The simple answer: we could know super-fast, and it could take an age. Toby Manhire explains.
Much like Bill English’s historic walk-run innovation, the election results will come at two paces: fast, right up in the grill, and slow, almost downright leisurely.
But first, the Electoral Commission’s official targets:
All advanced vote numbers available by 8.30pm
50% of voting place results available by 10pm
100% of voting place results available by 11.30pm
But it will all start a lot earlier than 8.30pm …
The result could come super-fast
In years gone by, one of the eccentric charms of election night has been the TV anchors filling the space while awaiting the first meaningful results.
No longer. The irresistible growth of advance voting means that there is no early-evening trickle: the numbers will start flowing in shortly after polls close at 7pm.
By the end of Thursday, 985,530 people had already cast their votes. According to the Spinoff’s team of statisticians, that is almost a million people. By the end of Friday it could have reached 1.2 million. Last election, the total turnout was just less than 2.5 million.
So, the point is: a lot of advanced voting. That was anticipated and planned for; indeed, the rules were changed to allow those votes to be counted from Saturday morning. We’ll be getting results, a lot of them, being progressively plugged into the system from electorates around the country from just after 7pm. There’s every chance that within minutes we’ll know enough to start drawing conclusions. Last time around it took an hour or so until there was anything to get your teeth into. The Electoral Commission says all advanced votes should be revealed by 8.30pm (with 50% of on-the-day voting places by 10pm and the rest by 11:30pm), but the bulk of those early votes could be a whole lot sooner. And with such a huge proportion coming this way, it could be all over, very soon.
How reliable are those advanced votes in terms of the final outcome? Pretty reliable. In 2014, when there were just over 700,000 advance votes, they served on Saturday night 47.85% to National, with National’s final result 47.04%, including all the normal votes and specials (more on that soon). The corresponding advance v final for Labour was 24.49% and 25.13%. The Greens went from 9.98% to 10.7%, NZ First from 9.13% to 8.66% and the Māori Party from 1.33% to 1.32%.
So a little movement, but not a lot. Come Saturday night, it could be all over very quickly.
And yet …
The result could take an age
Among those queuing up to vote at advance voting are people who are doing the enrol-vote two-step. You can’t enrol on election day. If you haven’t yet enrolled and you’re reading this on Friday afternoon, you better scoot to your nearest station and do it; otherwise you’re not voting at all.
It’s an odd reality, really: election day itself is, on this score, less – how to put it – democratic than the fortnight before it. That’s why, for example, Jacinda Ardern has been telling her supporters at every opportunity to advance vote – the younger, less-enrolled voters tend to skew in her party’s direction.
But to get back to the point: those who have been doing the vote-enrol two-step won’t have their votes showing up in that advance-vote dump we’re expecting. They will be called special votes and counted later. The evidence, from the Electoral Commission and anecdotally, is that there have been a lot, a whole lot, of people enrolling and voting over the last couple of weeks.
This has encouraged the prospects of a “youthquake” – apologies for using that word, but it had to be done. Those who have clung to that possibility often cite the UK experience under Jeremy Corbyn earlier this year. Which is fine, the youth vote undoubtedly was at the heart of a turnout increase there, and certainly helped Labour boost its fortunes. Two notes of caution, however: first, the youth turnout there was nowhere near the 76% that some initially claimed; second, Labour lost that election.
As far as our own count is concerned, however, any young voter surge is likely to manifest in large part within this enrol’n’vote contingent, and their votes won’t be announced for some time. To be more specific, not until October 7, when they’ll be published alongside the other special votes, such as those from overseas.
All of which means that it could be a very, very long night – a fortnight-long night, no less – until we get a result. If Saturday night serves us up something clear, with, say, a couple of percentage points’ breathing space, then it could be done: negotiations proceed, and start choosing your outfit for the trip to the governor general.
But if it’s tight, maybe we’ll need to wait on those specials, if they have the potential to make a material change to the balance of power in parliament: if, say, the numbers make it tight in terms of possible configurations. All the more so if either of the NZ First or Green parties lands in the preliminary count just above or below the 5% threshold – if one were to drop out or jump in, the distribution of seats would change substantially. Winston Peters winning in Northland would make that threshold a non-issue for NZ First, of course.
And on the subject of Winston, he’s set himself a deadline, too. Should his party hold the balance of power, he’s suggested they’ll decide which way to go by October 12.