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Up to and including the 2008 general election voters had to make a statutory declaration that they were unavailable to vote on election day before being allowed to cast an advance vote. However, before the 2011 election, voters could cast advance votes for virtually any reason at all. Even though the rule change was not widely promoted, advance votes leapt from just over 11 per cent in 2008 to almost 15 per cent in 2011.
The tally is expected to increase again this year with parties and the union-led Get Out and Vote campaign planning big promotional pushes to raise awareness of the option.
Laila Harre had a key role in developing the union-led Let's Get Out and Vote campaign before she left to assume the leadership of the Internet-Mana Party.
Internet-Mana will encourage those yet to get on the electoral roll to not only register but also cast their vote at the same time. That meant having volunteer and communications systems working on voter turnout for 18 days rather than just one day.
"In a sense, if you've got the organisation for it you're multiplying your volunteer resources by 18 if you're mobilised on every day rather than just one day."
That meant the election itself would effectively begin on September 3.
National Party campaign chairman Steven Joyce agreed that date now marked the beginning of the election and says his party is also gearing up to fight it on that basis.
The expected increase in advance votes was "definitely a factor in our decision making around campaigning and our advertising".
In recent elections National has polled anywhere between two and four percentage points higher through advance votes than it has on election day. Labour and the Greens have consistently polled lower in advance votes than those cast on election day.
Ms Harre puts National's record in capturing advance votes down to the fact they have traditionally been cast in institutions such as hospitals and rest homes, "so they would tend to reflect more conservative voting patterns".
That theory appears to be supported by the fact NZ First also does better proportionately from advance votes.
- By Adam Bennett of the New Zealand Herald