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Having their say . . . Olga Orr (96) and Ron Maddigan (90) were among those who voted in advance at the pop-up voting place in the former House of Travel office in Oamaru this week. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Advance voting in the Waitaki electorate is “off to a flying start”, returning officer Finn Hunt says.

About 450 advance voting places opened their doors around the country on Saturday for this year’s election and referendums, including St Mary’s Anglican Church Hall and a pop-up voting place in the former House of Travel office in Oamaru.

“We had planned for advance voting to be a lot bigger after this year, but it’s probably caught us on the hop a little bit,” Mr Hunt said.

“It’s definitely a faster start than we expected.

“I think people are keen to get in and get it done this year, with everything that’s been going on.”

In 2017, advance voting built up slowly over a two-week period, and about 50% of voters cast their votes before election day, he said.

This year, the Electoral Commission was anticipating 70% to 80% of people voting in advance in Waitaki.

“We have made plans to increase advance voting hours dramatically by opening more places in the weekend .. particularly this coming weekend,” he said.

In Waitaki, several schools will be open tomorrow for advance voting, including Pembroke School, Weston School, Fenwick School, Waitaki Girls’ High School and East Otago High School.

“They are usually just an election day voting place, and we’re opening a lot of those [this weekend] to help spread he crowd,” he said.

“Things like that will increase the number of advance voters.”

The pop-up voting booth in Thames St is open every day until October 16, for advance voting, and then for election-day voting on October 17.

In order to mitigate the risk of the spread of Covid-19, the Electoral Commission is providing single-use pens, which the voter can keep, and is also encouraging people to take their own pens.

“We’re still encouraging sanitising, still encouraging contact tracing – obviously at Level 1 that’s not compulsory, but we’re still encouraging all those measures,” he said.

The full list of voting places can be found in today’s Oamaru Mail or online at vote.nz.