Filling occasional vacancies
Occasionally, a position on council will become vacant between general elections. This can occur if a councillor dies or resigns or if a councillor ceases to be eligible to hold office.
Such vacancies are either filled by a by-election or by a countback, depending on how the departing councillor was elected.
A by-election is called if a vacancy occurs in a single member ward where votes were counted using the simple preferential system.
A by-election must be held within 100 days of the vacancy occurring, but is not required if the vacancy occurs in the last six months before a general election is scheduled. If necessary to avoid a clash with the Christmas, New Year holiday period, a by-election may be up to 150 days after the vacancy.
In a by-election, a complete election is conducted for the ward. This involves a new nomination process and voters cast votes in the same way as in a general election.
A countback is a method for filling vacancies in multiple-member constituencies where votes were counted using proportional representation.
The countback process involves reusing the ballot papers that were used to elect the councillor whose position has become vacant. A new, preferential, count is conducted using these votes and the candidate who obtains a majority of the votes after the distribution of preferences is invited to take the vacated position on council.
In effect, this process works out who the majority of voters, who originally voted for the vacating councillor, expressed their next available preferences for to be councillor.
The countback has three important benefits:
It allows representation to continue to be proportional to the preferences expressed by voters in the general election
It allows the vacancy on council to be filled in a shorter period of time, so that representation is optimised
It avoids the high costs of a by-election that would occur in a large, multi-member ward or district (in cases where a vacancy cannot be filled by a countback, a by-election is conducted)
The Victorian Electoral Commission website contains more information about by-elections and count backs.