A political scientist says there will be “some upsets coming” with the official election vote count result tomorrow, and National and ACT will likely need the support of New Zealand First to form a government.
The Electoral Commission is set to release the official results of the 2023 general election tomorrow, after a three-week wait for special votes to be counted.
Special votes are those made outside of a voter’s electorate, including overseas votes.
Victoria University of Wellington’s Bryce Edwards told 1News there would be “curveballs” and surprises within the results, some of which would be “quite consequential for the negotiations for the formation of the new government”.
‘Some upset coming’ in final election result – expert
He said some electorate seats National won by slim margins on election night preliminary results — such as Te Atatū, Nelson and Banks Peninsula — may flip back to Labour.
“This always happens after each election, the special votes do tend to be biased towards the left.”
Edwards said while Labour could be reasonably confident of this, it wouldn’t significantly change the outcome of the election overall.
However, he believed the results could be more consequential in the Māori seats.
That was particularly true for Te Tai Tokerau and Tāmaki Makaurau — where it was possible Te Pāti Māori could snatch those seats from Labour candidates, who had won with slim margins on Te Pāti Māori candidates on preliminary results.
Labour’s Kelvin Davis held Te Tai Tokerau with 487 votes and Peeni Henare held Tāmaki Makaurau with 495 votes.
If those seats did fall to Mariameno Kapa-Kingi and Takutai Tarsh Kemp respectively, it would increase the size of Parliament due to an overhang.
The overhang — already one seat — happened when a party won more electorate seats than it was entitled to with its party vote. Te Pāti Māori’s party vote on preliminary results is 2.6%.
With more seats in Parliament, Edwards said it made it a tougher ask to reach a majority, as the magic number to reach a majority was higher.
“What’s more, National is likely to lose some of its total seats… they’ll be down maybe one, two, or three at most seats.”
He said it was likely, based on how special votes trended in previous years, ACT’s 11-seat result would stay the same.
“That means that National and ACT will have [fewer] than half the seats in the new parliament. They will be therefore be reliant on New Zealand First to form a government.
He said it was “very unlikely” National and ACT would be able to form a government without New Zealand First.
Edwards said special votes were usually about 20% of the votes, tended to be younger, students, lower socio-economic and people in “less-confirmed” housing situations.
He believed the special votes would be more consequential this election than in previous elections due to National and ACT’s “wafer-thin” 61-seat majority on preliminary results.
Edwards said the process could possibly be sped up but he didn’t believe New Zealanders would enjoy rolling coverage of results as they came in bit by bit, but instead appreciated a break from political news during the period.
Luxon looking forward to clarity, keen for faster vote count
Incoming prime minister Christopher Luxon said he was looking forward to the clarity the official vote count would bring “so we know exactly where we are and can move with great pace to put a government together”.
“I can’t speculate what the results are… we have been progressing conversations with respective parties.
“They’ve been positive, they’ve been constructive, there’s a real intentionality and a desire by all leaders to move through the process as quickly as we can.
“We’ve tried to use the time so that we can keep moving with pace through the process.”
Luxon said he couldn’t provide a date for when the government would be formed.
He hoped the Electoral Commission would process special votes faster in the future.
“Does it really need to take three weeks to count the special votes? If we’re actually working 24/7 on something that’s really important to our democracy.”
Luxon said he wondered if progress results would also be valuable instead of a final announcement at the end of the official count, and there should be consideration around whether the Electoral Commission should take charge of local government elections.
Public law expert and lawyer Graeme Edgeler said the Electoral Commission was taking the amount of time to count official votes as Parliament had directed it to take, under the law.
“Parliament sets the laws for the election processes and the election timetable, and the Electoral Commission is just following them.”
He said before the 2020 election a law change meant people could enrol to vote on election day and cast a vote the same day.
Before that, a special vote could be cast but unenrolled people had to enrol on the Friday before election day — at the latest.
It meant an added layer of checking had to happen after the election, and with the law change Parliament had taken that into account and allowed the Electoral Commission extra time after the election to contend with it.
He said the official count could be considered an “audit” of the voting process and with that in mind the Electoral Commission completed that reasonably swiftly.
Edgeler believed it was unlikely electronic vote counting would have little impact on the speed of the process as the count was only a small part of the final official vote count.
He said the major difference with last election was that Labour had clearly won a majority after preliminary results, so questions of government formation were less significant.
That didn’t meant coalition talks weren’t well underway this time around.
Edgeler said it was possible the process could be sped up but it would possibly require further resourcing — and therefore funding — for the Electoral Commission to do so.
ACT leader David Seymour expressed a preference for the law before it changed, saying it prolonged the official vote count by a week to serve people who wanted “the luxury of rocking up without registering and cast a vote on the day” of the election.
“Personally, I think if you want to take voting seriously, you should meet your obligation to be registered and we should go back to counting them in two weeks.”
He said ACT was only a couple of thousand votes away from getting another MP via the party vote.
“Obviously we’d like that to happen. But like I say, we just have to wait.”
What does the official count involve?
With about 48 hours remaining before the official results were revealed, the Electoral Commission posted to social media with an explainer video on how special votes are counted.
It said the way the commission counted votes was “thorough and careful” to ensure trust in the system.
“There are two counts to make sure results are correct. The first count is on election day. Early votes are counted at electorate headquarters. Once voting closes at 7pm, the people who are working at voting places count the votes cast on election day.”
The people who counted the votes were from local communities, and the process was overseen by candidates and representatives from political parties as scrutineer.
Votes were counted by hand, voting machines — such as those used in places like the US — were not used.
Those votes contributed to preliminary results, which were reported over the course of election night as they were received. Voting place managers called electorate headquarters to report results.
On the Monday after election day, the Electoral Commission began the official count of votes at electorate headquarters. All the votes counted on election day were counted for a second time, and special votes were checked and counted — also by hand.
Further social media posts explained during the official count period, the commission also processed enrolments and scrutinised electoral rolls to check for duplicate votes.
In a statement, Electoral Commission chief electoral officer Karl Le Quesne said by law, the commission needed to allow 10 days for special votes to be returned from overseas and 13 days for special votes cast in New Zealand to be returned to their home electorate.
Before any special votes could be added to the count, the declarations of all special voters had to be checked to ensure the voter was eligible and enrolled, he said.
“Comprehensive audit checks have to be completed at the national level to ensure the results are accurate.
“It’s important for the integrity of the results that all these processes are followed. When all of this has been done, and the votes have been tallied, we release the official results.”
The commission followed the process in the Electoral Act for producing the official results.
“The law makes it clear that the results can only be released when all the ballot papers for an electorate have been processed, including special votes. The results are signed off by a Justice of the Peace and the returning officer for the electorate before they are reported to the Electoral Commission.”