On Friday night I was very careful to take the campaign signs off my fence. saturday is election day! And therefore terribly important not to advertise your support for any party or candidate.

The laws are very strict - so unlike Australia, you won't drive past any political billboards today or be accosted by party faithful thrusting leaflets at you inside the polling booth.

It seems a little anachronistic in our advertising-saturated day and age and indeed the regulations originate in a different era. But I like it. It adds an air of occasion and a bit of dignity to polling day, which in our small and peaceful corner of the world we can easily take for granted.

But it's now absurd. For the past 12 days, hundreds of thousands of people have cast their vote at advance polling booths while the election campaign is in full swing.


Before the last leaders' debate even began on Wednesday night, 806,043 votes had been cast.

Advance voting has been steadily transforming our electoral conduct for the past three general elections. Before the 2011 election, you could only vote early by making a statutory declaration that you were unable to vote on election day itself. Now you can vote early just because you want to, and you're being encouraged to do so.

Nearly 40,000 people voted on September 11, the first day they could. Have any of them been stricken by regret? Has anything happened in the 12 days since, that's made them wish they could change their mind? Committing early does seem to be a gamble.

Then again, some people's political allegiances are so set in stone, it seems there is nothing that could change their minds.

Will it mostly be the last-minute undecided who vote today, or those who weren't going to bother but changed their mind?

You've probably seen the graphs that show the huge jump in advance voting in this election compared to the previous two. The Electoral Commission planned for as many as half the total votes being cast in advance (compared with 29 per cent in 2014).

But we either agree that the physical act of voting should not be influenced by campaign activity - or we don't. There is not a shred of sense in this farcical situation at which we have now arrived. Say I had voted on September 19, to celebrate the anniversary of women's suffrage in New Zealand. I would have voted in an environment saturated by political parties and candidates trying to influence my decision.

The exact same activity today is a criminal offence - that of interfering with or influencing voters - and carries a maximum fine of $20,000.


The Electoral Act wasn't written in the age of social media. But don't you go posting anything to Facebook or Instagram today about how you voted, selfies in the polling booth, or suggest to your mates how to vote.

Don't even like or retweet someone else's post from earlier in the week.

Well, that's the law any way. However, while 24 people were referred to the police after the 2014 election for their online posts, nobody was actually prosecuted - even those high-profile sportsmen with tens of thousands of followers.

It's all a silly mess. And who's to blame? It certainly isn't the hard-working staff at the Electoral Commission who do such a laudable job of running a fair and independent poll.

The commission prepares a report after each election, which it submits to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee. Following the 2014 election, the complaints and concerns about electioneering happening in and around advance polling places were duly noted.

It's up to Parliament to change the law to create consistency across the entire voting period. Some experts argue the way to resolve this is to remove the restrictions on campaigning on election day.

I'm not sure about that and evidence points to many people being very wedded to the notion of election day being advertising-free. But it's hard to see how the alternative is workable.

The select committee proposed mere tinkering to the regulations. So this time, there's been no electioneering allowed inside the advance polling booths, or within 10 metres of their entrance. Did you notice and appreciate that buffer zone?

We no longer have an election day. We have a day at the end of the election period when the results are counted.

And we need more conversation - in our communities and in Parliament - about the implications. Are there disadvantages or costs to a drawn-out voting period? What does it mean for how our elections are conducted, for how parties and candidates campaign, for our democracy?

The new status quo is a long voting period largely overlapping the campaign period and it seems to serve political parties and their campaigns well.

It's going to take some public pressure to encourage our MPs to consider the issues raised by oru enthusiastic uptake of advance voting. We can but hope, unlikely that it is, that our elected representatives will come to reasoned and non-partisan decisions that will ensure our future elections remain fair and free.

-Rachel Rose has taken great care to comply with section 197 of the Electoral Act 1993. More information and sources can be found at www.facebook.com/rachelrose.writer