The 1992 referendum
The National government elected in 1990 decided that the first electoral reform referendum would be held on 19 September 1992 coincidentally exactly 99 years to the day after women's' suffrage was achieved in New Zealand. This first referendum was held in order to establish whether there was a popular desire for a change to the voting system and if so which of four alternative 'reform options' discussed by the Royal Commission would be put to the voters at a second referendum Supplementary Member, Single Transferable Vote, MMP, and the Preferential Vote system.
Although formally speaking the 1992 referendum was 'indicative' or 'non-binding', the National government pledged that if a majority of those who voted at the referendum supported a change to the voting system, a second binding referendum would be held with the 1993 election at which voters would be asked to choose between the FPP system and the reform alternative which received the most support at the 1992 referendum.
The Government introduced a Bill to Parliament to authorise the holding of the referendum, to specify the form of the voting paper and the questions to be asked, to provide for the appointment of scrutineers to monitor the conduct of the referendum and the counting of the votes, to specify who was to declare the final result and how the result could be challenged, and to invoke certain provisions of the Electoral Act 1956 relevant to the conduct of the referendum. Public submissions were invited on the Bill, and Parliament passed an amended Bill in December 1991. There were no limits to the amounts that individuals or groups could spend on promoting particular answers to the referendum questions, although advertising and literature regarding the referendum had to include the name and address of the person who authorised it.
An independent ministerial Panel chaired by the Chief Ombudsman was appointed and funded to carry out public education concerning the referendum. However its efforts to do so were hampered by the lack of an official statement about how each of the alternative systems would be implemented.
The referendum resulted in a turnout of 55.2% of registered voters. The results were as follows: