Don’t you dare get political now . . .
About seven out of 10 voters this year have bravely cast their votes amidst the crossfire of political argy-bargy, before today’s election day blackout where nobody — whether media, candidate or member of the public — can publish, post or share any content that is intended or is likely to influence somebody’s candidate vote, party vote or referendum vote. Anyone breaching the rules can face a large fine.
The remaining three voters in 10 who have decided to hold off voting until today are, for historical reasons, suddenly treated as being susceptible to influence and protected from it.
While this is somewhat ridiculous in light of the rapid switch to what is now a strong preference for advance voting, and the situation should be reviewed and possibly relaxed, it is an anachronism worth retaining.
After all, it gives politicians who have been criss-crossing the country campaigning for the past six weeks a day to pause, relax a little and gather themselves for the big night ahead. It also enforces the removal of billboards before election day that could otherwise remain up and quickly become defaced, vandalised eyesores on our roadsides.
And before anyone suggests extending restrictions back into the advance voting period, that would crimp the ability of politicians to push get-out-the-vote messages, with a negative effect on turnout.
Early voting has been available to all voters in the two weeks before election day since 2011; before that voters were required to provide a reason for voting in advance.
Providing this option appears to have had a positive effect on voter turnout since the 2011 election.
That year 334,500 people cast their vote before election day; total turnout was 74.2 percent of eligible voters, down from 79.5 percent in 2008. In 2014 there were 717,500 early votes cast (turnout was 77.9 percent); before surging to 1.24m or 47 percent of the 2.6m who voted in 2017 (total turnout was 79.0 percent). By the end of Thursday, 1.74m New Zealanders had voted; with another 150,000-200,000 likely voting yesterday, advance votes this year will end up just shy of 2 million.
One added quirk of the election day blackout is that people voting today tend to be experienced voters who are less likely to be influenced. Many are traditionalists wanting to fulfil their civic duty on what has been voting day since a law change in 1950 stipulated that general elections are held on a Saturday — to minimise the effect of work or religious commitments that could inhibit people from voting.