The result was the introduction in 1910 of a Licensing Amendment Bill, the outcome of long negotiations that year between the trade and the alliance which resulted in an agreement known as the “Compact”. The Bill embodied the main provisions of the compact; local option polls were to be decided by a 55 per cent majority and the cumulation of all votes from local polls was to decide the issue of national prohibition by the same majority. The announcement of the Bill caused an unprecedented political mêle. The alliance representatives responsible for the compact had reckoned without the Dominion convention of that body which, after a fierce debate, demanded separate polls on local and national option. The trade objected to this and, in an attempt to resolve the deadlock, the Government in 1911 introduced a new Bill similar to the original proposal. The trade then came close to panic and lobbied furiously. Parliament finally refused to reduce the majority to 55 per cent, and the “three-fifths” was retained. To compensate for this the Bill was amended to provide for the separate polls which the alliance favoured.
Thus the 1911 poll was conducted on the “three-fifths” basis. Prohibition won 55·83 per cent of the votes, and so the first national poll, on which such hopes had been placed, ended in disappointment, and left the alliance permanently weakened by the dispute over separate polls. The poll of 1914 was also a serious setback for the alliance. The prohibitionists, however, achieved one advance during the war with the closing of hotel bars at 6 p.m. This was intended as a war measure, but has become a permanent part of the New Zealand scene. During the war a body known as the Efficiency League, composed of business interests, was formed. The league's aims were vague but it espoused the cause of prohibition and worked with the alliance in the polls of 1919.
Pressure from these two bodies was directed at reforming the provisions for the taking of the national poll. Faced with their demands the Government, in 1918, was forced to introduce an amendment to the Licensing Act. This amendment, which became law, altered the provisions of the poll in a way that was to change the history of the prohibition movement completely.
The Amendment Act provided for a special poll to be taken before 30 April 1919 on a proposal for national prohibition with compensation. The alliance's argument for a simple majority vote was conceded at last and the poll was to be determined by this method. In the event of this not being carried, succeeding polls were to be taken on three issues: (1) national continuance, (2) State purchase and control, and (3) national prohibition without compensation, an absolute majority being necessary to carry (2) or (3). The local option polls were discontinued.
It was obvious that April 1919 was to be the alliance's great chance. The alliance was aided by the Efficiency League, whose financial assistance boosted the alliance's income in 1919 to £58,198. It had previously never exceeded £4,000 in any one year. With these resources a tremendous effort was made at the first poll and, with the New Zealand results counted, it appeared that the fight for prohibition was won. The figures were:
After a few breathless days of waiting, the votes of the Expeditionary Force overseas were counted and the result was announced.
The soldier's votes swung the balance and continuance was carried with only 51 per cent of the votes.
At the second poll in 1919, on 7 December, the first vote on the three-issue ballot paper was taken. Again prohibition was lost only by a hair's breadth, failing to secure a majority over the combined total for continuance and State purchase and control by only 3,362 votes. The insertion of the state purchase and control issue worked, as had obviously been intended, to draw away votes from prohibition.