All three councillors in Ballarat's Central Ward are likely to be returned to the next council, early voting patterns suggest.
A little more than 40 per cent of the first preference votes have been counted for the ward at the Learmonth Street election office.
They show the current councillors, Belinda Coates, Mark Harris and Samantha McIntosh, comfortably in front.
Belinda Coates, a Greens Party candidate seeking her third term on council, is the clear stand-out performer based on the counting completed so far.
Every tranche of votes counted so far suggests Ms Coates, who was deputy mayor over the past year of council, will be the first to be voted in, and may well pass the so-called "quota" required for automatic election after the first round.
IN OTHER NEWS
Three updates seen by The Courier follow a very similar pattern, with Ms Coates easily garnering the most votes, with more than 25 per cent of the total. Meanwhile independent candidate Mark Harris is narrowly leading Liberal Party member Samantha McIntosh for second place, with 18.4 and 17.6 per cent of the first preference votes respectively.
The nearest competitor to the three incumbents at the moment is independent candidate Nick Shady (12.7 per cent).
The early first preference voting patterns are likely to be a significant disappointment to many in the local Labor party, who opted to endorse council candidates for the first time this election.
Their chosen nominations for the Central Ward, Geoff Howard and Kumuda Simpson, are in fifth and sixth place respectively on the first preference counts so far.
However, former state government MP Geoff Howard, said the preference votes could still work in his favour.
The veteran of several elections, both at a state and local government level, said: " It is fair to say I was disappointed with my personal first preference vote so far, but Kumuda Simpson's vote was very good given that she's a first-time candidate.
"Clearly the incumbents have got the strongest first preference votes."
Under the proportional representation system used in multi-candidate wards, preference votes beyond the quota or from those who are eliminated, pass on to other candidates.
Even if candidates poll highly in the first preference ballot, their election is not guaranteed. In 2016 in the North Ward, for example, Daniel Moloney was in fifth place in the first preference count but was elected due to the way secondary preferences were chosen.
However, preferences only tend to make a difference when the first preference voting counts are close. The next tranche of ballot papers counted would need to follow a distinctly different pattern for that to be the case in Central Ward.
In the North Ward, the early voting also suggests a resounding victory for Liberal Party member Amy Johnson, who is comfortably leading the first preference votes.
Again, around 40 per cent of the votes have been counted so far, with Ms Johnson securing about 25 per cent of those first preference choices so far.
Also showing strongly is independent candidate Peter Eddy, the former CEO of Basketball Ballarat, while Greens candidate Ellen Burns is in third place.
As it stands, Ms Johnson and Mr Eddy are in pole position to take two of the three councillor seats on the ward, with a battle shaping up for the final seat between the candidates officially backed by the political parties. They include Ms Burns, and Labor candidates Daniel Moloney and Jay Morrison.
Current councillor Grant Tillett looks almost certain to be voted out based on this initial result.
In this instance, second preferences could once again make a significant difference.
Early indications for the count in the South Ward are likely to emerge tomorrow (Friday).
A small amount of residual ballot papers are still arriving to the election office, with officials accepting postal votes until tomorrow.
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thankyou very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.