The French government has approved an electoral law for New Caledonia which is now to go to the Senate and the National Assembly as part of preparations for an independence referendum by 2018.
It has maintained the proposal to set up a roll which automatically includes only indigenous Kanaks and those people registered in 1998.
The decision goes against the wishes of the New Caledonian Congress which has described the bill as discriminatory because it will force tens of thousands of people to seek enrolment although they have been born in the territory.
The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, has rejected the criticism, saying the eligibility of prospective voters has been determined by the interpretation of France's highest court.
In an interview with Noumea's daily newspaper, Mr Valls says the French state will remain impartial towards both the pro-and anti-independence camps.