12:05am: The final result, with all booths counted, gives National 60 seats, Labour 34, the Green Party 13, NZ First 8, Maori Party 3, while the Mana Party, UnitedFuture and ACT all win a seat each.
11:59pm: Prime Minister John Key says understanding with the Greens probably won't go beyond current arrangement.
11:58pm: Prime Minister John Key declines to indicate whether or not he'll lead National into the next election.
11:54pm: Prime Minister John Key says if he was a betting man he'd back the Maori Party to stay in the Government.
11:52pm: Prime Minister John Key says the Government is moderate and centrist.
He was committed to involving other parties.
11:50pm: Prime Minister John Key says a lot of New Zealanders obviously thought the Government had done things right during a tough three years.
11:47pm: Prime Minister John Key says tonight he will be having a couple of beers.
11:45pm: Prime Minister John Key says the Government wants to get started quickly on welfare reform, getting the books in order and the mixed ownership model for assets.
11:44pm: Prime Minister John Key says he also wants to talk to the Greens.
11:42pm: Prime Minister John Key says National has delivered best result since 1951.
11:39pm: Prime Minister John Key says he is heading off now for "something stronger than a cup of tea".
11:38pm: Prime Minister John Key thanks his family, saying he couldn't do it without their support.
"It's pretty tough having your dad as Prime Minister."
11:37pm: Prime Minister John Key says Phil Goff was very gracious in defeat and wished him the best for the future.
He says Goff is a hardworking MP with the best interests of NZ at heart.
11:36pm: Prime Minister John Key says he has spoken to the leaders of ACT, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party about being in the Government.
11:34pm: Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand has experienced the worst of times in the past year but shown its best qualities in response.
11:33pm: Prime Minister John Key says more people voted National today than three years ago.
11:32pm: Prime Minister John Key hails his supporters, saying it's a fabulous night to be the leader of the National party.
11:29pm: National's supporters give Prime Minister John Key a rapturous welcome.
11:28pm: Prime Minister John Key says he is happy with his party's election result.
Key says NZ First took votes off Labour.
11:27pm: Prime Minister John Key arrives at National's party in central Auckland.
11:18pm: National's campaign manager Steven Joyce says it has won its biggest share of the vote in 60 years.
11:16pm: John Key has left home to head to National's party in central Auckland.
11:13pm: Christchurch Central result has National's Nicky Wagner and Labour's Brendon Burns tied on 10,493 votes.
The electorate will now be decided by special votes, with a recount highly likely.
10:59pm: Labour leader Phil Goff says he has made a clear decision on what to do about the leadership but he won't be saying anything publicly till Tuesday.
10:58pm: Labour leader Phil Goff says the party will be back to make a difference for New Zealand.
10:55pm: Labour leader Phil Goff says he will discuss the future with his caucus on Tuesday.
He says the party has bled support to the Greens and NZ First.
10:52pm: Labour leader Phil Goff says he has called John Key and wished him well.
However, Labour will continue to fight against policy it believes is not good for, or supported, by the country - like asset sales.
"We will fight and fight and fight on."
He said he was proud they had the guts to take the decisions they did.
He called on the party to go and rebuild.
"We in the Labour Party have made a difference for our country and we will make it again."
10:50pm: Labour leader Phil Goff says people have made their decision and it wasn't the party's time at this election.
"Our time will come again.
"We are a bit bloodied but we are not defeated."
Goff says Labour will keep fighting for the things it believes in.
10:49pm: Labour leader Phil Goff says there are a few things to celebrate tonight - highlighting success of new MPs.
Praises Damien O'Connor for winning back West Coast, where Labour began.
10:48pm: Labour leader Phil Goff says his first thank you is to New Zealanders who voted Labour.
Second is to his wife, Mary.
10:45pm: Hone Harawira has announced himself as winner of Te Tai Tokerau.
He is 750 votes ahead of Labour MP Kelvin Davis with 98.5 per cent of the votes counted.
Harawira is likely to return to Parliament alone because his fellow Mana Party candidates failed to win their electoral seats.
10:40pm: Labour leader Phil Goff arrives to meet his supporters in Mt Roskill.
10:39pm: ACT leader Don Brash says he will be resigning as leader of the party.
Brash says he will tender his resignation to the board tomorrow.
10:36pm: ACT leader Don Brash says the party is crucial to the Government.
He thanks John Banks for doing a "fantastic job".
Brash says he has just been called by John Key, who wants to work with ACT.
10:25pm: Brendon Burns edges ahead - by four votes - over National's Nicky Wager, a former Environment Canterbury Councillor, in Christchurch.
