The election was delayed by a month after new Covid-19 infections in Auckland. A record number of voters have already cast their ballots in advance.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stands with her electorate workers at an event in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stands with her electorate workers at an event in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (AP)

Polling booths closed in New Zealand's general election with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expected to win a second term after campaigning on her government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters visited schools and community halls across the South Pacific nation to cast their ballots in an election pitting Ardern's centre-left Labour Party against an opposition led by the conservative National Party.

The polling stations closed at 7pm (0600 GMT) on Saturday and officials will tally about 3.5 million votes through Saturday night.

Labour Party leader Ardern, 40, and National Party chief Collins, 61, are the faces of the election to form the country's 53rd parliament, a pandemic-focused referendum on Ardern's three-year term.

Doors to the polling booths opened at 9am (2000 GMT on Friday), though a record number of voters had already cast their ballots in advance.

Restrictions are in place on what news media can report about the race until polls close, after which the Electoral Commission is expected to begin releasing preliminary results.

READ MORE: New Zealand delays its election by four weeks over surge in Covid-19 cases

The election was delayed by a month after new Covid-19 infections in Auckland, that led to a second lockdown in the country's largest city.

New Zealand, with a population of 5 million, currently has no community cases of Covid-19 and is among only a few nations where people are not required to wear masks or follow social distancing.

Labour is seeking a second term on the back of Ardern's success in containing Covid-19, while Collins argues she is best placed tackle the post-pandemic financial challenges.

The Electoral Commission said on Saturday that almost 2 million ballots had already been cast as of Friday, accounting for more than half of the roughly 3.5 million New Zealanders on the electoral rolls.

Special votes, including ballots from New Zealanders overseas and those who vote outside their home constituencies, will only be released on November 6.

New Zealanders are also voting on referendums to legalise euthanasia and recreational marijuana. The latter vote could make New Zealand only the third country in the world to allow the adult use and sale cannabis nationwide, after Uruguay and Canada.

READ MORE: New Zealand economy sees record recession amid virus pandemic

Results of the referendums will be announced on October 30.

New Zealand switched to a mixed member proportional system in 1996 in which a party or coalition needs 61 of Parliament's 120 seats - usually about 48 percent of the vote - to form a government.

This means minor parties often play an influential role in determining which major party governs.