5 Aug 2021

Call to change how Māori can be enrolled to vote

3:25 pm on 5 August 2021

Māori leaders and academics are calling for changing the timing and frequency of the Māori electoral option - and the Ministry of Justice wants to hear what people think.

Signs around Christchurch

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The amount of Māori voters on each roll determines how many Māori electorates or seats there are in Parliament.

But Māori wanting to switch electoral rolls can only do so every five to six years.

Each year about 6000 Māori voters request to change electoral rolls and in 2017 that number skyrocketed to 19,000.

The Māori electoral option coincides with the census - but not an election.

Victoria University associate professor Dr Maria Bargh said changing the Māori electoral option made sense.

"The electoral commission has certainly been saying for many many years that the timing and frequency of the Māori electoral option should change," Bargh said.

"That makes sense given that at the last couple of elections we've had around 19,000 Māori wanting to change but of course they can't."

The last time Māori voters were able to change roles was in 2018 which means the next opportunity is not until 2024.

Te Pāti Māori wants Māori who are not already enrolled to be automatically signed onto the Māori roll and electorate boundaries to be reassessed regularly.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi said Māori should be able to change roles at any time.

The way the ministry advertised the public feedback process to Māori had been disappointing, he said.

"Absolutely we need to remove the barrier, it is absolutely racist in terms of our engagement within our democracy," Waititi said.

"We're the only indigenous people's in the world who have a law like this that locks us out of having a stronger and clearer democratic voice" he said.

In 2018 Māori voters were changing from the Māori roll to the general roll- a first since 1996.

Bargh said that could be due to Māori not having access to the right information to vote strategically.

The current electoral option often trapped Māori when they were stuck on a certain roll and the process for changing rolls should be fairer, she said.

"That's a fairer and more practical way of doing it. That way we don't have Māori voters being frustrated or losing confidence in the system when they go to change and make an approach and can't do that"

In a statement the ministry said the timing and frequency of the Māori Electoral Option had been an issue for several years.

That was due to concerns the delay between each Māori Electoral Option period confused Māori voters and affected their ability to participate meaningfully in elections.

In 2014 an inquiry by the ministry and the Electoral Commission recommended it be changed to every three years.

Wellington city councillor Tamatha Paul said the purpose of the Māori electoral option was to meet Te Tiriti obligations.

But the current Māori electoral option did not allow Māori voters to participate strategically as whānau, she said.

"It should be a decision made based on what will empower people to use their vote strategically to have the most impact, which will allow whānau to be able to pursue their own dreams and self determination."

With the 2023 election in sight, Cabinet will choose whether legislative changes to the Māori Electoral Option will go ahead.

Feedback on the Māori electoral option through the Ministry of Justice website closes on Friday 6 August.

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