Elections give people the opportunity to vote for the people they want to represent them in Parliament or on a local authority.
New Zealand has held elections for members of Parliament since 1853. Until 1876 elections were held every five years. Since 1879 they have been every three years. People aged over 18 can vote.
From time to time referendums are held. These ask questions on which people vote, for example on whether military training should be compulsory. The government does not always have to do what most people voted for, but some referendums are binding.
Local government elections
New Zealand’s local councils hold elections every three years to elect mayors and councillors. At the same time elections for district health boards are also held.
Since 1951 parliamentary elections have been held on a Saturday, usually in October or November. Most people go to a polling place to vote. Many cast advance votes in the weeks before the main day. Polling places are open throughout the country, mainly in community and church halls. ‘Special votes’ can be cast by people who are out of the country or can’t get to a polling place.
People’s votes are secret. They vote by ticking a form, which they then place in a closed ballot box.
No political advertising is allowed on election day, and no results can be released until the polls close (at 7 p.m.).
Most votes are counted on election night, and results are broadcast through the media. Many people spend the evening watching election results on television. In the past people often crowded around newspaper offices, which would post the results on billboards.
The formal length of an election campaign is about a month, but in the 2000s political parties look for opportunities to promote themselves throughout the parliamentary term.
During early elections giving speeches at public meetings was the most important campaigning technique. First newspapers, then radio took over. By the 1970s television had become the major way for politicians to reach their audience. In the 2000s the internet became increasingly important.
In the 1960s around a quarter of New Zealand voters were members of a political party. This dropped significantly, and in the 2010s only about one in 50 were party members, and fewer volunteers helped with election campaigns than in the past.
It is not a legal requirement to vote in New Zealand, but everyone over the age of 18 must be registered on the electoral roll. In the mid-20th century more than 90% of voters voted, but in the 2000s this had dropped to about 75%.
To attempt to keep elections fair, there are strict rules about how much political parties can spend on their election campaigns. Public funding is provided to support parties’ campaign advertising on television and radio.