New Zealand Elections


The NZS.nz NZ Elections article contains an overview of how NZ elections work, voting, the NZ political system of MMP, the electoral roll and NZ election history.

New Zealand holds democratic elections every three years to elect a political party which will govern – or run – the country for the next electoral period. Take a step back and learn about the history of NZ elections and how an NZ election works.

The Political System

New Zealand’s Parliament, called the House of Representatives, is chosen by New Zealand voters every three years under the Mixed Member Proportionate system, or MMP. This political system was established in 1993, and allows New Zealanders two votes: a electorate (candidate) vote and a political party vote. The party vote is the most important, as it determines which political party will govern upon receiving the highest number of votes. The electorate vote determines which individual candidate gets the seat in parliament for their local electorate region of New Zealand.

Under MMP, the Prime Minister is required to request dissolution of Parliament within three years and two month of their placement into Parliament, upon which a general election will occur. While less common, the Prime Minister may call a by-election, which is when the election occurs before the three year term has ended, under special circumstances. Normally this will occur when the incumbent Prime Minister resigns, dies, or suffers a serious criminal conviction. The New Zealand Parliament has only ever seen by-elections of this nature for regional electorates, never for a general election to elect a new Prime Minister.

The Electoral Roll

Every New Zealander and other New Zealand resident who is eligible to vote is legally required to enroll to vote in the electoral roll, even if they have no intention of voting. The voting age in New Zealand is 18. The electoral roll records the name, occupation and other particulars about each New Zealander, and this information is made public. Individual electors can however, request ‘unpublished’ status where the public availability of these particulars could harm their personal safety.

The Voting Process

Like many other democratic nations, New Zealand elections always take place on a Saturday, to minimise work commitments which may prevent some people from voting. The process of casting of the ballot takes place in polling stations – public venues throughout New Zealand, such as schools, churches and community centres.

A voter must cast their vote in the electorate which they are enrolled in, or make arrangements to cast a special vote outside of their electorate. Voting is an easy process – you simply enter a private booth and tick two boxes – the electorate vote and the political party vote – and place your voting paper in the sealed ballot box. Tallying of the votes takes place during the evening of the election after the polls close at 7pm, which is televised. Generally, the majority of votes will be tallied by around 10-11pm that night, giving a reasonably clear indication of the winning electoral candidates and leading political party. The final result will officially be confirmed by the Chief Electoral Officer, once all special votes have also been tallied.

Previous New Zealand Elections

Recent History

Since the beginning of the MMP era (1993), five New Zealand elections have taken place. The National party governed New Zealand after the result of the first MMP election in 1996, and for three subsequent elections after that (1999, 2002, 2005) the Labour party was governing the country. Before this, Labour had not been elected to govern since the 1987 New Zealand election.  The following three elections(2008, 20011, 2014 have resulted in a National Party majority.

Older History

Political history in New Zealand dates back over 150 years. The first NZ election took place in 1853, which grated limited self-rule to the British settlers in New Zealand away from the British government. In order to vote an elector must have been male, over 21 years old, not serving any criminal sentence and have over £50 worth of land to their name. In theory, this would have allowed some Maori to vote, but this was not made possible until 1867.

In 1893, New Zealand made world history by becoming the first nation to allow women to vote. This political movement was largely the result of suffragette Kate Sheppard, a household name in New Zealand today.

Parliament reduced the voting age to 20 in 1969, and again to 18 in 1974. This was largely owing to political movements by university students in regards to requests to be a part of the democratic process. The catalyst for much of this was the Vietnam War protests.