Advance voting in the general election starts today. The Electoral Commission forecasts that up to 50 per cent of voters may end up using it this year. It means that anyone can go along to any of the polling places around the country and cast your vote, and you don't need to give any justification for going early.
 
It's now just a matter of deciding which parties and candidates to vote for. And in the midst of a rather dramatic and chaotic campaign, there will be some demand for tools for helping make decisions. After all, some people won't want to simply vote on the basis of leadership and so-called scandals.
 
Policy and ideology should be an important element of decision making. And below are some of the online tools and items that might be useful in navigating the decision-making process. And if you've already made up your mind about how to vote, some of these items are fascinating in themselves.
 

Voter Advice Applications

"Voter Advice Applications" are interactive online tools that help guide you amongst political options by first asking you some political questions. The most popular and successful online guide is TVNZ's Vote Compass, which the broadcaster describes as an "interactive tool" that "gives voters a clear picture of how their views line up with the policies of the political parties". By answering a series of questions, it "calculates how your political views compare with the public policy positions of parties in New Zealand".
 
TVNZ has put it together with the help of political scientists at Auckland University, with support from the Electoral Commission. And one of the additional benefits of Vote Compass is that it also collects the views of the participants, which produces some useful and interesting snapshots of public opinion. So, far you can see views on the following policy topics: Marijuana, Housing, Education, Water pollution, Health, and Taxing the wealthy.
 
So far, Vote Compass has had 317,969 users. Of course, users will always find limitations and problems with such tools. And academic Scott Hamilton takes issue with "the vagueness and ambiguity of some of its questions" - see his blog post, A faulty compass?.
 
Massey University's Design+Democracy unit has also come up with a very interesting online tool, aimed at younger voters- see: On The Fence. Again, users answer question on policy and ideology, and it suggests some parties to vote for.
 
Once again, it's got its critics. The Spinoff's Hayden Donnell says "the quizmasters still managed to create some weird dichotomies. For instance, do you want 60% more immigration and also 40% less immigration?" - see his review of online guides: Which online political tool is best for you? Use our online tool to help you find the best online tool.
 
There are also some internationally based online services worth checking out that provide some New Zealand-orientated election guides. The most interesting one is the Political Compass website, which plots various parties and individuals on an economic left-right scale (as well as a social one based on a Authoritarian-Libertarian dimension). You can take the test yourself.
 
Political Compass also provides commentary, and it has a rather critical take on New Zealand political parties. For instance, this is what it says about Labour's new leader: "Ardern has been much more eager to tackle identity issues like gay rights than deeply ideological ones like globalisation and the consequential Transpacific Partnership Agreement. Unlike Corbyn and Sanders-style conviction politicians who attacked the fundamentals of the prevailing economic orthodoxy, Ardern is unthreatening to the status quo. She is a warm, smiling, fresh face with a socially liberal outlook. In that sense, she's more in the mould of Blair, Trudeau, Macron and, yes, Key" - see: New Zealand General Election 2017.
 
See, also the New Zealand page of ISideWith. Paul Little gives his review of this site in his column, The party-picking tool for uncertain voters. Here's his one warning: "It won't factor in such vote-changing events as who has had high-profile staff quit in the previous week, who has made an uncivilised comparison concerning an opponent, who has had a simply fabulous glampaign launch or who has had to hose down a big-mouthed candidate. Most importantly, it won't - because it can't - tell you who is likely to or even has the intention of carrying out their fine-sounding policies."
 
Similarly, for a New Zealand interactive guide, using a method imported from the UK, see Vote For Policies.
 

Policy comparison information

Other online guides are much more manifesto-focused, providing details about the policies of the various parties. The Herald, for example, has its Policies 2017 page, which allows you to compare the basic policies of the main parties.
 
The Interest.co.nz website has a comprehensive database of the polices. It also helps by listing party philosophies - see: Kaupapa.
 
But the stand-out success of the 2017 election is the Policy tool published on The Spinoff website.
 
This is best explained in Introducing Policy NZ: an incredible new tool to help you decide how to vote in Election 2017. Here's the main point: "Collecting the policy positions of the main parties and presenting them in a clear, accessible and digestible fashion, the tool allows readers to flick through policy areas, compare the parties' positions and drill down for more detail. The Policy team have read pretty much every inch of published policy, summarised their contents, and ordered them in such a way as to be easily compared. Crucially, they've strived at every turn for impartiality - this is entirely an exercise in communication and comparison, rather than persuasion. As you flick through the policy areas, you can favourite the policies that ring your bell, then view your favourites collected together."
 
Most media organisations have also been publishing articles devoted to different key policies areas. For example, on the Herald, there's an array of articles along the lines of Sarah Harris' Election Policy Series: Euthanasia, anti-smacking and state care. And on Newshub, there's plenty like Emma Hurley's Who should I vote for? Te ao Maori policy at a glance.
 
The Co-op blogsite also has a policy comparison series that includes alternative and innovative policies - see: A Policy A Day: An Introduction.
 

Community group guides to voting

Election campaigning shouldn't just be left to the politicians, and various community organisations help educate and persuade with their own policy and ideology guides. The most impressive, in terms of its usefulness and comprehensive nature, is Family First's Value Your Vote guide, which concentrates on moral issues. You can download a PDF of it here: Value Your Vote.
 
You can find out more about this in Bob McCoskrie's explanation: 'Value Your Vote' Election Resource Launched. McCoskrie says: "Value Your Vote records how existing MP's have voted over the past five terms on controversial issues with a focus on votes related to marriage, parenting, and other key social issues. It also makes an important projection on how existing MPs are likely to vote on the upcoming euthanasia and medicinal marijuana bills." Hence, you can look at the various party policies, MP voting records, and also details about the stances of the party leaders.
 
If you're interested in how the political parties will advance animal welfare issues, then you should check out Animal Agenda Aotearoa 2017. For a summary of this, see James Pasley's Political party policies on animal welfare made transparent online.
 
Or if science is of interest, Peter Griffin has put together a summary of what the parties have said at a recent forum - see: The political parties and where they stand on science.
 
And if you want to keep tabs on how much the parties are supposedly promising to spend, and an evaluation of how transparent they are being about their expenditure plans, see the Taxpayer Union's Bribe-o-meter.
 
Many voters will want to know what politicians are going to do about, say, funding the America's Cup defence, and so Mark Geenty has asked the main parties to give responses to five basic questions about government sport funding and regulation - see: Voting with sport in mind: NZ's political party positions.
 
Finally, for a colourful and useful basic guide to the parties, you can watch the three-minute description of the different parties by broadcaster and comedian Ben Hurley - see: Election for Normies - Who should you vote for?. And if that's the sort of half-lighthearted, half-serious approach you enjoy, then also check out Guy Williams' My very serious election guide.

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