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Election glossary

Published date: 14 Feb 2020

Elections have their own language that can be hard to understand. This glossary lists common terms and explains what they mean.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

Address (to the Sovereign or Governor-General)

A formal communication from the House of Representatives to the Crown in which the House makes known its views. They are usually in reply to a Speech from the Throne or to commend appropriations for Offices of Parliament.

Address in Reply

The House’s response to the Speech from the Throne delivered at the beginning of each session of Parliament.

Adjournment

Bringing a sitting of the House to a close. For example, “The House now stands adjourned”. It also describes the period between sittings of the House.

Advance voting

An ordinary or special vote cast in the period after nomination day but before election day.

Assisted dying

The administration by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of medication to a person to relieve their suffering by hastening death.

B

Binding referendum

The Government has to act on the result of this type of referendum. These are held when an Act has been passed, but needs a referendum to come into force.

Boundaries

The physical boundaries of an electorate determined by the Representation Commission according to criteria specified in the Electoral Act 1993.

Broadcasting period

The period between writ day and the end of the day before election day (16 August to 18 September) in which election programmes can be broadcast on radio and television.

By-election

An election held during a parliamentary term when the seat of an electorate MP becomes vacant. For example, when a member dies or resigns.

C

Cabinet

The central decision-making body of executive Government. Chaired by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet is a collective forum for Ministers to decide significant Government issues.

Candidate

Someone who puts his or her name forward for election to Parliament.

Caretaker government

The government in office prior to the general election continues as a ‘caretaker government’ after the general election until a new government is sworn in.

Caucus

A collective term for all members from the same political party. A caucus meets regularly in private to consider party matters.

Chamber

The debating chamber where the House of Representatives meets. It has rows of seats and desks in a U-shape facing the Speaker's Chair.

Clerk / Clerk of the House of Representatives

The principal permanent officer of the House of Representatives. The Clerk is also the chief executive of the Office of the Clerk.

Coalition Government

A type of Government that is formed from more than one party.

Commission Opening of Parliament

Commissioners (senior judges) are sent by the Governor-General to declare Parliament open, MPs are sworn in and the House of Representatives elects a Speaker.

Constituency

A district or area represented by a member of Parliament. Electoral boundaries are reviewed and redrawn by the Representation Commission.

Constituent

A person living in an electorate.

Crown

The King or Queen of New Zealand when exercising powers through Ministers. In effect, the Executive or Government.

D

Dissolution of Parliament

The day the current session of Parliament comes to an end in order to hold a general election. It occurs via an official proclamation from the Governor-General. The proclamation becomes effective either when it is published in the New Zealand Gazette, or when it is publicly read by someone authorised by the Governor-General to do so in the presence of the Clerk of the House of Representatives and two others.

E

Election

The process by which electors vote for members of Parliament.

Election announced

Prime Minister announces the date for the General Election.

Election day/polling day

A day that must be a Saturday where all enrolled voters are able to cast a vote at a polling booth between 9.00am and 7.00pm.

Elector

A person who is eligible to vote in an election.

Electoral roll

The list of names of people who are registered electors for an electorate.

Electorate

A district or area represented by a member of Parliament. Electoral boundaries are reviewed and redrawn by the Representation Commission.

Electorate MP

A member elected to represent an electorate.

Electorate office

A member’s office in his or her area or district.

Executive

A decision-making group made up of the Prime Minister and other Ministers. The Government of the day forms the executive.

Expiration

The ending of a Parliament if it exceeds the legal time limit, which is three years from the date set for the declaration of the results after the previous general election. The expiration of a Parliament triggers a general election. Parliaments are usually dissolved before they expire. (See also dissolution)

F

Formation of Government

Following the preliminary election night results, the party or parties that can command an absolute majority of the seats in Parliament begin to negotiate to form a government.

G

Gallery

The public seating areas above the Chamber.

General election

The election held after each term of Parliament, usually 3 years, to elect members of a new Parliament.

General Electorates

One of 72 geographic areas (periodically defined and named by the Representation Commission) which can be contested by candidates of any ethnicity, and who are enrolled on either the General or Māori Roll. Voters, who have to be on the General Roll, elect one electorate MP who must gain a plurality of the electorate votes cast in that electorate.

General electorate candidate

A New Zealand citizen, of any ethnicity and who is enrolled on either the General or Māori Roll, who has been nominated to contest one of 65 geographic areas.

Government

The group of people, political party or parties, represented in the House with the authority to govern the country. (See also executive).

Government House

The Governor-General’s official residence.

Governor-General

The Sovereign’s representative in New Zealand. Until 1917 the title used for the Sovereign’s representative was Governor. (See also Administrator of the Government)

H

House of Representatives

The assembled body of elected members of Parliament.

