AUCKLAND, New Zealand, March 24 (UPI) -- New Zealand will most likely stick with their old flag after spending more than a year on a referendum over whether to change it.
As the final votes were being counted on Wednesday, polls suggested the Kiwis strongly prefer the old flag to the challenger, which swapped the Union Jack on the left side of the flag for a large black and white fern.
The challenger was chosen in its own referendum last year, where the fern beat out four other designs.
The final referendum was expected to draw about two million votes, or about 60 percent of registered New Zealand voters, according to the New Zealand Electoral Commission. The voting opened at the beginning of March, with the final result to be announced March 30, but a preliminary result could be announced Thursday.
New Zealanders made it clear in a recent poll they'd just prefer to keep the flag the way it is, with 59 percent agreeing the issue had been "a distraction and a waste of money." Thirty-two percent of respondents favored the change and nine percent were unsure.
Prime Minister John Key was the most high-profile proponent of changing the flag, arguing the silver fern is a historical symbol of New Zealand and having it on the flag would stoke national pride.
But critics say the total cost of the campaign has been far too high -- $17.6 million -- for an idea that has never had that much public support.