Māori voters call for Electoral Commission to get it right this election

11:28 am on 19 August 2020

A Māori electoral expert wants assurances workers at voting booths will be properly trained in how the Māori roll works after mistakes at the last election which led to some people having their votes disqualified.

Polling booths are open for New Zealand's general election in Auckland on September 23, 2017. (Photo by MICHAEL BRADLEY / AFP)

Photo: AFP or licensors

Nina Pilkington (Ngāti Raukawa) received an apology from the Electoral Commission three years ago for a mistake made by staff.

She's on the Māori roll in the Te Tai Hauāuru electorate, but last election she was given a voting paper for the general electorate.

She later realised an error had been made and on returning to the polling booth, the staff member put her hand into the ballot box, pulling her previous vote out to invalidate it, and was given the correct form. However, at that point it was already too late - the moment she wrote on the wrong form, her vote was invalid.

"Honestly I didn't even bother looking at the different electorate, because I would never have known someone would give me the wrong form, I would never dream that would happen - but it did."

Pilkington isn't the only Māori who was given incorrect information at the polling booth last election.

When Teaoterangi Apaapa (Tauranga Moana) went to vote for the first time in 2017, he was incorrectly told by voting booth staff he could only enrol on the Māori roll because of his ethnicity.

Māori can choose to either join the Māori roll or general roll when they enrol for the first time.

However, Apaapa didn't know this and so voted in the Māori electorate as he was told he had to, even though he said it "felt wrong".

He said the Electoral Commission needed to do better.

"Māori have been disenfranchised from the beginning - it took us so long just to get the vote, and we still can't get that right... just because we've put structures in play, doesn't mean people are going to follow them."

Apaapa is one of the many complainants who contacted Veronica Tawhai when she publicly spoke out about witnessing her niece being told the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti and Hauraki-Waikato seats were the same.

Tawhai said she was told that at some polling booths there weren't even Māori rolls.

"In more extreme circumstances I had some complaints come in to me where Māori voters had felt that they were actually refused the correct form - for example, some young voters who were outside the electorate where you usually get them a special voting form... however we know there were some people who were refused a form."

The Electoral Commission said it had 40 complaints about the experiences of Māori voters at the last election, and it held a series of hui with Māori across the country in 2018 to see how services could be improved.

Nina Pilkington attended one of those hui in 2018 and said that a lot of the suggestions they put forward have been implemented, including hiring more Māori to work at voting booths, and better te reo Māori training.

She was "very confident" that her own voting experience would be better this year, largely because as a result of that hui she has been enlisted as a counting officer.

"[The chief electoral commissioner has] employed a lot of our people from the community and a lot of our whānau have stepped up and got those positions."

Tawhai wants assurances from the Commission that voting booth staff will receive training that gives them an in depth understanding of how the Māori roll works.

"So it must include, not only having information about the general roll and the Māori roll but everything to do with the electorates, ensuring there's a roll at each venue and ensuring people know that this is the right of Māori as per the Electoral Act to choose whichever roll to be on," she said.

Chief Electoral Commissioner Alicia Wright said voting booth staff are taught about both rolls and told that first time Māori electors have the right to choose.

"This year we'll have electronic access, so it'll make it easier to look people up on the roll to make sure that we've identified what roll people are enrolled on and give people the correct advice on that."

She said there would be access to a Māori roll at every voting booth.

"I can assure everyone that should be happening right across the board."

As for Teaoterangi Apaapa, his bad first voting experience hasn't put him off casting a ballot this year, and he encourages other Māori to do the same.

"We just need to be more resilient and go in knowing that our vote is going to count, regardless of the person that is speaking to us at the booth, or the looks we might get," he said.

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