New Zealand’s potential new flag features ferns
New Zealand’s potential new flag features ferns This combination of images made on Sept. 24, 2015, from an image released Aug. 11, 2015, by the New Zealand Flag Consideration Project shows five designs which are finalists being considered as the new flag for New Zealand in Wellington, New Zealand. (New Zealand Flag Consideration Project via AP/Nick Perry)
New Zealand’s potential new flag features ferns
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New Zealanders know what their potential new national flag may look like. But they are not quite set on the color.
In a postal ballot, New Zealanders chose from among five designs. Both of their favorites feature the country's iconic silver fern.  It is next to the stars that make up the Southern Cross constellation. There is one difference in the flags. One flag is black while the other is red.
Early results showed the black option narrowly leading the red. It is a race that is too close to call. Not all votes have been counted.
Whichever flag wins will be pitted head-to-head against the current flag. That second vote will be held in March.
The winning design has similarities to the current flag. It keeps the four red stars representing the Southern Cross. But it ditches the British Union Jack. It is replaced by the fern.  The fern has become a national symbol.  It is worn by many sports teams. That includes the beloved All Blacks rugby team.
New Zealanders were choosing among five options for an alternative flag. Two of the choices were designed by Kyle Lockwood. Both of his flags have color in the top left corner. On one flag that color is black. It is red on the other flag.
Figures from the Electoral Commission showed it had received 1.53 million votes by Dec. 11.  That represented 48 percent of eligible voters in the country.  New Zealand has a population of 4.6 million.
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said in a statement the results showed there was a strong public interest in the process.
"New Zealanders can now turn their attention to deciding whether to keep the current flag. Or replace it," he said.
But opposition leader Andrew Little said many people had protested the vote. They cast votes that were ineligible to be counted. About 10 percent of all votes were ineligible.
At first, there were only four alternative flag options on the ballot. But a popular campaign for a geometric design called "Red Peak" prompted lawmakers to change the rules to add it to the finalists. Red Peak ended up finishing a distant third behind the Lockwood designs.
Many in New Zealand consider the current flag to be outdated. Other critics believe it is too similar to Australia's flag. The Union Jack, or Union Flag, harks back to a colonial past that many New Zealanders are eager to put behind them. New Zealand sometimes comes under the shadow of Australia, its larger neighbor.  Having flags that are almost identical only compounds that problem.
However, there are plenty of New Zealanders who want to keep their current flag. Many veterans fought under the flag.  They feel a special bond to it. Others simply don't see any need for a change.  Or they view the process as an expensive stunt started by Prime Minister John Key to distract from more pressing issues.

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