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History series - Election Day




The experience of voting in the mid-19th century was very different from today.

From the 1850s until 1881, there was no single 'election day'. The voting period could last weeks or even months! Elections were also organised locally, which meant each town or city had a different method of collecting the votes.  

New Zealand's first parliamentary elections began on 14th July 1853 in the Bay of Islands and ended on 1st October in Otago. That’s about 2 and a half months! Even though it took so long, there were fewer than 6000 registered voters and only 24 electorates.

A ‘single election day’ throughout New Zealand was not introduced until 1881. Even then, voting in general (European) and Maori seats was held on different days,  up until 1951.

All elections from 1881 to 1935 were held on weekdays. In 1938 and again in 1943, election day was a Saturday, but in 1946 and 1949 it reverted to a Wednesday. It was not until 1950 that the law was changed to ensure all elections took place on Saturdays.

There have been many changes over the years… but one thing remains constant, the privilege and responsibility of freely electing our own members of parliament – representatives of the people -  tasked with making good law for all who live in our beautiful country.