For decades, the people of New Zealand have argued over their flag.
It’s too similar to Australia’s flag, and it’s embarrassing when they’re confused; it would be expensive to change it. It’s too colonial; it’s a part of Kiwi history. It doesn’t honor any of the Maori heritage of New Zealand; generations of New Zealanders fought and died for that symbol.
In early 2014, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key proposed a democratic solution to the debate: a series of referendums.
Residents of New Zealand proposed 10,292 alternative flag designs as of mid-2015. A panel then narrowed it down to a handful of choices, and the nation picked its favorite.
Now, in three weeks of voting that began Thursday, the people of New Zealand will decide whether they want to adopt the winning alternative — or stick with the flag they’ve flown for more than a century.
On one half of the ballot is the current flag: the U.K.’s Union Jack paired with a representation of the Southern Cross. The layout of the flag is nearly identical to the Australian flag, a key point in the debate.
On the other half, there’s a new design by Kyle Lockwood, featuring New Zealand’s silver fern, a black corner and the same Southern Cross the flag has now. Both the fern symbol and the color black are widely associated with New Zealand, thanks to the All Blacks rugby team.
Voting will continue until March 24.
Opinion polls suggest the original flag will triumph, according to Sky News.
That’s sad news for one native New Zealander — Josh Parsons, a professor at Oxford who gave letter grades to all the world’s flags more than 15 years ago and inspired hate mail from an astonishing number of enthusiastic flag fans.
“I’m no expert on flags, just an opinionated guy with a dubious sense of humour,” Parsons wrote last year, when he announced his support for the Red Peak flag design. (You can see it in the slideshow below.) Now that the Red Peak has been knocked out of the running, he tells NPR that he’s behind the silver fern.
The original New Zealand flag got a C (55/100) in Parsons’ original rankings, losing points for “colonial nonsense.”
The new flag? Parsons says it’s an A-, with points deducted for looking like a corporate logo.
Curious about what other flags were considered? These four flags made it to the short list, but were knocked out in the first referendum:
The long list included many more options:
And of course, the more than 10,000 submissions included a wide variety of designs, including bold geographic patterns and hand-drawn proposals.
Here at the Two-Way, our favorite was “Fire the Lazar!” [sic] by James Gray of Auckland.
“I believe my design is so powerful it does not need to be discussed,” he wrote by way of explanation.
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