Why are the parties asking us to do different things with our votes?
"Party vote Labour" and "Party vote National" have been stickered over the billboards, but the Māori Party is asking for candidate votes. Why is that?
In Auckland Central, Labour and the Greens are explicitly asking for both the party vote and the electorate vote. In Nelson, National MP Nick Smith's "Nick 4 Nelson" campaign is effectively a plea for the candidate vote, with barely a mention of the party.
What's going on?
Used to be, all the parties asked for "two ticks". They wanted your party vote, which determines how many seats they would have in Parliament, and your candidate vote, which determined who would win each electorate. Two ticks removed any room for misunderstanding.
Except it didn't. Voters who split their votes often came to their own conclusions about how to do it, so several minor parties changed their key message and asked for the most important tick: The party vote.
Labour and National are doing that too. Of course they both want both your ticks, but the essence of their message is the party vote.
It makes sense most of the time. When you cast your party vote, you're choosing the party you want to be in a strong position in Parliament.
If it's a major party, you're hoping they'll form the Government. If it's a minor party, that's not the aim. Instead, you're strengthening their hand as a coalition partner or an opposition voice.
In this election, several minor parties have made it clear which side they're on. Act, for example, wants a National-led Government. So a vote for either National or Act is a means to that end.
Similarly, party voting Labour is not the only way to vote for a Labour-led Government. Both the Greens and the Māori Party want to help Labour form the Government, so a party vote for either of them contributes to that goal.
Most other minor parties are not aligned to a major party but seek to promote particular policies and values.
Why not just vote directly for the major party? Partly it's because you want the minor party's policies well represented and you don't think the major party will do that on its own.
But it's also because big parties need small party allies. After the 2017 election, National was easily the biggest party in Parliament, but it wasn't big enough to form a Government and it lacked support partners to help it do so. It was stranded.
That's why Labour needs the Greens in Parliament. Without them, Labour risks the same fate, possibly this time and almost certainly in 2023, when it could become stranded just as National was in 2017.
Minor parties whose preference is clear are extremely valuable to major parties.
But wait. Why isn't the Māori Party asking for party votes?
The reasoning is a bit complicated. First, parties need to reach a threshold of at least 5 per cent of the total party vote to enter Parliament, unless they win one or more electorate seats. If that happens, the threshold rule is set aside.
But it's almost impossibly hard for the Māori Party to win 5 per cent of the total vote, because it's standing only in the seven Māori seats and therefore focusing its campaign on voters on the Māori roll.
While it's true anyone can vote for the Māori Party – it's on every ballot paper in every electorate –in reality, few people outside the Māori roll do so.
In September there were 3,140,279 voters on the general roll and 254,303 on the Māori roll. Just 8 per cent of the total. To get 5 per cent of the total, the party would have to win over 60 per cent of the party vote in the Māori electorates.
The threshold rule is therefore a structural barrier. In my view, it's a good example of institutionalised racism: The system itself handicaps Māori Party voters.
So the only path to Parliament for the Māori Party is through winning one or more seats. It needs the candidate vote. The party could run a "two ticks" campaign, but it knows many Māori roll voters want to give at least one of their votes to Jacinda Ardern and Labour. So it's making sure they don't give the wrong one.
For the Greens, the challenge is reversed. Their best chance of returning to Parliament is by hitting the 5 per cent threshold, so their main slogan is "Party vote Greens". They don't want you giving your electorate vote to that nice Green candidate if it means you give your party vote to Labour.
Except in two electorates. Chloe Swarbrick in Auckland Central and Marama Davidson in Tāmaki Makaurau are running "two ticks" campaigns. For the party's longer-term security, they want to create an electoral stronghold, just as Act has done. Davidson appears to have little chance, but Swarbrick does have a show.
Labour is also running a "two ticks" campaign in Auckland Central: Candidate Helen White, like Swarbrick, is explicitly seeking the candidate and party votes. The message on her posters is that she is "part of Jacinda's team".
Swarbrick's message is that voting for the Greens in that electorate, party and candidate, is not voting against Ardern. It's voting for a Labour-led Government, influenced by the Greens and able to stay in office for the long haul.