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PoliticsSeptember 6, 2017

Voting from overseas: a dummies’ guide for New Zealanders

Overseas voting for New Zealanders abroad opens today. London-based Kiwi Talia Shadwell explains how to do it – and why you should.

Here are some things you can’t do in Antarctica: read Buzzfeed listicles, browse cat videos on YouTube, watch Paddy Gower on TV3.

Here is something you can do: vote.

This election, the 13 most isolated voters on earth will cast their ballots from New Zealand’s southernmost polling booth. If the last election is anything to go by, they will be among a minority.

In 2014, just 40 per cent of New Zealanders registered to vote from abroad actually did so. What was the other 60 per cent’s excuse? The Scott Base team have plenty.

In the window behind their ballot box, the treacherous polar landscape blazes a blinding white. The temperature reaches a punishing -20 degrees Celsius on its best days. The sun only just made its reappearance over Antarctica on August 26 after four months of polar winter blackout.

More ambience than your average polling booth. Photo: supplied

The base’s internet signal has to bounce from the Kiwis’ Antarctic home to a satellite, ricochet the Christchurch, ping back to the satellite, then limp back to Antarctica again, resulting in bandwidth so weak the crews can’t stream YouTube or Skype.

The internet is government administered so it blocks access to anything it judges dodgy, like certain weirdly-named news websites.

But it’s got just enough juice to allow our Antarctic heroes to do their electoral duty.

A tiny fuzzy smiling smudge on my screen beaming from Scott Base to London via a special comms app tells me the crew have been catching as much election coverage as possible.

“We totally follow the news,” says Rose Forrester, winter base leader and paramedic, who has been on the ice for 11 months. “It’s great – we have dinner at 6 o’clock when the news is on so we’ve been watching with interest the tactics that have been playing out over the last few weeks.”

You’re probably too busy eating smashed avo on your London OE to vote. But even Rose Forrester in Antarctica’s doing it via possibly the fussiest internet connection on the planet. So what’s your excuse again? Photo: supplied

More news of the outside world arrives in quite possibly the grandest paper delivery service in the world: The Dominion Post, the New Zealand Herald, and the Press are flown in on a US Airforce plane every six weeks during the polar winter, along with coveted “freshies” – fruit and veges that are a rare privilege on the ice.

Online voting became possible for Kiwis abroad for the first time during the 2014 general election, doubling voter returns.

If the Antarctic internet proves a bit too dicky for the Scott Base team to vote online, they will send their physical voting papers on the next flight back to Christchurch – which happens to be the day before the election.

By then a fresh crew of 56 will have arrived and Rose thinks they will all probably pile into the Scott Base’s modest bar and tune into the state broadcaster – TVNZ1 is the only channel currently beaming onto the ice aside from some occasional Tongan programming (Sorry, Paddy.)

They probably won’t be playing any election drinking games, says Rose.

“There’s not really a drinking culture down here. It’s not the right environment to go if you’re a drinker – it’s not the place to be.”

The Scott Base winter crew are making time between chilling with penguins and nailing science to do their electoral duty. Photo: supplied.

Talking politics is not off the menu though. The beltway chat on the ice is mostly about what policies will benefit scientists and Antarctica. The pressures of close-quarters living means no one is stabbing each other with ice-picks over differences in views.

“We’re pretty diplomatic about things,” says Rose. “We don’t fight too much, we can’t afford to really fight down here about anything.”

Want to know how you, too, can be a hero like the Scott Base crew and cast your vote from abroad this week?

  1. First, check if you’re enrolled. You can do this online, lying on your couch gazing down your chin at your iPhone like I did. You can then update your address to your overseas one. This all took me all of two minutes, including the time it took to deal with forgetting my RealMe user name and password. If you’re not enrolled, you have until the day before the election NZ-time to do it.
  2. Download your voting papers and cast your vote anytime between now and September 23. The only hitch is you need to print them out, which you could totally do at work when no one’s looking. Or you could join a library like I did and when you’ve finished printing out your voting papers you can even pick up a book to read on the tube on the way home!
  3. Upload your vote. Unlike New Zealanders at home, those of us living overseas can vote online via this special link. It’s not even too late to vote online on the day of the election – as long as you do it by 7pm NZ time.
  4. Post your vote. If you’d prefer to kick it old school, you can mail your papers back to NZ, or to your nearest overseas post (see below). The postmark must be dated no later than the Thursday before Election Day and the letter must arrive by the following Wednesday. Even though it will arrive after Election Day it will still be counted. So if we end up with a real cliff-hanger, you can sip your sauv and cackle evilly, basking in the knowledge that the most powerful politicians in the land are bricking it over your vote.
  5. Vote in person at an overseas post – such a great option for those of you who like to post a selfie after you do anything admirable. Just don’t share a photo of your actual voting paper, that’s against the rules.
  6. Fax your vote. I don’t know what this means either.

Still can’t be bothered?

Let’s take a stroll through three simple reasons why you should vote from abroad this election.

1. Because if you’re a woman you hopefully know it was not so long ago that The Patriarchy was trying to stop you from voting, entering the workforce or showing your ankles.

Anti-suffrage poster, 1902. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Ref: Eph-B-WOMEN-1902

Have a think about those tenners you earned back home – the ones that bear the patron saint of voters, Kate Sheppard. Vote because goddesses like her fought for women to have their say, and to earn some Kates marching those bare ankles into the workforce – only to cover them again with trousers to wear to dinner with the QUEEN if they goddamn want to.

Kate is judging you

2. Just because you don’t live in New Zealand right now it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your two cents’ worth about its future.

Do you want to buy a house when you come home? Do you dream of operating a multinational corporation from Grey Lynn? Or if you don’t vote in your own interest, what about other people’s? Do you care which politicians agrees with your terminally ill Gran that she should be allowed to end her pain on her own terms?

3. Vote because people around the world right now are being murdered and imprisoned for fighting for the right to freely choose their political representation without fear of coercion or corruption.

Oh, I’m sorry. Does that bum you out? Then go do your electoral duty in honour of everyone who can’t.

Talia Shadwell is a Kiwi freelance journalist based in London who is trying really hard to spend more time reading UK news but is glued to the NZ political circus.

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