Two weeks out from the election, New Zealanders based overseas are being called on to make their voice heard by the “team of 5 million” back home.
Every Kiwi Vote Counts, a new non-partisan initiative, is seeking to increase low turnout among overseas voters with a tongue-in-cheek social media campaign encouraging Kiwis offshore to “meddle” in their election.
Founder Tracey Lee – a brand strategist and sociologist – said the aim was to encourage “global Kiwis” to play their part in shaping New Zealand’s future, in light of their contribution to the country from afar and in the event of their return.
The referendums on end of life choice and cannabis legalisation will also have an impact on the country beyond choosing the next government.
“Global Kiwis have a unique and useful perspective,” Lee wrote in an opinion piece for The Spinoff. “They represent a quarter of our tertiary educated population. As New Zealand citizens, they have been exposed to different systems, cultures and workplaces.
“Just as ‘intellectual diversity’ is recognised as a benefit to boards, we would benefit from diversity of thinking in our voters. Their vision for New Zealand is long term, just as the challenges we face as a nation are. It’s time we faced our future as a team of 6 million.”
Lee suggested that in future New Zealand might consider appointing a “minister for the diaspora”, as Ireland has had since 2014 (though the Irish diaspora is not permitted to vote from overseas).
As a “circular migrant” now returned to New Zealand after 15 non-consecutive years spent overseas, Lee had voted in elections from New York, Shanghai and Amsterdam – but overwhelmingly, the diaspora does not participate.
Just 61,524 overseas votes were recorded at the last election in 2017, with most from Australia, the UK, Germany and China – though there are estimated to be 568,000 New Zealand-born residents of Australia alone.
A 2018 government analysis of voter turnout at the 2014 election found that the second-most common reason for eligible New Zealanders’ non-participation (after “disengagement”) was “a perceived barrier”, which included being overseas.
But the trend line has been tracking upwards from 21,496 overseas votes in the 2011 election and 40,132 in 2014.
As of 28 September, the Electoral Commission said about 67,000 New Zealand voters were currently enrolled at an overseas address. With enrolment open until the night before the election, Lee is hopeful that the Every Kiwi Vote Counts campaign can drive that number higher.
The New Zealand diaspora is often put at 1 million (though a 2012 government analysis was more cautious). On the basis of eligibility rates within the country, Lee suggested that “a conservative estimate” put the total of eligible overseas voters at 600,000 – 10 times the size of the Auckland Central, Wellington Central or Christchurch Central electorates.
But many will be ineligible to enrol under laws requiring that citizens have visited the country within the past three years (and residents within the past 12 months).
A New Zealander based in Italy named Hayley, who did not want her surname published, told Stuff that her plans to return home before the election – in part so as to secure her vote – had been disrupted by the pandemic. She called for the three-year requirement to be extended to four, to “cover those of us who wanted to come home but couldn’t”.
But when the question was raised in a post-Cabinet press conference in late July, prime minister Jacinda Ardern showed no intent to revise the law.
“You would have to determine and demonstrate intent to return. I don’t think that’s something that we could create an easy legislative fix for. For anyone who’s caught up in those circumstances, I’m saddened by it. I want people to feel like they maintain that connection, but, of course, voting is only one way to demonstrate your connection to New Zealand.”
How to vote from overseas
To be eligible to vote, overseas New Zealanders must be citizens who have visited since 17 October 2017; or permanent residents who have visited within the past 12 months.
New Zealand public servants and defence force personnel (and their families) working overseas are granted an exception.
Eligible overseas voters must be enrolled by midnight (NZ time) on Friday 16 October, while voting closes at 7pm (NZ time) on election day, Saturday 17 October – but the Electoral Commission advises doing both ahead of time.
You can enrol or check or update your details here. You will need a New Zealand passport, driver’s licence or RealMe government login.
Once enrolled, the easiest way to vote is to download and print voting papers at this link. There will be one voting paper for the general election, and another for the referendums on end of life choice and cannabis reform.
Once filled out, these can be returned the following ways:
The option to return votes to New Zealand by post was removed after the last election, due to the number that were not received in time to be counted. Email votes are not accepted.
Find out more – or vote – at https://vote.nz/overseas/