9 Jun 2022

Electoral law proposal would allow Māori to fully exercise voting rights - Faafoi

3:55 pm on 9 June 2022

The government is proposing to change the electoral law to allow Māori voters to switch electoral rolls at any time.

Currently, Māori are only allowed to switch between the general and Māori rolls once every five years, a rule which critics have called undemocratic.

Kris Faafoi

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said the bill, if passed, would allow Māori to fully exercise their voting rights. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi said a bill to make the option to change available at any time - including on polling day - would be introduced to Parliament in the coming weeks.

It would allow Māori to fully exercise their voting rights and follows the recommendations of several committees and electoral system reviews which have spanned several governments, Faafoi said.

"We think it's right to make sure that we have equality in terms of people's ability to register to which roll they have.

"I'll point out that we have three justice select committees spanning this government, the previous government, and the government before that have said it's right thing to do. Its time has come."

But as the proposal would involve a change in electoral law, it would need the support of 75 percent of Parliament to pass, meaning Labour requires the support of one or both opposition parties.

Opposition raises concerns

The National Party said it would not support the proposal as it was currently written unless the government made several amendments.

Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said he was concerned the bill in its current form could allow the system to be gamed.

Referring to the five-year window, he said: "This has been the process whereby we ensure that there is proportionality between Māori wards and general wards, by linking that with the census.

"If you have significant movement between those two rolls, between the census, that could have an impact on proportionality.

"We think it's a reasonable concern and we would expect the minister to acknowledge that."

Pressed further during questioning on his way into Parliament on Thursday afternoon, Goldsmith denied he was race-baiting with his opposition, and said he was open to ongoing discussions with the government.

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David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Act Party leader David Seymour said he was open to allow greater flexibility between rolls and open to supporting it through a first reading to select committee.

However, he wanted some concerns allayed.

"We're very favourable towards a more flexible Māori electoral option, but we're going to have to work very carefully through the potential that it's game-able. The bill itself acknowledges that you could potentially game the Māori option, going on and off for by-elections," Seymour said.

Green Party leader James Shaw said that opposition seemed cynical and was not worth completely stopping a long called-for reform that would improve democracy.

"I think if you look at the genuine observable behaviour of people, any kind of behaviour like that is pretty marginal and you wouldn't say it's confined to Māori," Shaw said.

Faafoi said he was confident any issues could be smoothed out over the coming weeks and he was confident of gaining support.

"We believe that the option that we're going to put up - that we have consulted them - can't be gamed," he said. "We believe we've got the balance right."

Te Pati Māori bill goes further

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Rawiri Waititi Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

At about the same time the government announced its proposed bill, a member's bill by Te Pati Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi was also drawn.

Waititi's bill would also allow a switch at any time; change a requirement to redraw electoral boundaries to a set date two years after a general election; automatically place Māori on the Māori roll, not the general roll; and change the name of the 'general electorate district' to the 'non-Māori electorate district.'

"There are only two opportunities for Māori to choose electoral rolls; either at the time of initial enrolment or during the Māori electoral option period, which is only a small four-month period every five to six years. It's ridiculous," he said in a statement.

"Our people deserve to be able to participate equally in our democracy and right now they can't do that. They are actively being blocked from their right to choose to be on the Māori roll. This bill will change all of that."

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