Last chance to vote in first leg of flag referendum

Post your ballot today or risk missing your chance to "be part of history." - with special audio feature.

Click the NBR Radio box for on-demand special feature audio: Nick Grant on the end of the first stage of our flag referendum.

If you want to ensure your vote counts in the first leg of the flag referendum, make sure you post it today.

That’s because changes in the frequency of NZ Post’s delivery service means there’s no guarantee that a ballot posted after today will reach the returning office by the cut-off of 7pm Friday December 11.

Of course, finding a post box in which to deposit your voting papers isn’t as easy as it used to be either – since 2010 the number of roadside post boxes has been reduced by almost one-third, from 4000 to approximately 2700, as NZ Post continues to decommission those that aren’t used enough for them to be cost effective.

Despite this added hurdle – not to mention widespread public indifference regarding the prime minister’s pet legacy project – the number of voters to have participated in the poll currently stands at 1,232,079, or 38.86% of those enrolled.

That means returns are now tracking slightly ahead of NZ’s most recent referendum held, the 2013 citizens initiated referendum on asset sales – although that referendum was non-binding, whereas this one is, which observers have pointed out ought to motivate more to participate.

It also remains to be seen how many of the returned votes are actually valid, given NZ First’s Winston Peters has been providing tutorials on how to deface one’s ballot paper (“Send them a message. We're writing ‘Keep Our Flag’ or ‘KOF’ on the voting paper”) and photos featuring protest votes have become a feature of NZ Twitter in recent weeks:

Calls to cancel continue
In any case, the current turnout is unlikely to bring an end to calls for the scrapping of the referendum’s second leg – scheduled to run from 3-24 March – in which the preferred alternative flag design will go up against the incumbent.

Earlier this week both Labour’s Andrew Little and NZ First’s Winston Peters were continuing to advocate abandoning the second vote due to lack of interest.

“It's been my view from the very beginning that when this process is over the selection of an alternative flag will be so low in public support that it's not worth going on wasting public money,” Mr Peters said.

Mr Little concurred, opining that the second vote should be canned if fewer than 50% of enrolled voters participated in the first.

The government, however, has given no indication that it would be prepared to halt the referendum, which has a budgeted cost of $26 million.

Lockwood design a lock?
Prime Minister John Key continues to express confidence that the public’s interest will be ignited once the winning alternative flag goes head-to-head with the current one.

Based on the most recent published UMR flag poll – conducted from 27 October to 9 November – Mr Key’s preferred design (Kyle Lockwood’s red and blue fern/feather) will probably win the first preferential vote.

That will presumably be a relief to Mr Key, who has spent some of his considerable political capital in pushing his nation rebranding exercise on the public.

He’ll have his work cut out convincing the majority of voters to support the red and blue fern, however, even leaving aside the country’s second most enthusiastic pitchman for a change recently losing his promotional platform:

More tellingly, an October UMR poll showed the incumbent flag would handily beat any of the alternatives.  

Key criticisms
Mr Key will also be grateful the media has largely ceased constantly recapping what one observer calls “the cascade of cock-ups” that seem to have characterised the referendum process from the outset.

These, according to critics, began with selecting a flag consideration panel without any design – let alone vexillology – expertise. The outcome of this selection was voters being presented with four alternative designs (three fern variations plus a koru, which is itself a baby fern) that many argued was no choice at all, despite thousands of varied designs being entered, and prompted dark mutterings about political interference.

In an effort to assuage such concerns – and add some interest to proceedings – a fifth option, Red Peak, was a late addition to the ballot after an energetic social media campaign and a bout of political brinkmanship.

The prime minister has also come in for plenty of personal flack for the way in which he’s seldom passed up an opportunity to argue for a chance of flag, most recently for seizing on the way in which an Irish newspaper used a silver fern to commemorate the death of Jonah Lomu.

Final, final chance
If you don’t manage to post your ballot today, all is apparently not lost. NBR understands that the returning officer will accept votes that are post-stamped no later than December 11 (or December 10 if sent from overseas) as long as they are received by noon on Tuesday December 15 (you're advised to get the envelope stamped at the counter of a Post Shop ).

The preliminary result will be released at approximately 8.30pm on December 11, and the official result announced at 5.30pm on December 15.

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