27 Jul 2020

Election 2020: What voting will look like with Covid-19

2:38 pm on 27 July 2020

Voting this year will look a bit different this year as the Electoral Commission prepares for any eventuality for the election - including a possible Covid-19 outbreak.

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Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

The commission is working closely with the Ministry of Health in the event of a national or regional outbreak, and potentially having to push out the election date if voting cannot be done safely.

There will be more booths around the country for both advance voting and on the day - people are being encouraged to enrol early and bring their own pens where possible.

The arrangements in place at the moment would allow voting to occur under alert level 2.

Larger venues like halls, schools and marae will be used - and for the first time, a mosque, in Wellington - so physical distancing can be introduced if necessary. In another first, there will be a booth in a marae in Huntley where te reo Māori is the primary language. In the last election, people could vote at some supermarkets but that will not happen this time because they are not seen as a suitable place if voting has to be done under lockdown conditions.

At all booths, queues will be managed and people will be asked to use hand sanitiser on the way in and on the way out. Advance voting will start on Saturday 5 September, two days earlier than originally planned.

Chief electoral officer Alicia Wright says places where people can cast advance votes will be doubled. She says people will see voting booths spring up all around the country the weekend before the election to "minimise disruption and reduce queues".

Until Parliament dissolves on 12 August, the prime minister can change the election date, after that the Electoral Commission has those powers under the Electoral Act.

For the first time people will be able to enrol and vote on election day. About 19,000 people didn't have their votes counted in the 2017 election because they had not enrolled by the deadline of midnight before election day.

The commission expects up to 60 percent of eligible voters will cast their ballot before election day.

Provisional results for the election will be released on election night but the provisional results for the two referendums will not be released until about two weeks later, on 2 October.

The question on the End of Life Choice Act referendum will appear first on the voting paper, ahead of the question about legalising cannabis for recreational use; that order was decided by pulling a ballot in front of a High Court judge.

After a recent law change, prisoners convicted of a sentence of less than three years can vote at this election. Wright says they already have arrangements for remand prisoners, and plans are now underway to organise voting for that larger group.

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