Analysis: Red Peak on the ballot, but preferential voting could kill it

LATEST: Arrow could have a claim on Red Peak — lawyer

UPDATED with comment from Rowan Simpson and the Electoral Commission.

Red Peak supporters are rightly celebrating this morning.

As I type, Aaron Dustin's design is on the verge of being added to the ballot.

Rowan Simpson and other advocates have done a heroic job in generating popular support – and the first real energy of the whole referendum debate.

But don't pop the champagne corks yet, Red Peakers.

We now come to the dreaded "P" word that NBR's Nick Grant has been mentioning in the build up.

That is, the first round of the referendum (to be held via post, from November 20-27) will use a preferential voting system that will stack the deck against everyone's favourite chevron.

Voters will be asked to rank the flags, 1 to 5 (assuming the Red Peak Bill passes its third and final reading).

If no flag gets 50% or more support, then the flag with the least number of “1” votes is dropped and its votes go to the flag each voter ranked next. This continues until one flag gets 50% or more of the valid votes (see the Electoral Commission's full explanation here).

And there's the thing: there are three fern designs, which are more or less identical. Voters who put one of the fern designs at 1 will presumably put the other two at 2 and 3 on their ballots. Effectively, the fern is a triple threat. The deck is stacked against Red Peak (and that lousy possum tail take on the Koru, on the off-chance anyone's planning to vote for that).

You've got to wonder how much the preferential voting system was on the Flag Consideration Panel's minds as they chose to make three flags on the final shortlist a fern-based design.

A key element is that you don't have to rank every flag. The Electoral Commission confirms you could just mark a first preference then leave the rest of your voting form blank.

Red Peak advocate Rowan Simpson tells NBR, "Couldn’t you argue the opposite – that three similar designs might split the fern vote, making them more likely to be eliminated in the early rounds?

"Either way, I’m not concerned. The challenge is to get 50%-plus support, either first preferences or second/third preferences for those who support less popular options."

He adds, "What we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks is that once people understand the meaning behind this design, their response is overwhelmingly positive. I hope that everybody who has supported Red Peak will continue to share it with their friends and family and others in their community over the coming weeks.

"It deserves to be in the first referendum, and I’m delighted that the politicians have worked out a way to make that happen. I'd obviously love to see this become the flag we ultimately choose to replace the current design, but that is now up to all New Zealanders to vote on. It’s fantastic that we all now have the choice."

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