One Question Quiz
a pink backround with questionmarks and stylised voting papers
Lots of voting questions and lots of answers! (Image: Archi Banal)

PoliticsOctober 2, 2023

Everything you need to know (or have forgotten) about how to vote

a pink backround with questionmarks and stylised voting papers
Lots of voting questions and lots of answers! (Image: Archi Banal)

Standard advance voting for the 2023 general election starts today. We walk you through the process from start to finish. 

How do I vote? 

You go to a voting place during the voting period and tick a piece of paper. Simple! 

I am very literally-minded and have further questions. 

Fire away. 

Let’s start at the beginning: can I vote? 

Check your eligibility here, and confirm whether or not you’re enrolled here. Technically it is compulsory to enrol (but not to vote) but this is not enforced. If you’re not enrolled yet, you can enrol when you vote but this means that you will have to fill in an extra form and cast a special vote, so it will be counted after election day.

Orange Guy and Pup (Photo: Electoral Commission)

Where can I vote? 

Enter your address here to find your nearest polling station and when it’s open. Or look for orange Electoral Commission flags outside schools, churches and libraries. You’re welcome to bring kids or a support person if you need. 

If you’re overseas, you can vote using forms that you download online, but you will need to have your vote witnessed. 

It’s also possible to vote via telephone dictation if you have registered for this service, and in New Zealand Sign Language in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

OK, so I go to my voting place and then what? 

Voting places will have security guards and election workers, who will be wearing orange high vis and therefore be quite noticeable. Approach them to get your name checked off the electoral roll and receive your ballot papers. You can use your Easy Vote card – 

My what card? How does it make voting easier? 

Your Easy Vote card. If you enrolled to vote, then it should have arrived in your letterbox. It saves you and the election worker’s time, basically. On it is the page number of the physical electoral roll where your name is, so the workers at the booth can easily find your name and cross it off, rather than having to flip through to find you. If you don’t have one or have forgotten it, it’ll take slightly longer to locate your name. 

If you’re not enrolled to vote, or have gone to a polling station outside of your electorate, you will need to cast a special vote, which will involve filling out another form. Staff members will tell you what to do.

a person in a cardboard voting booth marking their paper
You go to the voting booth to mark your ballot (Photo: Electoral Commission)

Do I need to bring ID? 

No, no passports or drivers licences necessary. You do need to know your name though, so practise that if you’re unsure. 

OK, so I got my papers. What now? 

Once an election booth is free, go in, where you will have a private place to cast your vote. (You are allowed to bring someone with you if you need help marking the paper, but no-one else can tell you who to vote for.) The names of the candidates for your local electorate will be on the right side of the paper: tick the slot next to your preferred electorate candidate. The left side of the paper is for party votes, where you can tick next to the party you want to vote for. (To understand more about the difference between party and electorate votes, read our guide to the MMP system used in New Zealand.)

What do I write on the paper with? 

Orange pens from the Electoral Commission will be provided, or you can bring your own. Unlike 2020, where the election featured extra polling booths and pens for everyone to avoid spreading sickness, there will not be pens for every single voter. Sorry to the souvenir collectors. If for some reason you have a pencil but not a pen, you can use it, but blue or black pen marks are easier to read. 

a hand placing a ballot in a box
Make sure you put the ballot in the correct box: there will be one each for Māori votes, general votes and special votes (Photo: Electoral Commission)

How badly do I need to screw up my ballot before it doesn’t count? 

Papers are counted by humans, not machines. They will do their best to determine who you meant to vote for, so if you make a cross instead of a tick, for example, it will probably still count. If you make marks against multiple parties so that your intention is unclear, it probably won’t be counted. It’s best to make the vote-counter’s lives easier by following instructions, which will be printed on your ballot paper too. 

If you make a mistake in the heat of the moment, you can ask for a new paper, and the one with the mistake will be destroyed.

Right then, I’ve marked my paper. Now what?

Leave your voting booth and put your ballot into the correct box. There will be an orange box for general electorate votes, a white box for special votes and a grey box for Māori electorate votes. Then you can stroll out of the voting place, secure in the knowledge that you’ve done your bit for democracy.

a split screen with an orange sign with an arrow and the words "voting"; on the other side an old-fashioned photo of a woman looking surprised
Image: Tina Tiller

What happens to my paper once I put it in the ballot box? 

It is stored securely until election night, October 14, when a preliminary count of advance votes begins at 9am and is released from 7pm. Usually this information is enough to figure out the overall trend of how parties have done in the election. The official count begins the following Monday: every ballot paper is counted and checked again, and special votes – votes from outside electorates, overseas, telephone dictation and from unenrolled voters – are counted too. Each piece of paper has a unique number on it, which helps ensure that votes are authentic. This second, official count finalises the results and ensures there has been no double voting (which has happened in the past and is a crime). 

After the election, the voting papers are stored securely in tamper-proof boxes. After six months the papers are destroyed by being shredded then bundled together for recycling. Fun fact: for this election, the Electoral Commission has printed 9,055,800 individual ballot papers for an estimated 3.8 million eligible voters. That’s so every voting place can have extra depending on demand. According to a paper weight calculator I found online, that’s about 39.2 tonnes of paper – and that doesn’t even count the physical electoral roll and many envelopes and pamphlets that the Electoral Commission produces. 

On November 3 the official, final election results will be declared. Done!

Wait wait wait, don’t go – what should I wear to vote?

You can wear a party rosette or lapel pin, or your preferred party colours, but not other party merch. This is to make sure people are not being influenced inside (or just outside) voting places. 

On election day there are special rules about political advertising: all the billboards must be taken down so that people aren’t influenced in any direction, and the same goes for digital advertising and expressing any political views online. The argument has been made that since so many people vote in advance this rule doesn’t make much sense. But that’s democracy, isn’t it – the contradiction between the lofty ideals of government and its sometimes arcane laws, and the practical reality of people trying to make their voice heard by standing behind a cardboard screen and ticking a couple of boxes.

Before you get all philosophical, I have one last problem: I’ve just remembered I don’t know who to vote for.

That’s OK – head to for the opportunity to explore what different parties say they will do and to think about what’s important to you. Happy voting!

Follow Gone By Lunchtime on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Keep going!