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:
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.