Council elections (local government)

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

How many councils are there in SA?

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

How often are elections held?

The Local Government Act 1999 requires council elections be conducted by full postal ballot every four years.

When are council elections held?

Council elections are held 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 Mayor, Area Councillor and Ward Councillors. Councils may have a combination of these positions.

How are members of council elected?

The vote counting system for all council elections is proportional representation, a system that gives candidates seats according to how many votes they receive.

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 funds of the council. Accordingly, councils are charged for electoral services on the basis of cost recovery. The 2014 council elections cost $4.79 million. Learn more by reading the 2014 local government election report (PDF 3.7 MB).

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 who are appointed to undertake important election duties, such as accepting nominations, mailout of ballot material, receiving and a preliminary scrutiny of 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 currently on the State electoral roll you are automatically on the council voters roll for the council area in which your enrolled address is located.

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

Can I vote if I am not on the roll?


I need to update my electoral enrolment details. What do I do?

If you are eligible to be on the State electoral roll but are not correctly enrolled or changed my postal address details or call 1300 655 232 and we will post one to you, or you can update your details online at the Australian Electoral Commission .

I own a business in the local council area or I own an investment property. 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 Enrol for council elections page.

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

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 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 is nominating for my council?

After the close of nominations, the names of candidates whose nominations have been accepted are announced.

Once all candidates have been 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.

What is a candidate profile?

Each candidate must provide a candidate profile up to a 150 word statement with their nomination form. They can also provide an optional photograph.

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

Voting in council elections

Who can vote at council elections?

If you are on the House of Assembly electoral roll (State elections) you are automatically on the roll for the council area in which your enrolled address is located.

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 page on the Enrol for council elections.

How can I vote?

Voting in council elections is by postal ballot. This means that all election material (including your ballot papers) is mailed directly to you if you are on the voters roll.

Is voting compulsory?

No – it is not compulsory to vote at council elections.

How do I receive my voting pack?

All electors receive voting packs in their mailboxes.

What happens between 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 Mayors, wards and area 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:

  • ballot papers for contested elections (for example, Mayor, Area Councillors or Ward Councillors), including
  • candidate profile statements, and
  • postal voting guide, and
  • ballot paper envelope (this envelope must be signed by you as the elector to ensure ballot security), and
  • reply paid envelope for returning your ballot paper envelope which contains your completed ballot paper (no stamp required).

How do I know my vote is kept secret?

On receipt of your ballot paper envelope, electoral officials separate the flap on the ballot paper envelope from the envelope itself. This ensures that your vote is kept secret.

Can I be identified from my ballot paper envelope?

No. When we receive your ballot paper envelope the barcode is scanned to mark your name off the roll only. This check is to ensure that you have not already voted.

When the scrutiny and count begins, all envelope flaps are removed and separated. Envelopes are then opened and ballot papers are extracted. This ensures that your vote is kept secret.

Scrutiny and count

What happens after close of voting?

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

What checks are undertaken?

When you vote, you put your ballot papers into a declaration envelope which needs to be signed before you put 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 envelops received throughout the course of the election are checked daily by electoral officers to determine whether they can be accepted for further scrutiny or rejected. Following the preliminary scrutiny all envelops are stored securely until the start of the scrutiny and count.  

When are ballot papers removed from envelopes?

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

Following the close of voting, electoral officials undertake two major processes. Firstly, the preliminary scrutiny involves declaration flaps being removed 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 the envelopes, the envelopes are opened and ballot papers are removed. The ballot papers are then checked for formality and are then counted.

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

When do elections finally conclude?

Elections conclude when the polls are officially declared. Once all elections are counted, the Deputy Returning Officer provisionally declares the results. If after 72 hours there have been no requests for re-counts, 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 once the scrutiny and count has been completed for all elections.