New Zealand PM votes a week before polls close in election

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has voted in the nation’s general election, a week before polls officially close.

Ardern cast her vote in her Auckland district Saturday after visiting a market in the heavily Polynesian south Auckland suburb of Otara, where she was thronged by supporters.

Ardern’s Labour Party has governed since the 2017 general election, when it was able to forge a narrow majority in New Zealand’s 120-seat Parliament in a coalition with the left-wing Greens and right-wing New Zealand First parties.

Recent polls show a more comfortable result this year, with the Labour Party leading the National Party, led by 61-year-old conservative Judith Collins, by as many as 13 points.

More than 700,000 people had voted by Saturday, a week before the official election day of Oct. 17, according to the New Zealand Electoral Commission. Hundreds of thousands more are expected to vote during the coming week.

Ardern’s visit to Otara was an effort to get out the vote in an electorate in which Labour out-polls National by around four votes to one.

“We’re seeing really high turnout at the moment for advance voting,” Ardern said. “We want to make sure everyone uses their voice until election day.”

Voters have four choices to make this year. They are picking a candidate to represent their electorate and choosing which party to give their “party vote.” Seats in Parliament are allocated on the basis of seats won and the percentage of the vote won by each party.

Voters also face two referendums. They will vote on the decriminalization of cannabis and on the legalization of “assisted dying” in limited cases.

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