Provide information on the website in appropriate formats and ensure website content complies with accessibility standards.
  • The website aims for WCAG 2.0 compliance.
  • Readspeaker text-to-speech software is available.


Deliver tailored and accessible voting services for electors with a disability.


Outcomes Services
Polling places are accessible for people with a disability.
  • All polling places are audited for accessibility and, wherever possible, polling booths will be fully wheelchair accessible.
  • The visibility of signage in every polling place is assessed to ensure it is unobstructed and easily visible from wheelchair height.
  • Electors can be assisted to complete their ballot papers by a person of their choice, and may also be assisted to complete any declaration (a candidate, or a scrutineer appointed by a candidate, must not act as an assistant).
  • At least one desktop voting screen is available in every polling place to support electors using a wheelchair to cast a secret ballot.
  • Voting booths are edged with black strips to provide improved contrast for electors with vision impairment.
  • Queue priority is offered to electors with a disability, the aged, the infirm, and electors with mobility issues.
  • Ballot papers are offered to electors outside of the polling place if they are unable to leave their vehicle.
Alternative voting options are available for people with a disability.
  • Electronic voting (Vote Assist) is trialled for sight-impaired electors at three accessible metropolitan locations.
  • Electors with a disability can apply for a one-off postal vote for the 2018 State Election.
  • Electoral Visitor teams will attend more than 250 aged care facilities and hospitals to provide on-the-spot voting facilities for residents and patients who are unable to attend a booth on polling day.
  • Electors with a disability can apply for inclusion on the Register of Declaration Voters and have their voting material issued by post on an ongoing basis for every state election.
  • If the elector is unable to complete and sign a postal vote application and postal ballot themselves, the elector can apply to have the materials filled in and signed by a person of their choice if the associated requirements are met. 


Improve the awareness of Electoral Commission SA staff regarding the needs of electors with a disability.


Outcomes Services
All Electoral Commission SA staff receive disability awareness information.
  • Disability awareness material is included as part of the induction process for all Electoral Commission SA staff.
  • Sector stakeholders are invited to deliver disability awareness information sessions for all Electoral Commission SA staff.
Polling officials receive training and instruction on assisting electors with a disability.
  • Training manuals for polling officials include information on disability awareness and how to assist electors with a disability participate in the electoral process.


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