10:20pm: Charles Chauvel concedes, saying Dunne's 1500-vote majority on Ohariu was going to be too big to overcome with just 10,000 votes left to come in.
"The endorsement from John Key has had an effect and that's likely to be the outcome."
The combined Labour-Green electorate vote showed the seat was split evenly between the progressive and conservative vote, though.
"It's reason to be optimistic next time."
10:19pm: Peter Dunne says it is too early to talk about what role he will take, if any, in the new Government.
But he says he enjoys his roles as Revenue Minister and Associate Minister of Health and is keen to continue.
10:17pm: John Banks says ''I feel responsibility that I am going to Parliament to keep the [ACT] dream alive.
He thanks predecessor Rodney Hide.
10:15pm: The Mana Party celebrations in Kaitaia continue with kai and song, despite Mana receiving just 1 per cent of party votes.
Party leader Hone Harawira is currently leading the race for Tai Tokerau by 800 votes.
10:12pm: John Banks says the cup of tea with Prime Minister John Key was worth it.
10:05pm: John Banks says ACT is back and he's indebted to the people of Epsom.
10:01pm: Green Party co-leaders Russel Norman and Metiria Turei receive rapturous applause from their supporters.
10pm: It is possible as many as six seats will change hands - Waimakariri and Christchurch Central from Labour to National; Waitakere is in the balance, but Labour could take it from National, and Te Tai Tonga could fall into Labour's hands, after being held by the Maori Party. The West Coast is returning to Labour from National.
9:54: As the number of polling booths counted topped 80 per cent, the prospect of National holding a majority in the House is in the balance.
With 81.8 per cent of booths in National was on 48.7 per cent in the crucial party vote, which determmines the proportion of seats allocated to each party.
Labour has attracted 26.5 per cent of voters, the Green Party 10.5 per cent - its best since it started fighting elections in 1999 - NZ First 6.8, the Conservative Party 2.8, Maroi Party 1.4, ACT 1.1, Mana 1.0, UnitedFuture 0.6 and Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party 0.5.
That would give National 61 seats, Labour 33, Green Party 13, NZ First 8, Maori Party 3, ACT 1, Mana 1, and UnitedFuture 1 - a 121-seat Parliament.
9:41pm: NZ First leader Winston Peters lauds his party's return to Parliament, praising its supporters.
Says some parties spent four thousand times what NZ First did on the campaign.
Peters jokes that his party didn't hire a big enough hall for the celebrations.
Prime Minister John Key helped breath life into the NZ First campaign by refusing to release the "tea pot tapes", leaving the way clear for Peters to make political capital over what was said in them.
"Our aim is to be co-operative and constructive," he said of his return to Parliament.
With National seemingly headed back to the Government benches, attention turned to the crucial seats of Ohariu and Epsom, where UnitedFuture and Epsom were fighting for survival.
In Epsom, ACT candidate John Banks is opening a gap on National's Paul Goldsmith - with 42.6 per cent of the booths counted in the Auckland electorate, Banks leads by 677 votes.
In Ohariu, Dunne's years of electorate work have been rewarded, as he opens up a solid lead over Labour's Charles Chauvel. With more than half the booths in Dunne leads by 1328 votes.
9:39pm: NZ First leader Winston Peters arrives to huge applause at his headquarters.
9:30pm: NZ First could grab up to nine seats in Parliament based on the latest tally of votes, with National on 61.
9:18pm: With more than half - 50.6 per cent - of the booths counted, National remains on the verge of having an outright majority, having attracted 49.3 per cent of the party vote.
Labour was on 26.1 per cent, the Green Party 10.5, NZ First slightly up to 6.8, the Conservative Party 2.8, Maori Party 1.3, ACT 1.1 and looking less likely to win more than one seat, Mana 0.9, and UnitedFuture 0.7 - just 0.2 ahead of the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.
Translated into seats, National would win 62, Labour 32, the Greens 13, NZ First 8, the Maori Party 3 - all electorate seats - and ACT, Mana and UnitedFuture one each.
National still has enough seats to be able to govern alone, outnumbering all other parties combined.
9:08pm: If Labour continue to poll under 26 per cent it will be the party's worst outcome since 1919, says left-wing pundit Chris Trotter.
8.54pm: Labour MP David Parker, who is in the running to take over from leader Phil Goff, is putting a good face on election results so far.
"It's wrong that it's a rout," he said.
"If we don't get up tonight there is going to be a very powerful opposition."
Parker said results so far suggested 45 per cent of the country had voted against a National Party Government.
National was "not on the right side of asset sales''.
"That was the big issue they ran on, given they didn't have another plan."
