CNN  — 

One year and $17.6 million later, New Zealanders have decided to keep their current flag.

The country’s Electoral Commission announced the preliminary result on Thursday evening, after three weeks of voting.

More than 56.6% of voters chose to stick with the current standard – a relic of British rule. While the Silver Fern challenger did get more votes than polls suggested, 43.2%, it was not enough to make history.

Voters chose the Silver Fern (black, white and blue) in a previous referendum late last year from a selection of five to go up against the existing standard.

Some 2.1 million voters took part in the referendum, a turnout of 67.3%, according to the Electoral Commission.

Expensive and controversial

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, a big proponent of changing the country’s flag, argued that the silver fern is a historical symbol of the country and will promote national pride.

But Key’s critics pointed to the vast cost of the referendums – $17.6 million (NZ$26M) – and a lack of general support for changing the flag among the general public. A UMR Research poll taken between March 10% and 15 found only 35% in favor of changing flags.

And, of the 1.5 million voters who took part in the initial referendum, only 40% or so chose the silver fern as their first choice to go up against the current flag.

Supporters of changing the flag have argued that the cost of the campaign would be outweighed by greater tourist and branding revenues generated by a new, iconic standard.