Electoral roll law change a strengthening of democracy - professor

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Māori will be able to change between the Māori and general electoral rolls as often as they like, so long as it is not within 3 months from an election, under a new bipartisan agreement between Labour and National.

Currently, Māori can only switch between the Māori and general electoral rolls, once every five to six years during a four-month slot after the census, despite elections occurring every three years.

The electoral (Māori Electoral Option) Legislation Bill, making the proposals law, is expected to pass this week and will come into effect in March next year.

Adjunct professor of the AUT Taupua Waiora centre for Māori health research Dominic O’Sullivan (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu) says the upcoming Hamilton West by-election for a new candidate is a good example of having the 3 month protections around jumping between rolls to swing an election.

General Roll or Māori Roll? 

“People on the Hauraki-Waikato roll might decide that this is an opportunity to get in and have a second say. It might be supporters of particular candidates, who want to change just to have a vote, then change back to the Māori roll for the next general election.

O'Sullivan says the 3 month restriction ensures there'll be no “distorting of the system”.

The academic argues the policy change is strengthening of democracy for Māori.

“If people want to make one decision or the other, they can do that freely. Until now they haven’t been able to exercise that free choice.”

Regarding Te Pāti Māori’s legislation for electoral changes and Māori automatically placed on the Māori roll when enrolling not passing in Parliament last week, O’Sullivan says the government wanted to be the ones in the spotlight.

“The government wanted to be able to get credit for this change that a lot of Māori people have been arguing for, [Labour] wants to be able to go the election and say to Māori that ‘we listen to these arguments and we’ve acted upon them.’"