Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


Voting in the Flag Referendum

Voting in the first flag referendum started today, with the first voting packs delivered. Enrolled voters have the option of taking part to decide which alternative flag will go up against the current New Zealand flag in a second referendum that will be held next year.

The Electoral Commission has a site which explains some of the details, but there have been a bunch of people in my Twitter and Facebook feeds a little confused about some of the details, so I thought I might try to clear some of them up.

How do you vote in in the first flag referendum?

You rank the flags with numbers. Put a 1 next to the flag you most want to win, a 2 next to your next favourite, then a 3 for the next flag, then a 4, and then a 5 for the flag you least want to win.

Do I have to rank all of the flags?

No. Your vote is still valid even if you only rank some of the flags.

What are the ways my vote might become invalid in the first flag referendum?

If you don’t rank any flag at all with a “1”. Or if you rank more than one flag with a “1”. Or if you vote using ticks, like in a first past the post election.

If you muck up the later numbers – like ranking two flags with “4”s, or skipping the “2” and going straight to “3” – your vote won’t be able to transfer to help those flags or anything lower, but your earlier rankings will still count.

But is it a good idea to rank everyone?


But if I rank a flag I don’t like, couldn’t this hurt the chances of my favourite flag?


Your lower preferences cannot ever harm the chances of a flag you rank higher.

If you really like Red Peak, or really like the Kyle Lockwood flags, there is no harm in ranking them, and then ranking the other flags as well.

But my vote could still transfer to a flag I’m not that much of a fan?

Yes. But only if all the flags you ranked higher than it cannot possibly win.

By ranking a flag lowly, you’re not helping it beat flags you like more, you’re only helping it against flags you rank lower.

But what if I really don’t want to rank all the flags?

You don’t have to. If you just like one or two of the flags, it’s okay just to rank those if you want to, especially if you think all of the others are equally bad.

But if there’s a flag I really really don’t want chosen what should I do?

Rank that flag “5”, and rank every other flag ahead of it.

And this can’t cause any damage?

No. Your lower-ranked choices can never hurt your higher-ranked choices. Only ranking some of the flags, and leaving the other flags unranked, does not help the flag or flags you like in any way. There are voting systems that do that, but the voting system we are using in the flag referendum is not one of them. (This is also true of the ranked voting in some of our local body elections.)

My voting paper hasn’t arrived yet, what do I do?

Wait a little bit. The voting papers massively increase the workload of NZ Post’s posties, so they spread their deliveries over a few days. If you haven’t got your voting papers by next Friday, then check with the Electoral Commission.

Is it too late to enrol to vote?

If you aren’t enrolled at all, enrolling now won’t let you take part in the first flag referendum, but you’ll still be able to vote in the second referendum next year. That referendum will put the flag that does best in this referendum up against the current New Zealand flag. There are also local body elections next year, and you might even get called up for jury service! Information about enrolling to vote is on the Electoral Commission website, or you can call 0800 36 76 56.

Update by popular request

I really like the current New Zealand Flag, how should I vote?

You can vote for the current New Zealand Flag at the second referendum next year.

You do not have to vote in this referendum to vote in the next one, but you can if you want. Voting in this referendum can help make sure that if there is a change to the flag, it at least isn't changed to a particular alternative flag you really hate (rank that flag "5", and rank all of the other flags above it).

I want to protest  the whole referendum process, what should I do?

The best way to protest against a government policy you disagree with is to protest it. Feel free to organise a march, or sign a petition, or even change your vote at the next election 

There is no way that you can cast a vote in this referendum that will be recorded as a protest.

The Electoral Commission will record the number of informal votes, but will not separate out those which have "keep our flag" written on them, from those where the voter accidentially wrote in two 1s.

The Electoral Commission will also record the turnout. People will probably claim it means something. Others will disagree.

Working people are processing these ballots; if you write "keep our flag" on the voting paper, or come up with an even cleverer protest to include with your voting paper it will be seen by two or three or the temporary workers who are processing the ballots for counting. No-one else will know.

A basic protest won't bother them, but if you are the type of person who is a dick to wait staff when your meal isn't exactly how you like it, feel free to be the type of person who is a dick to polling staff when your democracy isn't exactly how you like it.

When is this all over?

Completed voting papers for the first referendum need to be posted no later than Friday 11 December 2015, and received by the Electoral Commission by noon on the following Tuesday.

Voting papers for the second referendum will be sent in early March next year, and voting for that closes on 24 March.

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