I’ve left it until the last minute to change my address with the election peeps so I’m waiting on my voting papers. Unpacking and sorting from this recent move has also meant I haven’t had much time to keep up with all the conflicting information about voting that’s out there, particularly on how to cast an informal vote. You can imagine my dismay then when I finally found some time to devote to it and saw scores of wild and conflicting ideas, mostly in the land of book face.
As this first flag referendum uses preferential voting, you are being asked to rank each flag in order of your preference from one to five, and the overall preferred flag after the votes have been counted will be the winner. That flag will then go head to head with the current New Zealand flag in a second referendum to decide if we change our flag or not.
If however large numbers of informal votes are cast instead in protest, then these votes could become the leverage politicians and other concerned New Zealanders need to challenge the government’s plans to spend more money on a second vote when these informal votes could already show it is unnecessary. If we already know what the likely outcome could be, it would then be very politically difficult for the government to justify such expenditure.
If you want to cast an informal vote, it helps to understand exactly what one is. An informal vote is not some special voting option, nor is it anything to be feared, all it is is a vote that does not indicate clearly the voter’s intentions. For example, a voter putting 1 in all the boxes because they thought they had to rank each flag individually out of five and they liked them all, rather than against each other out of five as the voting requires, would be classed as an informal vote because the voter did not indicate a ‘clear’ winner out of the five designs. Therefore putting an ‘x’ in each box is what will make your protest vote an ‘informal’ one because you have not indicated a clear winner.
However to ensure your vote serves its purpose as a ‘protest’ and not just classed as an informal vote done in error, you will need to write “Keep our current New Zealand flag” (or similar sentence) clearly, legibly and respectfully please on the ballot paper (no swearing, no whining – remember average joe blow citizens read these and they’re just going about their work like anyone else).
The ‘Keep our current New Zealand flag’ sentence is important, you must include it. If politicians were able to pressure a response from the government based on the sheer volumes of informals cast, it could trigger a selection of informal ballot papers being inspected. It is this sentence that will indicate to the reader that the voter deliberately chose not to pick a winner, ie it was intentional and not a mistake and the sentence has stated why.
So to recap, all you need to do to cast an informal vote in protest is to mark ‘x’ in each box and write “Keep our current New Zealand flag” on the ballot paper.
There has been suggestions that an informal vote has no bearing on the result of the first referendum and therefore is pointless, that a person should vote for the least liked flag instead. The thinking been that if that flag won then people would be more likely vote to retain our current flag in the next referendum than if another flag won. This seems like a solid idea as well but it is not something I have looked at in any depth as I prefer the protest option myself. Also to me, it is largely a moot point as the whole purpose of casting an informal vote is not to influence the outcome of the first referendum, rather as noted above, the job of informals is to provide leverage to stop a (possibly) unnecessary, and costly, second referendum from happening.
Whatever way you vote, informal/protest, for your least favoured, or for your favourite in the hope it takes out the incumbent at a future date, I wish you well. Some may not agree, but we do actually live in a democracy in New Zealand and that means any citizen eligible to vote is allowed to cast a vote (or not) in any general election, by-election or referendum as they see fit. That means you can vote for your preferred politician, or party or in this case flag design as you desire. Even if that is a desire to protest.
All the best.