He believed New Zealand First and Winston Peters were polling well because of "the air National gave them".
8:51pm: Running counter to the trend toward National is West Coast-Tasman, where Labour Party candidate Damien O'Connor headed National incumbent Chris Auchinvole with 28.6 per cent of booths counted.
It could be seen as a backlash against the Government over its handling of the Pike River coal mine explosion, where the bodies of the 29 men remain entombed more than a year after the disaster.
It is the opposite story across the Southern Alps in Waimakariri, where Labour's Clayton Cosgrove appears in danger of losing his seat to National Party cabinet minister Kate Wilkinson, who leads by 765 votes with a third of the booths counted.
In Christchurch Central, Labour looks set to lose the seat for the first time since it was formed in 1946, as Brendon Burns trails Nicky Wagner of National by 626 votes with 21.7 per cent of booths counted.
8.42pm: There is a jovial mood at NZ First's election headquarters on Auckland's North Shore after early results show leader Winston Peters will take seven MPs back into Parliament with him.
Peters is not standing in an electorate and the party needs to poll over five per cent to return to Parliament after three years in the political wilderness.
About 50 party faithful gathered at a hotel in Takapuna are awaiting Peters' arrival.
Former North Shore mayor and number three on NZ First's party list, Andrew Williams, admitted he didn't expect the party to be doing so well early on.
"We've just put in a very hard campaign," he told reporters.
With 16.4 per cent of the polling booths counted, NZ First is holding firm at 6.7 per cent of the party vote - well over the 5 per cent threshold a party must break to reach Parliament without winning an electorate.
8.35pm: National Party campaign manager Steven Joyce says NZ First may be benefiting from any protest vote against the Government rather than Labour.
On early voting NZ First appears on track to cross the 5 per cent - it has 6.7 of the vote so far - threshold for winning seats in Parliament, but Joyce said NZ First had started strongly last election before fading away.
8:21pm: With 7.5 per cent of booths counted, National has 49.9 per cent of the total vote, Labour 26.2 per cent, the Green Party 10.1, NZ First 6.7, the surprise package Conservative Party 2.4, Maori Party 1.2, ACT 1.2, Mana 1.0, and UnitedFuture 0.6.
Based on the early vote, and assuming those leading in electorates hold on, seats in Parliament would be distributed as follows - National 62, Labour 33, Green 12, NZ First 8, Maori Party 3, ACT 1, Mana 1, UnitedFuture 1.
That would give National a tiny majority in a 121-seat Parliament, with all the other parties totalling 59 seats.
National worked with ACT, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party in its previous term in power.
8:17pm: NZ First is holding on strong with 6.7 per cent of the vote counted so far.
8.03pm: In the crucial seats vital to the hopes of ACT and UnitedFuture, the incumbent parties are holding on in the early count.
In Ohariu UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne is staving off Labour topliner Charles Chauvel with 5.8 per cent of the booths in, holding a 192 vote lead.
In Epsom, a seat where Prime Minister John Key had hinted National supporters should vote ACT, John Banks is 401 votes ahead of National's Paul Goldsmith with 6.4 per cent of booths in.
On present results that would see ACT and UnitedFuture in Parliament, with only one seat each.
Based on the party vote, NZ First would be the fourth-biggest party in Parliament with eight.
8pm: National Party faithful arrive for its function at the swanky Sky City Convention centre in central Auckland.
Blue and white balloons line the convention centre and blue lights on the back wall make sure there is no mistaking this is a National party.
Those attending the party have to make their way past a Hawaiian themed Christmas party being held on the floor below. Dozens of media are in attendance.
7.55pm: In the seven Maori electorates - which are slower to reach final counts due to their size - the Maori Party held early leads in three, Labour in three, with Mana's Hone Harawira ahead in Te Tai Tokerau, which he claimed in a by-election this year.
In Te Tai Tonga, Labour's Tino Tirikatene was ahead of incumbent Rahui Katene (Maori) by 93, with 2.8 per cent of the polling booths in.
7:53pm: Members of the media almost outnumber supporters at the UnitedFuture party in Wellington.
About 20 party members and supporters have gathered upstairs at the Capital Gateway Motor Inn, enjoying a subdued sandwich and glass of vino.
Peter Dunne, the party leader, is expected to arrive soon.
7.49pm: In New Plymouth, with 2.2 per cent of booths in, former Labour Party president Andrew Little is on the backfoot early, trailing National's Jonathan Young by 938 votes.
Young had a majority of only 105 in 2008.
