Counting the votes

When voting is finished, one of 2 counting systems is used to determine the results:

  • preferential counting
  • proportional counting.

Votes can be counted manually or by computer. We are required by law to count this way. You can read more in the Electoral Act 2002 and Local Government Act 2020.

Preferential vote counting

The preferential counting system is used to count votes in the state Lower House and councils with single-councillor wards.

How preferential votes are counted

Video transcript

For the Lower House of State Parliament, and many local councils where you’re electing one councillor for your ward, the preferential voting system is used to count votes. This means that to be elected, a candidate must achieve an absolute majority of the total number of formal votes. In other words – more than 50% of the total formal votes.

For example, if 20,000 votes are cast, the winner needs 10,001 votes.

The votes are allocated to each candidate based on the voter’s first preference – or where they have put the number one. After they have all been sorted, the number of votes for each candidate is counted. If no candidate has achieved an absolute majority (more than 50% ), a preference distribution is conducted.

To do this, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is excluded. The excluded candidate’s votes are inspected and allocated to the next preferred candidate - or where the voter has put the number two. After this, the totals are counted again. If there is still no absolute majority, the next lowest scoring candidate is excluded and, again, their votes are redistributed to where the voter placed the number two. If the second preferenced candidate has already been excluded, then the third preference is considered, and so on.

This process is continued until one candidate receives an absolute majority of votes and is elected.

So, make sure you have really thought about your preferences, because around half of the Lower House and council electorates are won on preferences!

For further information, visit or call 131 832.

When there is only one vacancy, so one person is elected, we use preferential counting.

Voters choose candidates by numbering all the boxes on a ballot paper in order of preference. This means voters rank all candidates in order of their preference, with 1 being their most preferred.

To win, a candidate must have more than half (more than 50%) of all first preference votes. This is known as an 'absolute majority'.

If no candidate has an absolute majority, we conduct a preference distribution.

The candidate with fewest votes is excluded and their votes are passed on to other candidates according to voters' preferences.

This process is repeated until one candidate has an absolute majority.

Elections that use preferential counting

Preferential counting is used in:

  • the Victorian Parliament's Lower House
  • single-councillor wards in local councils
  • the Melbourne City Council leadership team.

Proportional vote counting

Proportional representation is a way of counting votes in an election when there is more than one person to be elected.

How proportional representation works

Video transcript

Proportional representation is a way of counting votes in an election when there is more than one candidate to be elected.

The principle of proportional representation is that candidates are elected in proportion to their support from voters.

In Victoria, we have proportional representation to elect members of the State's Upper House and many local councils.

How do you vote?

You rank the candidates in the order you decide. Your preferences are vital in deciding who gets elected.

To be elected, a candidate needs to get a proportion of votes, called the 'quota'. The quota varies according to the number of candidates to be elected. As an example, with three candidates to be elected and 140 votes, the quota is 36 votes.

Here are the first preference votes for the six candidates.

Belinda has more votes than the quota, and is elected.

Belinda's 'surplus' votes (the 12 votes over the quota) are distributed to the other candidates according to voters' preferences.

Belinda's surplus votes don't lead to any other candidate reaching a quota.

When you run out of surpluses, the candidate who now has the fewest votes (Emma) is excluded, and the votes for Emma go to the remaining candidates according to the voters' preferences.

This continues until all the places for that electorate are filled.

Remember, with proportional representation, your preferences really count.

For further information, visit or call 131 832.

When more than one person is to be elected, we use proportional counting.

To be elected, candidates must receive a proportion of votes known as a 'quota'.

The quota is calculated by dividing the total number of formal ballot papers by one more than the number of candidates to be elected, and then adding one to the result.

For example, if there where 140 formal votes and 3 candidates to be elected, the quota would be (140/(3+1))+1 = 36 votes.

Any candidate who receives the quota is elected. Any votes they receive over the quota are then passed on to other candidates according to voters' preferences.

If no candidate achieves the quota, or if there are still vacancies after all the votes over the quota have been passed on, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded. Their votes are passed on to other candidates according to voters' preferences. The process is repeated until all vacancies are filled.

Elections that use proportional counting

Proportional counting is used in:

  • the Victorian Parliament's Upper House
  • multi-councillor wards
  • unsubdivided councils
  • Melbourne City Council councillors. 

Computerised calculation

ComputerCount provides the VEC with the functionality required to conduct computerised counts for designated electorates in the presence of scrutineers (if appointed). It enables a result calculation based on either the preferential or proportional representation count methods.

The ComputerCount functionality was initially implemented in 2000 and is fully developed and maintained by the VEC. The ComputerCount code and functionality has been independently audited (most recently in 2020) to meet the requirements for the election set out in the:

  • Electoral Act 2002, sections 114, 114A and 115
  • Local Government Act 2020, section 263 and Divisions 6 and 7 of Part 8
  • City of Melbourne Act 2001, section 18.

Click on the links below to view C# source code used in the ComputerCount module formatted as text.

Audit reports downloads: