Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi is advocating for changes to New Zealand’s “archaic” electoral rules so Māori voters have more freedom to choose which electoral roll they want to be on.
The Electoral (Right to Switch Rolls Freely) Amendment Bill would give Māori voters the right to switch between the Māori and the general electoral rolls at any time, instead of the current system that only gives Māori a choice during a four-month window every five or six years.
Waititi labelled New Zealand electoral laws “archaic” after submitting the bill last Wednesday.
“It’s discriminatory. It’s anti-democratic. It’s racist. Just this week I was notified of a young man enrolling for the first time, only to see that the general roll option was automatically filled in for him.
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“This is no accident. The barriers in place are calculated to lock tangata whenua out from fully participating in our democracy. The entire system is designed to disenfranchise Māori voters from exercising their choice, and it is locking us out.”
The current gap between the Māori option periods – which last happened in 2018 and is due again in 2024 – means Māori voters already enrolled missed the opportunity to switch to the Māori roll for the 2020 election, and would also miss out in the 2023 general election.
“A lot of our people are being enrolled and, by default, are being placed on the general roll without their knowledge or understanding.
“I’ve had plenty of whānau from Te Tai Tonga coming to me to say they thought they were on the Māori roll and wanted to change, but found they couldn’t.”
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi announced an independent review into electoral law in October. He confirmed it would consider the “Māori Electoral Option”, but added “at the moment, Māori voters won’t be able to move rolls before the 2023 general election”.
This is despite repeated recommendations from the Electoral Commission to align the Māori Electoral Option with the general election cycle, and a separate government review into the issue earlier this year, which closed for consultation in August.
Currently, 247,494 – or 52.4 per cent – of all Māori eligible to vote are on the Māori roll. In the 2018 Māori Electoral Option, 7956 people moved to the Māori roll. Between then and the end of last year, the Electoral Commission received 12,750 requests to switch to the Māori roll.
Waititi’s bill has a way to go before making any effect to law; it must now be drawn from the member’s ballot in order for it to be considered by Parliament.