Resident visa holders' voting eligibility info clarified on Vote NZ website

12:18 pm on 4 October 2022
Signs around Christchurch

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The Electoral Commission has clarified voting eligibility conditions on its website for resident visa holders, after admitting it was confusing.

The changes come after RNZ revealed an Auckland woman with a 2021 resident visa was wrongly turned away from voting by an election officer last week.

The woman was incorrectly told that her visa type didn't meet the eligibility requirement.

The commission's website, Vote NZ, now includes information confirming that resident visa holders who have lived in New Zealand continuously for over a year and meet other conditions are eligible to vote.

The update comes five days before voting closes for local body elections.

Previously, the wording stated people need to be a "permanent resident", for electoral purposes to qualify to vote without further explanation for people on other resident visa types.

A spokesperson from the commission said this wording reflected the Electoral Act.

But she admitted it sometimes caused confusion as not everyone understood the term had different meanings under the Electoral Act and the Immigration Act.

She said the commission had previously recommended that Parliament change the choice of words in the Act.

Adi Avnit, who used to work for the Hakatere Multicultural Council in Ashburton, said ambiguous wording had misled resident visa holders to think they weren't eligible to vote in the last local body elections.

"The term permanent resident is being used by two different government organisations with two different meanings," Avnit said. He wanted to see the wording of the Electoral Law changed for more clarity.

"They've used the term permanent resident, which is also the name of a visa, which migrants are more familiar with," he said.

Avnit said many residents who had not yet applied for permanent residency may have missed out on the opportunity to vote due to this confusion.

Minister of Justice Kiri Allan acknowledged the Electoral Commission's report into the 2020 general election recommended replacing the term "permanent resident" in the Electoral Act with a different term, such as "resident for electoral purposes".

She said an independent review of the Electoral Law was under way, and that any future changes of the Electoral Act 1993 would be the place to consider whether to update the terminology in the Act.

However, she said the Justice Committee didn't make any recommendations on the use of this term in its interim report into the 2020 election.

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