How are general election votes counted?

Our process for counting votes is very thorough and careful, so everyone can trust the results.

Counting the votes is a big job.

We do the preliminary counts first and then the official count.

The chief electoral officer declares the official results 20 days after voting closes.

It is a manual count

All votes are counted by hand in New Zealand. We do not use vote counting machines.

Once the count is complete for each voting place during the official count, the totals are recorded on a certificate of results which is signed by the returning officer and a Justice of the Peace.

The results are entered into our Election Management System which records the results.

The Election Management System was developed in New Zealand. The system regularly undergoes independent security testing and certification.

Preliminary counts give early results on election night

We do two preliminary counts in the presence of scrutineers:

  • one for votes cast before election day (advance votes)
  • one for votes cast on election day (ordinary votes). 

We count special votes later as they can come in up to 10 days after election day.

What is a special vote?

Counting votes cast before election day

From 9am on election day, we can count advance votes. We count them at secure electorate headquarters across New Zealand.

Returning officers in each electorate make sure the count follows the rules in the Electoral Act.

Counting votes cast on election day

After voting closes at 7pm, we count ordinary votes. The manager of each voting place opens the voting boxes and the party votes and electorate votes are counted.  

We publish the preliminary count results as they come in

After 7pm on election night, the results are phoned through to headquarters where they are recorded in a spreadsheet. We enter the preliminary count results into our national election results system. We then publish the results on and give them to the media.

Our target on election night is to have:

  • 50% of results available by 10pm
  • 95% of results available by 11.30pm.

Official count gives the final election results

We start the official count the day after election day. The chief electoral officer declares the official results 20 days after election day.

We need to allow time for counting the special votes, which can come in up to 10 days after election day.

We scrutinise the electoral roll and prepare the master roll

To begin the official count, returning officers create a master roll which lists the names of people who voted in each electorate. We call this ‘scrutinising the roll’. We scrutinise the roll to identify voters who may have voted more than once. If someone has voted more than once, we don’t include their voting papers in the official count.

We make the master roll available for public inspection after the election.

We process and check special votes

We must count special votes in the electorate they were cast for. That’s why the deadline for special votes is 10 days after election day. It gives us time to return special votes to the correct electorate for counting. 

We check every special vote to make sure each person is enrolled and eligible to vote.

If a special voter’s name isn’t on the electoral roll, the registrar of electors carries out more extensive checks. The registrar then says whether the voter is enrolled.

When we’ve confirmed a special vote is valid, we:

  • mark the voter off the master roll or add the voter's name to a list of voters not on the roll
  • add the vote to the official count. 

What is a special vote?

A special vote is like a normal vote but the voter must also sign a declaration form. A voter must cast a special vote whenever they:

  • aren’t on the printed electoral roll at a voting place
  • vote away from a voting place because they can’t get to one.

We process ‘Party Vote Only’ special votes

When a voter casts a vote for an electorate they’re not eligible to vote in, the returning officer must disallow their electorate vote. However, we count their party vote and record it as a ‘Party Vote Only’.

We recheck and recount voting papers

We recheck and recount every voting paper counted on election day to make sure we’ve counted each vote correctly.

We count referendum votes if a referendum has been held

If a referendum has been held, we count the referendum votes at this point and announce the results with the official election results.

The chief electoral officer declares the official election results

When the official count is final, the chief electoral officer declares the official election results and any referendum results by publishing a notice in the official government newspaper, the New Zealand Gazette.

New Zealand Gazette

The results are also available online at

The certificate of results for each electorate for the 2020 General Election, signed by the returning officer and a Justice of the Peace, are available below.

2020 certificates of results (ZIP, 26MB)

Period for recounts and petitions opens

For a limited time, certain people can apply for a recount or challenge an election result through an election petition.

Election recounts and petitions

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