20 Oct 2020

What happens if electorate candidates are tied after the election

8:26 pm on 20 October 2020

How would you feel if the political candidate for your electorate was chosen by drawing lots?

Signs around Christchurch

File image. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

It has never happened before in New Zealand, but if voting in an electorate ends up with the candidates in a tie, the Electoral Commission "must determine by lot which of those candidates is to be elected", according to Section 179 of the Electoral Act.

The party vote in this year's election may have been a Labour landslide, but results were very close in at least three electorates - Waiariki, Auckland Central and Whangārei.

There are still special votes to be counted, so the results in those electorates might get closer, the winner could change - and there could be a draw.

Here's what happens if there's a draw

A recount of the electorate vote automatically happens if the official count results in a tie between candidates in an electorate.

If the recount results in another tie, the outcome is decided by the Electoral Commission drawing lots.

The Electoral Commission says as far as it is aware, that has not happened in New Zealand.

Section 179 of the Electoral Act sets out the process for a tie in an electorate after the official count.

Recounts in general

Electorate candidates can request a recount - there aren't any other criteria that have to be met.

A recount must be applied for within three days of the Electoral Commission declaring the official election results, and cost the applicant $1022.22.

Recounts are overseen by a district court judge and are conducted as quickly as possible - they must start the recount within three days of an application being made.

They usually take three to five days to complete.

Also, a party secretary can apply for a recount of party votes in a district or nationwide under sections 180(2) and 181.

A party vote recount for a single electorate costs the applicant $1533.33, and a party vote recount in all electorates costs $92,000.

What if a recount changes the outcome?

If this happens, the judge overseeing the recount will order the Electoral Commission to issue an amended declaration of the result.

The change would also be reflected in the subsequent return of the writ showing the successful electorate candidates and the declaration of the election of list members, the Electoral Commission says.

The writ, when returned by the chief electoral officer, contains the names of winning candidates.

When was the last time there was an electorate recount?

The last time this happened was in Te Tai Tokerau in 2014.

Mana Movement candidate Hone Harawira requested the recount, but Labour MP Kelvin Davis was confirmed as the winner.

What's the deal with those electorates with close results?

In Auckland Central, Green Party candidate Chlöe Swarbrick has won, based on the preliminary results. But she only has a 492-vote lead over Labour's Helen White.

In Waiariki, Māori Party candidate Rawiri Waititi has defeated Labour's Tamati Coffey, based on preliminary results - but again it's close. He only has a 415 vote lead.

Whangārei is even closer - here, the preliminary results show National's Dr Shane Reti has defeated Labour's Emily Henderson by 164 votes.

These numbers may change when the special votes are counted - there are 480,000 of them, making up 17 percent of all votes at this election.

They're typically more left-leaning votes, and can be returned and counted up to 10 days after election day.

The official results for the general election and the two referendums will be released on 6 November.

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