7.46pm: Cabinet minister Paula Bennett looks to have a fight on her hands in Waitakere, with 7.7 per cent of the polling booths counted she trailed Labour Party candidate Carmel Sepuloni by 39 votes.
In neighbouring New Lynn high profile Labour Party candidate David Cunliffe led cabinet minister Tim Groser by 428, with 9.1 per cent of booths counted.
7.42pm: Just over 60 Labour Party supporters are at a sombre election night party in Phil Goff's Mt Roskill electorate.
Supporters, eating a meal, are outnumbered by media and police.
Most supporters sound as if they have already conceded defeat. Goff was expected later tonight.
7.35pm: With 6.4 per cent of the vote in at Epsom, there was hope for ACT with John Banks having overhauled National's Paul Goldsmith and leading by 401.
With 11.7 per cent of the vote counted in Christchurch Central, National's Nicky Wagner led by 258 votes from sitting MP Brendon Burns.
7:29pm: If the distribution of vote reflected the final result National would have 64 seats, Labour 33, the Green Party 12 and NZ First 8.
The Maori Party and Mana would have to win electorate seats to remain in Parliament.
ACT would be wiped out on its polling, unless John Banks was able to beat National candidate Paul Goldsmith in Epsom.
National's Nikki Kaye was leading Labour's Jacinda Ardern in Auckland Central, while early polling had incumbent Peter Dunne of UnitedFuture ahead in Ohariu with 5 per cent of the vote counted.
7:22pm: With two per cent of the vote counted, National had claimed 50 per cent of the total.
National's Paul Goldsmith was leading Epsom, an Auckland seat held by its allies ACT.
Labour had 26 per cent, the Green Party 9.9 per cent, NZ First was at 6.7 per cent - which would see it back in Parliament if maintained - the Maori Party and ACT 1.2 and Mana 0.8 per cent.
7:19pm: Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia is joined by more than 100 supporters at the Whangaehu Marae near Whanganui in her Te Tai Hauauru electorate.
Turia's friends and family have been enjoying a meal.
On the menu was venison, pork and chicken with a side of kumara, potato and stuffing.
Turia said she was pleased with the turnout and was keen for the results to start rolling in.
"I'm easy about tonight. We've done the best we could have. It's in the people's hands now. It's no good worrying about it," she said.
A haka and speeches were planned for later this evening.
7.11pm: The first tally on the voting referendum comes through, with 51.1 per cent voting to retain MMP, 45.2 per cent to change it, and 3.7 per cent informal.
Of those who voted for change, 34.3 per cent wanted a return to the First Past the Post system that MMP replaced.
Supplementary Member attracted 14.7 per cent, Single Transferable Vote 11.2 per cent, and Preferential Vote 8.2 per cent.
7.04pm: A festival atmosphere erupts as the polls close in Kaitaia and ahead of Mana Party leader Hone Harawira's arrival.
Harawira took a road trip throughout the Far North today with his wife and daughter.
He said he felt more relaxed about tonight's election results than the Tai Tokerau by-election in June.
"I am confident my people could not have done anymore and that gives me peace.
"I have got an excellent team and I bet you wouldn't find anything like this [street party] for Labour or the Maori Party."
Harawira is expected to receive a powhiri when he joins Mana Party supporters around 8pm.
A stage and marque has been set up, road blocks erected and about 50 people are enjoying free music.
7.00pm: The polling booths have closed and the count is on to decide who will form New Zealand's next government.
5.39pm: A man aged in his 60s has been rushed to Wellington Hospital after collapsing at a polling station.
The man is said to be in serious to critical condition, after collapsing due to a "medical condition" shortly after 4.40pm, a Wellington Free Ambulance spokeswoman said.
The incident happened at a polling station in Miramar.
4.28pm: Police were called to a polling station in suburban Auckland after a would-be voter vented his frustrations at returning officers.
Officers rushed to Wesley Intermediate, in Mt Roskill, shortly after 3pm following a heated disturbance.
Police calmed the man down, who had verbally abused several returning officers.
"The man was very upset, abusive and intimidating," a police spokesman said.
After defusing the situation, the officers waited at the polling station while the man cast his vote and then instructed him to leave the premises.
4.02pm: Maori Party co-leaders have cast their votes in their home electorates today.
Pita Sharples went to the polls in Auckland, while Tariana Turia voted at Te Kura O Kokohuia school in Castlecliff this morning. She was joined by her husband and children.
Tonight Mrs Turia will watch the votes rolling in for Te Tai Hauauru electorate from Whangaehu marae outside of Whanganui.
"I'm feeling good. I'll spend today relaxing with my relatives and enjoying some entertainment at the marae tonight.