Hemp

Hemp contains very low amounts of psychoactive chemicals and is used to create various products such as oil, rope fibre and hemp seeds. Hemp is not included in the proposed law that will be voted on in the referendum.

I

Interregnum

The period between the end of one term of Government and the start of another.

L

Last sitting day of Parliament

The last day the current session of Parliament sits, prior to its dissolution.

Law

Binding rules by which society is governed

Leader of the House

The Minister, appointed by the Prime Minister, who coordinates Government business in the House.

Leader of the Opposition

The leader of the largest political party in the House that is not part of the Government.

Legislation

Laws, Acts of Parliament, or bills. (See also regulations)

Legislative Council Chamber

The chamber in Parliament House where the Legislative Council, or Upper House, met before its abolition in 1951. The Legislative Council Chamber is still used for formal occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament.

Legislative process

The process by which the House considers a bill before it becomes an Act of Parliament. To be successful, a bill must be read three times.

List MP

A member drawn from a political party’s list. 

M

Mace

A symbol of the Speaker’s authority. At the beginning of a sitting day, the Serjeant-at-Arms carries the Mace into the Chamber and places it on the Table. When the Chairperson is presiding over the committee of the whole House, he or she places it in a cradle underneath the Table.

Maiden speech

The first speech made by a new member in the Chamber, when that speech is made during the Address in Reply debate.

Maiden statement

The first speech made by a new member in the Chamber, when that speech is not made during the Address in Reply debate.

Māori Electorate

One of seven geographic areas (periodically defined and named by the Representation Commission) which can be contested by candidates of any ethnicity, and who are enrolled on either the General or Māori Roll. Voters, who have to be on the Māori Roll, elect one electorate MP who must gain a plurality of the electorate votes cast in that electorate.

Māori electorate candidate

A New Zealand citizen, of any ethnicity and who is enrolled on either the General or Māori Roll, who has been nominated to contest one of seven geographic areas.

Medicinal cannabis

Cannabis used solely for medicinal purposes. It is not included in the proposed law that will be voted on in the referendum.

Member of Parliament (MP)

A person elected to the House of Representatives. A member may be elected to represent an electorate or may be from a political party’s list. (See also electorate MP, list MP, or mixed-member proportional representation)

Minister

A member who is part of the Executive. Ministers are usually responsible for one or more Government departments or agencies. (see also Executive)

Minority Government

A Government formed by a party or coalition of parties that does not have a majority in the House in its own right, but retains the confidence of the House through the support or abstention of members who are not in a Government party.

Mixed-member proportional representation (MMP)

The voting system used to select New Zealand’s members of Parliament, of which there are generally 120. Each voter casts two votes—one for a political party and one for a local candidate.

N

Nomination day

The last day by which all nominations for individual (electorate) candidates must be made to a Returning Officer. The deadline for party list candidates and bulk nominations by registered party secretaries is noon on the day before nomination day.

Non-binding referendum

A referendum where the Government does not have to act on, or make changes based on the referendum result. All citizen-initiated referendums are non-binding.

O

Office of the Clerk

The secretariat of the House of Representatives. It gives specialist advice on parliamentary procedure and law, and provides administrative services to the Speaker and members as they participate in the business of the House and its committees. 

Official results

The day the final results for the General Election (and any referendums) are declared, including a count of the valid special votes (October 9).

Opposition

Members who do not belong to the political party or parties forming the Government, or who have not agreed to support the Government.

Ordinary vote

A vote cast by a voter who is on the printed roll in the voting place they go to, and that are cast either on Election Day or in advance of Election Day.

Overseas voting/vote

A special declaration vote cast outside New Zealand by enrolled voters who are eligible if they are either New Zealand citizens and have visited New Zealand in the last 3 years, or permanent residents of New Zealand who have visited New Zealand in the last 12 months (overseas voting begins on September 2nd).

P

Parliament

The Sovereign and the House of Representatives.

Parliament Buildings

Parliament House, the Beehive, the Parliamentary Library, and Bowen House.

Parliament grounds

The landscaped gardens and open area surrounding Parliament House, the Beehive, and the Parliamentary Library.

Parliament House

The central building where the House meets. It houses the Chamber, most select committee meeting rooms, and some member’s offices.

Parliamentary forecourt

The paved area immediately in front of the Beehive and Parliament House. The forecourt is used in ceremonial occasions, such as welcoming visiting dignitaries.

Party

A political group that stands for a defined set of policies and puts candidates forward in elections.

