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PoliticsOctober 15, 2023

NZ Election 2023: When will the special votes be counted and a government formed?


The results from election night are in, but the count isn’t over yet. Here’s when we’ll know for sure.

Where we stand

As it stands with 100% of “ordinary” votes counted, National (50 seats) and Act (11) would be able to form a government with a one-seat majority and without the assistance of Winston Peters and NZ First.

So why don’t they do that?

Because there are still the special votes (which include overseas votes, those where the voter enrolled on the day or voted in an electorate different from where they’re enrolled). This year, there are a lot of special votes. In fact, there are 567,000 special votes (or about 20% of the total vote) still to be counted.

When will that happen?

The deadline for the Electoral Commission to count the special votes is Friday, November 3. So it is highly unlikely that there’ll be any substantive coalition talks before then.

Are the seat totals expected to change?

There’s an understanding across all parties that special votes tend to favour the left parties. Last election, Labour and Te Pāti Māori picked up an extra seat from National once special votes were counted. Speaking on Q&A on Sunday morning, National’s campaign chair Chris Bishop said the party was expecting to see some slim National electorate seat wins returned to Labour after the special vote count, and was anticipating one less seat for the party overall.

This time, National or Act losing a single seat would make the difference between being able to govern as a two-party coalition or needing to call Winston Peters to “lend a hand”.

The spanners

Last week, Neil Christensen, the Act candidate in the Port Waikato electorate, died. As a result, no electorate votes were counted (though party votes were) and a byelection was announced to elect a new MP.

So when is that?

Great question. November 25, three weeks after the special votes are counted.

Will we have to wait until then for a government to be formed?

Potentially. Even though National is expected to comfortably win that seat, it’ll factor in to negotiations as the byelection has created an overhang, meaning at least 121 seats in parliament. It’s all a bit convoluted but parties may wish to wait on that result before signing on the dotted line.

Any other potential delays?

Well, there are some seats that are ridiculously close at the moment. In Nelson, the National candidate is beating the Labour candidate by 54 votes. And in Te Atatū the National candidate is leading by just 30 votes. If they’re still that close after special votes are counted, candidates may challenge the result, which would delay the final numbers for a recount.

The verdict

With all of that factored in, it’s safe to assume that no real talks about government formations will happen until the special votes are counted, and that may not be until November 3. Once they’re counted, if National loses a seat, there’ll be some intense discussions between National, Act and NZ First – discussions that are unlikely to be settled overnight.

So when will the next government be formed? There’s no specific date but in short, don’t hold your breath.

Keep going!