"Hopefully we will be celebrating later."
3.07pm: Green's co-leader Russel Norman stopped for a spot of basketball after casting his vote this morning.
Norman put his papers in the box at Wellington's Hataitai Primary School before stopping to shoot some hoops at the school's fair. He will now head to Auckland for the election countdown tonight.
2.46pm: Mana Party leader Hone Harawira cast his vote at Otangarei Primary School in Whangarei shortly before 2pm.
He said he was feeling relaxed as he drove through Northland with his wife Hilda and supporters today.
Harawira plans to watch the election results in Kaitaia tonight.
1.11pm: More party leaders have cast their votes in today's election and referendum.
Prime Minister John Key walked from his Parnell home with his wife Bronagh to go to the polls.
"I am looking forward to it tonight. Sort of happy the campaign is over if you like and people get a chance to go out and exercise their democratic right," he told reporters.
Key said he will going out to his electorate today to thank his volunteers before returning home at 4pm.
"There is always a mixture of excitement, anticipation and slight nervousness."
United Future leader Peter Dunne voted at Khandallah school in his Ohariu electorate this morning. Wife Jennifer Mackrell was with him.
And ACT Party leader Don Brash cast his vote at St David's Presbyterian Church Hall in Parnell.
He said he was feeling pretty confident and intended to keep a low profile until tonight, Radio New Zealand reported.
Brash said he will be meeting with ACT's Epsom candidate John Banks later in the day.
12pm: Record numbers of advanced votes have been cast, with those results likely to be released by 8.30pm.
More than 330,000 people cast their ballot ahead of polling day, up 20 per cent on the 2008 poll.
Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden told Radio New Zealand voting early has become increasingly popular.
"They like the convenience of it and it just reflects the changing demands of people's time on Saturdays," he said.
11.00am: Staff at the Electoral Enrolment Centre are "flat out" processing last minute enrolments.
Around 220,000 eligible voters were yet to enrol as of 5pm last night, but were given until midnight to submit the forms.
Late enrollers are able to cast a special declaration vote today, which is then matched with their enrolment.
10.30am: The Electoral Commission says the first hour of voting had gone smoothly, with no major disturbances.
It would not comment on any breaches of the Electoral Act, but said there were some "inquiries" it was looking into.
Registration numbers by 5pm on Friday were at 93.2 per cent of the eligible population, or 3,053,705 people.
However, turnout would not be known until polling booths closed at 7pm. About 19,500 election workers have been employed to help with taking and counting votes.
Preliminary results would be released from 7pm with a target of 11.30pm for 100 per cent of results being received.
9.15am: Labour Party leader Phil Goff has cast his vote in his Mt Roskill electorate.
Goff arrived with his wife Mary at Wesley Intermediate School about 15 minutes after the polls opened at 9am.
He said he was feeling really good and it is over to the voters now, Radio New Zealand reported.
Goff was now heading to the community's Santa parade and then home for a quiet afternoon with his family.
National Party leader John Key was expected to cast his vote later this morning.
9am: Polling booths around the country are now open and voting has begun for New Zealand's 2011 general election and referendum.
Chief Electoral Officer Robert Peden says it is more important than ever this year for people to have their say.
"Not only will we be voting for the politicians who will represent us in Parliament, we'll also be voting for the system we use to elect them in the future," he said.
Anyone over the age of 18 who enrolled by yesterday is able to vote.
There are more than 2600 polling places around the country, which stay open until 7pm tonight.
The Electoral Commission says the busiest time at polling places is usually between 9am and 11am.
Under electoral law, people working on Saturday who haven't had a reasonable opportunity to vote on election day before starting work, must be allowed to leave no later than 3pm to vote.
An employer isn't allowed to deduct the staff member's pay for that time.
Electoral law also says all hoardings must have been put away and no advertising of candidates, parties or their policies is allowed.
Media are not allowed to report anything which would influence a voter's choice or encourages them to abstain from voting.
HOW TO VOTE
Go to a polling place in your electorate.
If you have received an EasyVote card or a letter from the Electoral Commission Chief Electoral Officer, take this with you. You can vote without an EasyVote card or letter, but it will take longer.
When you go vote, give your EasyVote card or letter to the issuing officer. If you don't have an EasyVote card or letter, you will need to tell the issuing officer your full name and address.
The issuing officer will give you your ballot paper. Take your ballot paper to a private booth. On your ballot paper, place a tick by the name of the political party of your choice and a tick by the name of the candidate you would most like to represent your electorate.
More information here: elections.org.nz/voting/votingsub/how-vote-election-day
- © Fairfax NZ News
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