29 Sep 2023

Election 2023: What you need to know before voting

12:47 pm on 29 September 2023
Collage of Orange man, Parliament floor, ballot, and voting sign

Photo: RNZ

Explainer - On 2 October, early voting will begin for the general election that will decide who will govern the country for the next three years. So let's take a look at the nuts and bolts of casting a vote.

This year's election marks 30 years since Kiwis decided in a binding referendum that they wanted the mixed member proportional (MMP) system of voting. It will also be the 10th MMP election.

Under this system each voter gets two votes - one for a party and one for the person to represent an electorate.

The party vote is considered the more important because the total number of each party's votes largely determines the total number of seats it will be entitled to in Parliament.

Read more

In Parliament there are typically 120 seats:

  • 72 are electorate seats and are won by candidates standing in specific areas
  • 48 are list seats and are allocated depending on the proportion of party votes won, taking into account the number of electorate seats each party has won

Under current MMP rules, a political party that wins at least one electorate seat, or 5 percent of the party vote, gets a share of the seats in Parliament.

Watch this video explainer

When does voting start?

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 17: A person casts their vote at a polling station during election day on October 17, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. Voters head to the polls today to elect the 53rd Parliament of New Zealand. The 2020 New Zealand General Election was originally due to be held on Saturday 19 September but was delayed due to the re-emergence of COVID-19 in the community. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Photo: Getty Images / Hagen Hopkins

Early voting starts on Monday 2 October, and you can vote at any voting place in New Zealand.

On election day, Saturday 14 October, all voting places will be open from 9am to 7pm.

Preliminary results will be released from 7pm as soon as the polls close - you can access that information here. Media organisations including RNZ are also planning extensive coverage of the results on election day.

All up, there will be 2600 voting places around the country and the goal has been to make them easy to access.

"This election people will see voting places in and around the spaces where we all live and work, including malls and retail areas, transport hubs, marae, mosques, universities, schools, and community halls," says the Electoral Commission's deputy chief executive operations Anusha Guler.

If you are voting early, times and dates that voting places are open may vary. Check where voting places are and opening hours in your electorate here.

This election there will be 15 Kaupapa Māori voting places - open to everyone - with staff who can speak both te reo Māori and English. Thirty-seven voting places will be at marae.

Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch will also have one place each with New Zealand Sign Language interpreters on site.

Watch this video explainer on what happens at the polling station

20 parties in the running

This election has 20 political parties chasing voters' affections, including the five already in Parliament (Labour, National, the Greens, ACT and Te Pāti Māori).

There are three single-issue parties, and eight linked to Destiny Church leaders Brian and Hannah Tamaki or fringe protest groups. Half of those eight registered in August.

There are also four others: NZ First, New Conservatives (formerly New Conservative), former National MP Alfred Ngaro's Christian family values party New Zeal (formerly One NZ), and The Opportunities Party.

Of course, most of the smaller parties will not be standing candidates in many electorates so voters generally must vote for one person out of around six to 10 on the ballot paper.

From the dawn ceremony for the unveiling and naming of Parliament's new Te Kahui Mouri.

Candidates are chasing the chance of a seat in Parliament. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

How your vote could pick a winner?

The current Labour government is the first since MMP was introduced in 1996 to be a single party majority government.

Who gets to become the government is basically whichever party can get a majority - more than 50 percent - of the seats, based on their party vote. If none of the parties has enough to reach more than 50 percent, they must negotiate with each other about their plans until a combination of the parties has at least 61 seats.

Read more:

This can result in a coalition - where the bigger party and smaller party form a government together and come up with a complete policy plan - or a confidence and supply agreement, where the smaller parties agree to support the main governing party on specific policies.

Under confidence and supply, the smaller party does not need to support policies that fall outside the agreement.

ACT leader David Seymour has floated the idea of a confidence-only deal, which would require National to seek ACT's backing for all government spending - or "supply" - decisions on a case-by-case basis, should the two parties have enough seats to form a government. This type of arrangement has not been tried before in the MMP era in New Zealand.

