Māori electoral roll rules are racist - Rawiri Waititi

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

The Labour government is looking at the timing and frequency of the Māori Electoral Option and whether it should be changed. The option allows Māori voters to choose between the Māori electorates' roll or the general electorates' roll. Currently, the option to switch between rolls is a four-month window once every five years. 

The Māori Party says the rules are racist and block Māori from having greater democratic participation. 

Labour cabinet ministers Peeni Henare and Kelvin Davis both believe Māori should have the option to switch every three years, matching the general election rounds. 

Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi is calling the current electoral roll system racist.

"No other indigenous people gets locked out of being able to have greater participation in our democracy as our people does. It's an eight-year lockout."

As the law stands Māori can decide the roll they are on. However, it's a choice that also binds them for up to six years, with no switching. Waititi says the number of people wanting to be on the Māori Electoral rolls growing.

"We already know that 24,000 people contacted the Electoral Commission trying to go to the Māori roll in the last election. We know 19,000 contacted it this year."

But if Māori want to switch, then potentially more than 40,000 people will have to wait and those already enrolled on the general list will have to see out the next election as the switch won't be available to them until 2024.

Voters from Auckland University told Te Ao Mārama that "it's not clear at all" as to how Māori can apply to enrol on the Māori roll. Another said 'It is a bit of a mission to get enrolled if you don't have the right resources."

The number of Māori enrolled on the Māori roll determines the amount of Māori seats in Parliament. At the moment there are seven. If it were based on population, that 16.7% of Māori in the country would have 20 of the 120 seats in Parliament. The last time the switch was made available was in 2018. 

Statistics New Zealand data shows more than 10,000 people switched from the Māori roll to the general roll, and almost 8000 moved from general to Māori. Some 52% of Māori have taken the Māori option while the other 48% are on general.

The Māori Party co-leader is calling for an easier process for Māori to engage in the process. Submissions from the public into the review close tomorrow.