Will Judith Collins cost John Key his third term?

And other assorted closing thoughts on this most unusual of election campaigns.

So, apparently there will be an election tomorrow. If you haven't yet voted, you should do so by 7pm tomorrow. Otherwise one of the Electoral Commission's kill squads will hunt you down and leave your body lying in the street for the vultures to feast on. This is an aspect of their role that does not get publicised nearly as much as it should.

Anyhow, seeing as we're at the ragged tail-end of what is one of the more unusual election campaigns, I thought I'd leave you with some randomish thoughts on what might happen tomorrow and following.

The first relates to the role that the late, lamented Judith Collins may yet play in the formation of the next government. No, I don't mean her relationship with a certain blogger whom we don't name and that whole Dirty Tricks imbroglio. Nor do I refer to the fevered dreams that some seem to have that her "faction" of National may roll John Key as leader and try to do a deal with Winston Peters to return to office.

Instead, I want to look back to one of my pet bugbears - the review of MMP by the Electoral Commission and the fate of the recommendations that it made for reforming our electoral system. I posted on my unhappiness with how the outcome of that review was treated here, including my grumpiness with:

the sheer bad faith involved in opening up the issue of electoral reform and inviting the ordinary public to participate directly in what they are told is a process of improving their electoral system so that it reflects the rules they think it ought to have, only to turn around and say that because the political parties who fight elections under those rules aren't happy with the outcome of that process, nothing will change.

With that history in mind, here's a possible scenario for tomorrow night. Hone Harawira wins Te Tai Tokerau and Internet Mana get 2% of the vote, giving them 3 MPs. The Conservatives get 4.6% of the Party Vote, meaning they get no MPs. National gets 45% of the party vote, while ACT and United Future get one seat each and the Maori Party wins 2 electorates.

In that scenario, it all comes down to What Winston Wants - which could be anything. Including supporting some sort of Labour-Greens arrangement in Government. 

But had Judith Collins supported the Electoral Commission's recommendations while she was Justice Minister and pushed to abolish the "coat-tailing" rule for parties that win "electorate lifeboats", while lowering the party vote threshold to 4%? Well, then, National would be starting its third term with the confidence and supply support of the Conservatives (and no doubt some sort of accomodation with Winston Peters, for issues where the Conservatives won't play nice).

Now, of course, I'm being deeply unfair by singling out Judith Collins here. No doubt she was acting on her cabinet colleagues' instructions to kill off a review that the government itself had decided to hold. But that is OK. She can always pay me back double at some future point.

Moving on, my second thought relates to "special votes". We might want to be clear about what these are (and are not) in relation to both the remarkably large number of early votes we've seen cast and the results we'll see tomorrow evening.

There is a difference between "special votes" and "advance ordinary votes". Advance ordinary votes are cast by people who are on the printed electoral roll for the electoral district that they are voting in, it's just that they get cast before election day itself. These votes then get counted on election day (starting at 2pm) and so are included in the election night tally.

Because these advance ordinary votes start being counted early, and because there's so many of them, I think we can expect to see a quicker than usual announcement of the election night results this year. Furthermore, we can expect to see a large dump of information quite early in the night, once each polling place finishes counting these advance early votes. We do, however, need to be careful in assuming that the sorts of people who have voted early are the same as those who have not done so. So I wouldn't be surprised to see some swings in the results as the night progresses.

Special votes are cast by people who are not on the printed electoral roll for the electoral district in which they are voting. This may be because they are voting outside of their electoral district, or because they had not enrolled before the closing date for the printed rolls. These special votes may be cast before election day as an early vote, or on election day itself. They aren't counted on election day, but rather a few days after the polls close.

Now, we don't know what proportion of the wave of early votes that we are seeing - it's possible that some 600,000 people, or 20-odd percent of voters, will have voted by the end of today - are casting advance ordinary votes or special votes. But given the comparatively low enrolment figures at the moment - only 91 percent of eligible voters are enrolled to vote, compared to 93-95 percent in previous elections - you might suspect that there's a fair chunk of not-enrolled folk who are showing up at polling places, filling out enrollment forms (so that they will appear on the electoral roll), and then casting special votes. 

(An important note for anyone not yet enrolled to vote - you will not be able to do this tomorrow! So if you want to vote, you must get an enrolment form from your nearest Post Shop, fill it out, and give it to the staff there before it closes tonight! If you don't, then your vote won't be counted.)

Which means that we could concievably be going to see a largish number of special votes remaining to be counted after the election night results are announced. In 2011, there were 263,469 of these that had to be counted after the election - well over 10 percent of the final total. It is possible we'll see even more this time around. And these special votes don't even start getting counted until 10 days after election day, meaning that we don't see the results of the count for at least 2 weeks. 

All of which means it may not be over even when it looks to be over. Because if past special vote trends hold true for this election (no guarantee that they will, but), special votes tend to favour parties on "the Left" (i.e. the Greens and Labour). Which, in a tight-run result may prove crucial to the final outcome. Furthermore, in some important electorates - Te Tai Tokerau, especially - the counting of specials may swing the result one way or the other. So just bear that in mind.

Finally, a word on Government Formation.

Starting on Saturday night and getting louder on Sunday onwards, there will be a chant raised: "The largest party has a moral mandate to govern!" We need to recognise this claim for what it is (and is not).

It is not a statement of constitutional practice or obligation. There is nothing - nothing - in our constitutional arrangements that says the largest party has any sort of right to be a part of government. The constitutional rule is clear and minimal: you need a majority of MPs to support you on issues of confidence and supply. And that is all.

So what this claim is is an appeal to New Zealander's understanding of how things ought to work. Which is fine - government formation is a political process, people are going to use political arguments to try and get the result they want, and that will include making appeals to the public's view of what is right and proper.

But do not let people insert a "must" for an "ought". If the next government is formed without the largest party being a part of it, then that is a perfectly acceptable constitutional outcome. Whether it is the right outcome is then for the public to judge.

OK. I'm done for now. I'll be on National Radio's Sunday morning post-election wrap up from 7-9am, when I'll be able to make some comments on what has actually happened. Before then, I'll be taking my 3 and 6 year old down to the Long Beach hall on Saturday morning to take part in voting. They are very excited about the prospect, having formed decided and hard-line views on the comparative merits of the various parties (based primarily on whether or not they like the colours associated with them).

So let's rediscover the kid inside ourselves. Make it an event. Join the communal celebration. Go and vote.