Voting and elections

How Parliament's Elections Work

Watch our video 'How Parliament's Elections Work'. The video explains how members are elected to the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. You can see other videos at our Video and Audio page.






How the votes are counted

Proportional preferential voting for the Legislative Council

Historical information

Other voting methods

Learning more



General elections

In Victoria the Parliament has fixed four year terms. This means that there is a general election every four years and members of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly stand for election.

The only time that there is less than four years between general elections is when the Assembly is dissolved earlier by the Governor. The Governor may dissolve the Assembly:

  • If the Assembly passes a motion of no confidence in the Premier and other ministers and a motion of confidence is not passed within eight days; or
  • On the advice of the Premier in the case of a deadlocked bill.

When a general election is called all electoral districts of the Assembly and regions of the Council throughout Victoria are involved. Elections for each district and region take place on the same day; election day.

Filling a vacancy in the Legislative Assembly - a by-election

If there is a vacancy in the Legislative Assembly, that member's place is filled by holding a by-election.

A by-election just relates to one particular Assembly district and can be triggered by a number of events. Examples of triggering events are:

  • Resignation or death of the previous member
  • Election of the member to the Commonwealth Parliament
  • The member fails to attend the Assembly without permission for an entire session
  • The seat is vacated as it has been established that the member was not qualified to be elected as a member of Parliament.

In a by-election only voters in that electorate vote to elect a member to represent them in the Legislative Assembly.

Filling a vacancy in the Legislative Council - a joint sitting

If a vacancy arises in the Legislative Council a joint sitting of Parliament is held to select a new member to fill the vacancy.

If the vacating member was elected as a member of a political party, the joint sitting must select a person nominated by that political party. If the member was an independent, the joint sitting is required to select a new member that has not been a member of a political party for five years and has lived for 12 months in the region that is being vacated. In order for the independent member to gain selection they must obtain three fifths of the support of all members voting at the joint sitting.

The only time a joint sitting is not held is when the vacancy occurs within three months of the seat becoming vacant for a general election at the end of a parliament.


Who votes

Voting is both a right and a responsibility.

Generally every Australian citizen who lives in Victoria and is aged 18 years or over is eligible to vote.

It is compulsory for all eligible voters to enrol to vote and, once enrolled, to vote in elections. This is known as compulsory voting. Those who fail to vote must explain why. If their reasons are not valid they have to pay a small fine.

Compulsory voting was adopted in Victoria for Legislative Assembly elections in 1926 and for Legislative Council elections in 1935.

Ways to vote

Most people vote on election day at a voting centre. Voting centres are open from 8.00 am until 6.00 pm on election day.

For people who can't get to a voting centre on election day early and postal voting services are available. Early voting involves visiting an early voting centre to vote before election day. To vote by post it is necessary to apply to the Victorian Electoral Commission.

To find out more about when and where to vote, visit the Victorian Electoral Commission website: [return to top]

How the votes are counted

Preferential voting for the Legislative Assembly

When voting for members for the Legislative Assembly the preferential voting system is used. In this system voters rank the various candidates in order of preference.

The candidate most preferred by a voter is ranked first. The next preferred is ranked second and so on until all candidates are ranked in order of preference.

When voters attend the polling booth on election day, representatives of the various candidates hand out how-to-vote cards. These show how the candidates would prefer voters to fill in their ballot paper. Voters do not have to follow these suggestions.

If a ballot paper is not completed correctly, or is defaced in any way, it is deemed informal and is not counted in the tally of votes.

After the voting centres close on election day, the votes are counted. If no candidate wins an absolute majority of votes (greater than 50 per cent), preferences are allocated.

This is a procedure in which the votes of the least favoured candidate are allocated to the more popular candidates on the basis of each voter's preferences.

This process is continued until one candidate wins an absolute majority. In this way, even if some voters do not necessarily get the candidate they most preferred, they get their next most favoured candidate and so on until the new member of Parliament is identified.

To learn more about preferential voting visit the Victorian Electoral Commission website:

Proportional preferential voting for the Legislative Council

The proportional preferential voting system is used to elect members to the Legislative Council. This system allocates seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for each candidate. It does this by using multi-member electorates. In addition, this system 'weights' voter preferences so that a first preference is 'worth more' than a second preference and so on.

To be elected, a candidate must gain a quota or proportion of votes. While the electoral system used for the Legislative Assembly tends to favour candidates of the major parties, the method used for the Legislative Council produces representation according to the number of votes a candidate receives, even if the candidate is an independent or a member of a minor party.

To learn more about proportional voting visit the Victorian Electoral Commission website:

Historical information

Secret ballot

Victoria is the home of the secret ballot. This is a method of voting in which voters' ballot papers are completed in secrecy and then placed in a locked box until the close of the poll. This guarantees the integrity of each voter's choice.

This voting system was conceived in 1855 by Henry Samuel Chapman, a member of Victoria's first Legislative Council. It was used for the first Parliament of Victoria general elections that took place in spring of 1856.

For many years it was internationally known as the Victorian or the Australian ballot.

Other voting methods

Preferential voting has not always been used in Victoria. Until 1911 in Legislative Assembly elections and 1921 in the Legislative Council, first-past-the-post, (a system in which the candidate with the most votes wins irrespective of whether it is an absolute majority) was used. This system is widely used in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

Until 1899, plural voting was used in Lower House elections and until 1938 in Upper House elections. This was a procedure in which those who held land to a certain market value were entitled to vote in as many electorates as that land was located.

Learning more

To learn more about the electoral process and voting visit:

For historical statistical information on Victorian elections go to Elections since 1856. [return to top]