Flags featuring the Southern Cross outnumber the koru and the silver fern among the long-list whittled down from the 10,292 designs submitted for a vote on a new New Zealand flag.
The Prime Minister has a clear favourite from the long list of flag designs put forward in the flag review.
John Key said his favourites involved a silver fern.
He said he liked the red and blue design by Kyle Lockwood with the fern and the southern cross.
The Flag Consideration Panel will announce in September the final four designs that will run off against the current flag.
The panel overseeing the flag review process picked 40 designs from which a final four will be chosen for a public vote. The 40 flags were submitted by 30 designers.
Of the 40, 20 feature the Southern Cross, which is on the existing flag, 19 feature a koru pattern of some type, 11 feature a fern, two feature the seven stars of Matariki, and 14 have a combination of two features.
The two-part referendum will be by postal ballot: the first vote in November will pick the most popular alternative from the final four; the second vote in March will pit the existing flag against the most popular alternative.
The 12 people on the panel issued an open letter yesterday saying what they thought a flag should be.
"A great flag should be distinctive and so simple it can be drawn by a child from memory," the letter said.
"A great flag is timeless and communicates swiftly and potently the essence of the country it represents. A flag should carry sufficient dignity to be appropriate for all situations in which New Zealanders might be represented.
"It should speak to all Kiwis. Our hope is that New Zealanders will see themselves reflected in these flags symbols, colours and stories ...
"A potential new flag should unmistakably be from New Zealand and celebrate us as a progressive, inclusive nation that is connected to its environment, and has a sense of its past and a vision for its future."
The head of the panel, Emeritus Professor John Burrows, said the designs would now be subject to robust checks and verification, including an intensive intellectual property review to ensure the designs were workable, with no impediments to being part of the process. He said the panel would remain neutral. It would take into account factors including design, practicality and technical considerations.
The final four alternatives would be announced by mid-September. The legislation setting up the two referendums is going through Parliament at present. The two votes and consultation are budgeted to cost $26 million.
While Labour's own policy is to review the flag, it has objected to the National-led flag review, saying it is a "vanity project" of Prime Minister John Key.
Labour leader Andrew Little wants next year's referendum ditched if the first one attracts less than half the eligible number of voters.
The Government set up a cross-party parliamentary committee which New Zealand First boycotted.
The Flag Consideration Panel is: Professor Burrows, former Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin, writer Kate de Goldi, Invercargill high school student and youth councillor Stephen Jones, rugby great Sir Brian Lochore, businesswoman and company director Julie Christie, former Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General (Ret) Rhys Jones, former Olympian Beatrice Faumuina, academic Hana O'Regan, academic Malcolm Mulholland, Xero founder Rod Drury and Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive Nicky Bell.
What do the experts think?
A digital creative agency director is now contemplating voting for the current flag after seeing the recently narrowed pool of new designs.
Director of Grand Creative, Phil Dossett, said the range of designs were trying to do too much.
"They are trying to say too many things," he said. "From my perspective I want to see something with a single message...it's more compelling if there's not too many messages."
Mr Dossett said he'd been very much an advocate for a new flag, but after seeing the current options he wasn't so sure.
"I'm starting to wonder if I'll vote for the old flag."
Mr Dossett was also surprised to see little variation between the flags and the number of them that came from the same designer.
Designer Sven Baker and Kyle Lockwood, who favours the Silver Fern in all of his designs, have both had five of their submitted flags in the top 40.
Mr Dossett said given this lack of innovation the current flag was now a "strong contender" for his vote.
Editor's note: This afternoon, the Herald received tweets that a poll asking readers which flag they prefer was not reflecting those who wanted to keep the current New Zealand flag. The poll has since been taken down and reported to our development team for potential glitches.