2018 State Election count schedule and results process

Preliminary election results will be progressively updated live on the Electoral Commission SA website (ecsa.sa.gov.au) from 6pm on 17 March 2018 until the final results are declared.

The counting of votes begins at 6pm on polling day and continues after election night until every declaration vote is counted. This cannot be completed until Sunday 25 March, the day after the legislative deadline for the receipt of postal votes.

Counting the votes on Election night – 17 March 2018 

On election night, polling officials at every polling booth are required to complete three main tasks after polling ends:

  1. conduct a scrutiny and indicative count of first preferences on House of Assembly ballot papers
  2. conduct a two-candidate-preferred count of the House of Assembly ballot papers
  3. conduct a preliminary count of first preferences on Legislative Council ballot papers.

Only ordinary votes from polling booths are counted on election night. Ordinary votes are those votes that are cast at a polling booth within the electoral district where a voter is enrolled.

House of Assembly count on election night

After the final voter has finished voting and the polling booth doors have been closed, polling officials open and empty the House of Assembly ballot boxes. The ballot papers are unfolded and checked for formality (i.e. if the ballot paper has been correctly marked by the voter). Separate piles are then made for the number ‘1’ votes (first preferences) for each candidate. The piles are then counted and re-counted, as are the piles of informal ballot papers (i.e. ballot papers that have not been completed correctly).

The first preference votes are then recorded by the manager of the polling booth who checks this figure against the number of ballot papers issued to voters during polling.

Polling officials then proceed to conduct an indicative two-candidate-preferred count – a distribution of ballot papers to two selected candidates. These two candidates are those who the Electoral Commission expects to receive the most first preference votes across the electoral district based on a number of factors including historical voting patterns. The two-candidate-preferred count is necessary to give an early indication of who is most likely to win the seat, since this is not always obvious from first preferences alone. 

Polling officials set aside the ballot papers for the two selected candidates. The ballot papers for all the other candidates are examined to see which of the two selected candidates the voter has put ahead in their preferences. After allocating all of the ballot papers to one or other of the two selected candidates, the polling officials have an early indication of who is most likely to win the seat. This result, as well as the first preference results, are phoned through to the Returning Officer for the electoral district, who enters them into the Electoral Commission results system. This data appears on the ECSA website and is made available to the media immediately.

Legislative Council count on election night

Soon after the House of Assembly count gets underway, polling officials open and empty the Legislative Council ballot boxes. The ballot papers are unfolded and checked for formality. The ballot papers are then sorted into first preferences for each group above the line, each candidate below the line, as well as those ballot papers that are obviously informal (i.e. ballot papers that have not been completed correctly). Separate piles are made for each. The piles are then counted and re-counted, and the numbers recorded. These preliminary figures are phoned through to the Returning Officer for the electoral district, who enters them into the ECSA results system. This data is then made available to the media, as well as to the public through the ECSA website.

Counting the votes after election night

Sunday 18 March 2018

The indicative count of ordinary House of Assembly ballot papers carried out on election night is followed the next day by a careful recheck and recount which is conducted by each electoral district’s Returning Officer. 

All House of Assembly ballot papers which were assessed to be informal on election night are reassessed and some may be admitted to the count by the Returning Officer. Likewise, ballot papers considered formal on election night may now be reclassified as informal.

Once the recheck and recount are complete, revised polling booth figures are entered into the ECSA results system and the data is made public.

From Monday 19 March 2018

The counting of declaration votes – i.e. absent votes, postal votes and pre-poll votes – does not begin until the Monday after polling day once they have been returned to the Returning Officers and can be checked against the electoral roll to ensure that voters have not voted multiple times at the election. The process of counting these votes takes longer than the counting of ordinary votes.

The scrutiny of declaration votes is done in two stages:

  • the preliminary scrutiny of declaration envelopes containing absent, pre-poll or postal votes determines whether each person is entitled to a vote, and
  • the further scrutiny where the ballot papers admitted to the scrutiny are taken out of their envelopes and counted.

In the preliminary scrutiny, each declaration vote is assessed to ensure it meets certain requirements. The requirements are:

  • the declaration on the envelope has been properly completed and signed by the voter,
  • it has been appropriately witnessed, and
  • the voter is entitled to vote.

In addition, a postal vote must have been completed prior to the polls closing at 6pm on polling day.

ECSA is required to wait seven days after polling day to receive postal votes before it can finalise counting. This ensures that voters in remote areas and overseas are not disenfranchised.

Once a declaration vote is admitted to further scrutiny, the declaration envelope has its flap removed (containing the voter’s details) and is opened with a letter opening machine. The ballot papers are then extracted, scrutinised and counted in the same way as ordinary ballot papers. 

In a small number of cases, where the voter has incorrectly identified their House of Assembly electoral district, only the Legislative Council ballot paper is admitted to the count. In these cases, the flap remains on the envelope, which is opened by hand face down, and the Legislative Council ballot paper removed and processed as an ordinary ballot paper. The envelope is then resealed to secure the remaining, invalid House of Assembly ballot paper. 

Legislative Council scrutiny

The comprehensive check and count of Legislative Council ballot papers also commences on the Monday following polling day. The ballot papers from each electoral district – ordinary and declaration - are forwarded after a preliminary formality check and count to the Returning Officer Legislative Council for sorting and counting.  

From Wednesday 21 March, Legislative Council ballot papers with multiple preferences either above or below the line begin to be scanned into the computer count system and subsequently verified. Ballot papers with single preferences for candidates are batch entered for input on the computer count system. Once all formal declaration votes have been included , the computerised count system is used to calculate the quota, distribute preferences and determine the results over multiple counts. 

Declaration of results

Final results cannot be declared until all declaration votes have been received and counted. 

House of Assembly Returning Officers will conduct the declaration of the polls in the week commencing 26 March 2018. 

The final declaration of the Legislative Council will be advised by ECSA and is anticipated to be mid-April.

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.

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  

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.

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