What to expect when you're filling out the ballot paper

IN a three horse race the next mayor could be decided by preferential voting.

When Gladstone heads to the polls on Saturday, March 19 they'll have a choice of placing a '1' next to the person they would like to see as mayor, or placing a number next to each of the three names in order of their preference (hence the term preferences).

If you fill out the ballot paper with just a 1, once your vote is counted that's the end of your vote.

However, if it's a close call between the top two, the outcome will be decided by those extra numbers.

For example, at the Gympie by-election in February last year there were eight mayoral candidates.

But once all the votes were counted, there were only 108 votes between the top two candidates; Mick Curran and Ian Petersen.

To win an election a candidate needs a majority of the vote (plus 1 vote) so if it is close, the other candidates are excluded and the votes recounted.

After preferences were counted in the Gympie by-election there was still only 25 votes difference, but the preferences gave Mick Curran the majority he needed at 50.08% compared to his rival's 49.92%.

That means that while voters may have wanted a different candidate to win more people put a two next to Mick Curran's name than Ian Petersen.

The power of preferences is entirely up to the voter, so ask yourself; if your first choice for mayor isn't successful, who would you rather see win out of the two left over?

The same rules don't apply to voting for councillors. There are eight councillor positions and voters will have to mark the ballot paper 1 through to 8.

No matter what number you give a candidate, it counts as one vote and the top eight will be elected.

**Note: The paper version of this story incorrectly stated to win a candidate needs majority (plus 1%). This is incorrect, a candidate needs a majority (plus 1 vote). 

Also a majority of the vote doesn't equate to 50% of the vote but a majority after exhausted votes (those that only put a '1' next one name) have been counted out.

Read more about optional preferential voting from the Electoral Commission Queensland.