Voting for Dummies

So… I see you’ve been ignoring that pesky politics thing for at least 18 years now. Ignorance is bliss, right? You scroll past the angry grapevine posts, the change.org petitions on your Insta story — it all looked a bit too distant and a bit too shouty.


But perhaps this year, that shiny, tangerine golem has finally gotten through to you. Maybe you’ve finally decided to get onto it, after you saw Orange Guy (with his new pup) on the back of a bus — him pleading with you to enrol and vote.


If so, then excellent. Now where to start.


The Basics


What is MMP and how does it work?


MMP is the system we use in Aotearoa to vote. Our votes are used to elect a legislature, or what’s more commonly known as a parliament.


Our parliament is made up of 120 seats, and we only have one legislative house unlike other countries such as the United States or Australia. In our parliament, politicians make and vote on the bills which then become laws.

In the MMP system, you get two votes.


Most of the time, the more important one is for the party you prefer — this is otherwise known as the ‘party vote’. When tallied up, this is the vote which decides how many seats a party will get in parliament. If 40% of people give their party vote to Labour then they’ll be allocated 40% of the seats in parliament.


Your second vote is then used to elect who’ll represent your local area or ‘electorate’ — there are 70 electorates and whoever gets the most votes will be elected to parliament.


In a lot of cases, this is the race that is less likely to be contentious. There are also seven Māori electorates allocated for tangata whenua.


In this system, MPs can also be elected from “party lists”, a list which is drawn up ahead of the election by parties, and which ranks party members and is used to fill up the allocation of seats which the party is entitled to from their party vote.


For parties to get into parliament, they either have to a) win 5% of the party vote, or b) win a single electorate seat which will enable them to have an allotment of electorate plus list MPs regardless of whether they reach 5%.


Once voting is finished and the dust settles, then that’s when the real decision-making begins. Parties with their number of allocated seats known, must negotiate with each other to form a partnership where the sum of seats would mean holding a majority in parliament. Whoever can manage to muster that majority then duly assumes the role of government.


Why has New Zealand adopted the MMP system?


In short, because it’s meant to let minor parties prosper more easily and it prevents situations where parties don’t get the same percentage of seats as they do a percentage of votes nationwide — an issue which exists in other countries who don’t use systems that ensure national proportionality.


This means that in theory, you get to be represented by smaller parties alongside the big parties. Unlike in other countries like the United States, this means there’s usually less factional activity happening within these two parties and more co-operation in parliament generally.


The Parties In Our Current Parliament


If you want to get more help learning about which parties have policies that’ll best align with your beliefs and priorities, search for TVNZ’s Vote Compass, Massey University’s On The Fence or The Spinoff’s Policy tool which can help you out. We don’t have enough space here, but there are also two referendum questions in this year’s election which you might’ve heard of. To learn more about the questions on assisted dying and cannabis, visit referendums.govt.nz. Get more details about enrolment and polling places at vote.nz




The National Party (blue) is the largest party in parliament, but failed to form a government after the previous election. They’re currently led by Papakura MP Judith Collins, who has been an MP for upwards of 18 years. The ‘Nats’ are usually more centre-right and conservative in nature. This means lower taxes (though not always), a greater focus on enterprise and businesses, with a generally more conservative view of social issues like drug law and abortion within its members. In the past three years, the party has gone through numerous party leaders and has been heavily critical of the policies of the Labour-led coalition government.




The Labour Party (red) is the largest party currently in power, having formed a three-party coalition government after the previous general election. They’re currently led by Mt. Roskill MP Jacinda Ardern, who also serves as party leader and Prime Minister. Labour is regarded by most commentators to be socially and economically progressive in its members' aspirations, but focused primarily on pragmatic policies in its work in the 21st century. In their term, Labour has had both successes and failures in meeting their 2017 campaign promises, which had focused on transformative progress in areas like education, public transport, building more houses, and reducing poverty.




NZ First (black) is the third-largest party in parliament and the second-largest party in the coalition government. They’re currently led by list MP Winston Peters, a person who has been an MP for nearly one-quarter the length of time which the NZ Parliament has existed. As part of Labour’s coalition agreement, he’s assumed the role of Deputy Prime Minister as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The party is nationalist, populist, socially conservative. As examples, they have opposed immigration on xenophobic grounds, pushed for a higher minimum wage and generally support having referendums on social issues like same-sex marriage, euthanasia and abortion (instead of voting for them directly in parliament). In their term, the party has pushed hard for items like more investment in rural towns and heavy rail.




The Green Party is the smallest party in the coalition government and the second smallest in parliament. They’re currently co-led by list MPs Marama Davidson and James Shaw, in an unusual arrangement which sees their party list get voted on. The Greens have a variety of focuses with significant emphasis placed on progressive environmental action as well as social and economic justice — the latter focused on a greater redistribution of wealth in society. Many commentators see the party as more idealistic than pragmatic, as compared to Labour. In their term, the party was instrumental in progressing the Zero Carbon Bill and pushing for the referendum on legalising cannabis. The Labour Leader of the House, Labour MP Chris Hipkins described the party as “to some extent, the conscience of the Labour Party [in the current government]”.



The ACT Party (yellow) has been the smallest party in parliament. The party is led by Epsom MP David Seymour, one of the youngest party leaders in Parliament and was part of the previous government prior to the 2017 election. ACT is a libertarian party which means they focus on pushing for more personal rights and a smaller government. In effect, this means they support lower taxes, more private businesses running infrastructure and more rights for individuals. An example of this from the past three years has been the assisted dying referendum, which David Seymour spearheaded as it furthered the rights of the terminally ill. Another example of this had been the party’s lone opposition to further firearms regulation following the March 15th terrorist attacks.




Advance NZ is the newest political party in Parliament. The party was originally led by disgraced Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross, but was joined in a party merger by musician Billy Te Kahika. The latter has become notable for spreading conspiracy theories on social media about COVID-19, with false claims that the pandemic had been planned. The party has also signal boosted conspiratorial claims about the effects of 5G, electromagnets, 1080, and water fluoridation. In response to the factual notion that they’re spreading conspiracy theories, Ross and Te Kahika say they’re being censored and boast of the party’s significant Facebook engagement as evidence that New Zealanders support them. Sidenote: Please don’t vote for them, thanks.