Plurality

A plurality occurs when a candidate receives less than half the votes but who receives the most votes (at least one more vote than any other candidate). There is no requirement in New Zealand that electorate candidates must win a majority (50% of the votes plus one) of the valid electorate votes.

Preliminary results

The initial election-night count of ordinary votes cast on, or before election day. The preliminary results exclude the special votes cast by voters who are overseas, or who are voting outside their electorate, or who are not on the printed roll for their electorate.

Presiding officer

The person who controls the debate in the Chamber or the running of select committee meetings. The Speaker, Chairperson of the committee of the whole House, or another member acting in their place are the presiding officers in the Chamber. The chairperson is the presiding officer for select committee meetings.

Prime Minister

The leader of the Government. The Prime Minister is usually the leader of the political party with the most members in the House.

Q

Queen Elizabeth II

Not just the Queen of the United Kingdom – she is the Head of State and Sovereign of New Zealand. She is represented in New Zealand by the Governor-General.

R

Rank

The ranks shown in the tables for each general electorate (1-64), or each Māori electorate (1-7), reflect the relative position of each electorate in terms of the proportion of the electorate’s stated or total population for each measure. Electorates are ranked from the highest percent figure (ranked 1) to the lowest percent figure (ranked 64 or 7). Using a different total for the denominator may alter the rankings. Where no information is available the electorate is not ranked.

Recreational cannabis

It is currently illegal to use or possess, grow or supply cannabis for recreational use. The proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill outlines a proposed law that would regulate cannabis for recreational use.

Referendum

A mechanism that allows registered electors to vote on a matter of public policy.

Regulated period/pre-election period

Refers to the three-month period before election day where candidates, political parties and registered third parties may spend a certain amount on election advertising (19 June to 18 September). Some restraints on government actions and decision making are also expected to be applied.

Return of the writ

The day on which a writ, containing the full name of every constituency candidate elected and signed by the Chief Electoral Officer, is returned to the Clerk of the House on or before the date specified by the Governor General on writ day (The last day for the return of the writ is Thursday 15th October 2020).

S

Serjeant-at-Arms

A permanent officer of the House of Representatives. The Serjeant-at-Arms maintains order in the House and galleries. He or she also leads the Speaker into the Chamber each sitting day carrying the Mace over their right shoulder.

Sitting day

A day on which the House meets. The House usually sits on Tuesday and Wednesday from 2pm to 6pm and 7.30pm to 10pm and on Thursday from 2pm to 6pm. The House can sit on a Friday and Saturday, but not on a Sunday.

Sovereign

The King or Queen of New Zealand. The Governor-General represents the Sovereign in New Zealand.

Speaker

The principal presiding officer of the House of Representatives. The Speaker is a member of Parliament who has been elected to that role by the other members. The Speaker represents the House to the Sovereign and Governor-General. A Deputy Speaker or an Assistant Speaker may perform the Speaker’s role when he or she is absent.

Special vote

A vote cast at a general election, by-election, or referendum by a voter who is unable to cast an ordinary vote, including those who are overseas, or who are voting outside their electorate, or who are not on the printed roll for their electorate.

Speech from the Throne

A speech made by the Sovereign or Governor-General to officially open a session of Parliament. The Speech from the Throne outlines the Government's legislative and policy plans.

State Opening of Parliament

The ceremonial occasion when the Governor-General delivers the Speech from the Throne to open a new session of Parliament.

T

Term of Parliament

The period from the Opening of Parliament after a general election until the Parliament ends (either by dissolution or expiration).

Total votes cast

The total number of votes cast by enrolled electors, including valid votes, informal votes, and disallowed special votes.

Turnout

Expressed as a percentage turnout is the total number of votes cast (including valid votes, disallowed votes, and informal votes) as a proportion of the number of electors enrolled on Election Day.

U

Usher of the Black Rod

See Black Rod, Usher of the.

V

Valedictory statement

The last speech made by a member in the Chamber before they resign or retire.

Vote

Any enrolled New Zealand citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18 can vote on which MP and party they want to represent them in Parliament.

Voting age population

The estimated population eligible to vote that includes enrolled and non-enrolled voters. The figures are supplied by the Electoral Commission and are as at 30 June 2014 using 2013 census data.

W

Whip

A member who acts as a party manager. Whips prepare lists of members from their party to speak in the Chamber and ensure that members of their party are present in the Chamber when needed. They can also cast votes on behalf of their parties.

Writ

The formal direction issued by the Governor-General telling the Electoral Commission to hold the general election.

Writ day

The day on which the Governor-General issues a writ (a formal written direction) to the Chief Electoral Officer to hold a general election, by-election or referendum. In the case of a general election or by-election, the writ specifies the dates of nomination day, Election Day and the latest day for the return of the writ.