It's essential to enrol

If you're eligible to enrol to vote, and you live in New Zealand, then you must do so to be able to vote in the election.

It's too late now to get onto the printed roll but you can still enrol online now or when you go to vote at any voting place in New Zealand - if you enrol early, voting will be faster.

To enrol and vote, you must:

  • be 18 years or older
  • be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, and
  • have lived in New Zealand for 12 months or more continuously at some time in your life.

When you're enrolling to vote, you're considered a permanent resident if you're in New Zealand legally and not required to leave within a specific time. This includes someone on a resident visa.

The Electoral Commission, which manages the general election, offers enrolment information in English and 27 other languages including te reo Māori, Samoan, Tongan and Hindi.

There is also help for people on enrolling in other formats, including large print, audio formats, Braille and New Zealand Sign Language here.

Being on the Māori roll

People of Māori descent can choose to be on the Māori roll or the general roll, however, the date to switch to the Māori roll from the general roll is now closed for the upcoming election.

If you're Māori and enrolling for the first time you can still choose either the Māori roll or the general roll.

There are currently seven Māori electorates and 65 general electorates.

Read more:

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 09: Signage for advance voting is displayed outside a polling booth on October 09, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealanders have been able to cast their votes in advance since October 3 ahead of the 2020 General Election. The 2020 New Zealand General Election was originally due to be held on Saturday 19 September but was delayed due to the re-emergence of COVID-19 in the community. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Photo: Getty Images / Hagen Hopkins

What happens if I'm overseas?

The Electoral Commission is encouraging Kiwis overseas to still have their say.

Voters who are overseas can vote from Wednesday 27 September until 7pm on election day, Saturday 14 October NZ time. About 78,000 enrolled voters have an overseas address.

"If you're travelling or based overseas, you can still vote in the election. The easiest way to vote from overseas is to download your voting papers from vote.nz and return them by upload to the website. In 2020, more than 90 percent of overseas voters used this service," says Karl Le Quesne, Chief Electoral Officer.

"There are also 74 locations overseas where New Zealanders can vote in person, including 10 voting places in Australia."

Options to vote in person at an overseas voting place may also be available. Check here.

If you're overseas you must be enrolled by midnight, Friday 13 October, to be eligible to vote.

More information on voting from overseas, including the locations of voting places and the times they are open, can be found at vote.nz/overseas.

What is the advantage of having an MMP system?

It's a better showcase of the country's population makeup than the first past the post (FPP) system New Zealand had for years. As Professor of Politics Richard Shaw wrote for The Conversation, "77 of the 99 members of the final FPP parliament were men, there were only eight Māori MPs, a single Pasifika MP, and no one of Asian heritage".

He went on to say: "The current House of Representatives contains more or less equal numbers of female and male MPs, 25 Māori MPs and 18 members of Chinese, Cook Island Māori, Eritrean, Indian, Iranian, Korean, Maldivian, Mexican, Samoan, Sri Lankan and Tongan descent."

MMP usually avoids the situation of having the party with the highest number of seats not become the government (this has happened once under MMP, in 2017, when National had 56 seats but wasn't able to make an agreement with another party to govern).

Popular minority parties usually make it into Parliament too, in contrast to FPP where in 1981, for example, the Social Credit Party won 20.7 percent of the vote but won only two seats.

It is possible changes will be made, however, with an Electoral Commission review and a subsequent independent review making some recommendations with a final report due in November. The voting age, changing the Parliamentary term from three to four years and revised limits on political donations are among issues being looked at.

Although it is unlikely New Zealand will switch from MMP any time soon, changes could be made via a referendum or new or amended legislation.

  • When a 'wasted vote' isn't wasted
  • MMP turns 30 at this year's election - a work in progress, but still worth celebrating
  • ACT's David Seymour floats confidence-only partnership - no supply
  • Undercurrent: Bonus episode
  • Coalitions, confidence and supply: What you need to know
  • Election party and candidate registrations close with 20 parties listed