Wards, how-to-vote cards & preferences

To stand for council, you'll need to know about wards, how-to-vote cards and preferences.


A council consists of councillors who are democratically elected under the Local Government Act 1989. It must have no fewer than five councillors and no more than 12.

The council electoral structure can be configured so it's subdivided into a number of wards. Alternatively, it may not be subdivided, meaning there are no wards.

A subdivided council can have one or more councillors representing each ward. Each councillor represents the whole municipality, although they're elected by voters in their respective wards.

Review of council's structure

The structure of each council is reviewed during every second election.

The review is conducted by the Victorian Electoral Commission and communities are consulted. A review aims to provide fair and equitable representation for voters and considers factors such as demographics, communities of interest and population growth.

How-to-vote card

A how-to-vote card is any card, handbill, pamphlet or notice that: includes a representation, partial representation, purported representation or purported partial representation of a ballot-paper for use in an election; or lists the names of any, or all, of the candidates with a number indicating an order of voting preference.

The name and address of the person who authorised it must be included on the how-to-vote card.

Registering how-to-vote cards

Under the procedures set out in the Local Government Act and electoral regulations, the returning officer must register how-to-vote cards for attendance elections.

A candidate can apply to the returning officer for registration of a how-to-vote card from the day after the close of nominations until 12 noon on the sixth working day before election day.

The returning officer must register or refuse to register a how-to-vote card before 12 noon the next working day after receiving it. A candidate can apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have a returning officer's decision reviewed.

For a postal election, the electoral material does not need to be registered by the returning officer, but it must be authorised.

Candidate statements

A candidate who has nominated for an election being conducted by postal voting is allowed to prepare a candidate statement to be included with the posted ballot materials.

The candidate statement must comply with the electoral regulations in order to be published and included in the ballot material posted to all voters.

The candidate statement must contain no more than 200 words, or no more than 250 words for candidates standing jointly for the office of lord mayor and deputy lord mayor.

A candidate may also lodge a recent passport-size photograph. In relation to the indication of preferences, these will not be distributed with the postal ballot packs for the 2016 elections. The Victorian Legislative Council disallowed this particular regulation on 31 August 2016. Candidates will need to make their own arrangements to communicate their preferred order of preferences to voters.

Candidates can also lodge a candidate questionnaire form. The form is in Schedule 1 to the Local Government (Electoral) Regulations 2016. The completed form is then published on the VEC website.


A how-to-vote card doesn't just ask voters to put number one next to your name on the ballot. It also indicates to them where you would like their preferences for the remaining candidates to go.

Preferences can be important to election outcomes in both of the two voting systems. One system uses preferential voting for single councillor wards: the most preferred candidate wins. The other system uses proportional voting for unsubdivided and multi-member wards: a quota of the votes is required.

It is important for candidates to consider HOW and WHO: how to talk with other candidates to encourage them to give you their preferences, and who you will give high preferences to on your how-to-vote card.

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