Both sides of the flag debate in New Zealand are claiming preliminary voting results of the first referendum vindicate their position.
The black and blue Southern Cross silver fern design got 50.53 percent of the votes in the first referendum, pipping the same design in blue and red on 49.47 percent.
The official result will be announced on Tuesday and will include votes NZ Post date-stamped before voting closed at 7pm yesterday.
The winner goes up against the existing flag in a second referendum in March next year.
The Electoral Commission sent out 3.1 million voting forms and 48.16 percent, 1.5 million were returned. There were 148,022 informal votes totalling 9.7 percent, and 2476 invalid votes totalling 0.16 percent.
Flag Consideration Panel chairman John Burrows said it was still too close to call because on first preferences the red fern was slightly ahead and when second preferences were counted the black one just overtook it.
Lewis Holden, chair of Change the New Zealand Flag, says the turnout was ahead of the usual level for postal elections and referendums.
"The number of informal votes was thankfully lower than we expected. The campaigns for New Zealanders to waste their votes have failed," says Mr Holden.
RSA national president B J Clark says the spoiled votes were a sign that democracy was working.
Mr Clark is encouraging people to vote in the second referendum if they want to keep the current flag.
Family First, a conservative lobby group, said there had been higher voter turnouts in citizens initiated referendums, which were not binding, but this Government-initiated referendum was automatically binding.
"This is a flaw with democracy in New Zealand when a stronger and more credible vote can be ignored simply because the Government didn't initiate it," says Bob McCoskrie, national director of Family First NZ.
Referendum forms showed pictures of the five flags and asked voters to rank them in order of preference.
Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says the result shows strong public interest in the future of the nation's flag.
It was Prime Minister John Key's decision to put a flag change in front of voters and let them decide.
How Kiwis ranked the flag options: