Justice Minister Kris Faafoi is proposing a bill to allow Māori to change electoral rolls at any point during the election cycle. Photo / NZME
The government says it will introduce a bill to Parliament that allows Māori to swap electoral rolls at virtually any time, despite National threatening to derail the change.
Current rules restrict Māori from switching between the general and Māori electoral rolls except for a four-month period every five or six years.
The window last occurred in 2018, and under the current rules Māori will not have the opportunity to change rolls until after the 2023 General Election.
“By allowing Māori to change rolls at any time, up to and including on polling day, it provides Māori with flexibility and promotes participation in New Zealand’s democracy.” Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said Thursday.
“By removing the restrictions that currently lock Māori voters in their roll choice for two general elections, this change represents a significant improvement to a status quo that prevents Māori voters from fully exercising their electoral rights.”
Faafoi’s bill is now one of three put forward in parliament set to do the same thing; yesterday Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi’s bill was pulled from the ballot.
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, has a similar bill which also grants voting rights to inmates and 16 and 17-year-olds, but Faafoi concedes neither of the bills can go ahead without National Party support due to a section in the Electoral Act that requires at least 75% of MPs to support amendments.
“The feedback from the engagement overwhelmingly supported a shift to a continuous model to remove the restrictions on Māori voters’ electoral rights. The current restrictions on timing and frequency of the option are unjustified, unfair, and often difficult to understand,” Faafoi said.
National's Paul Goldsmith is seeking amendments to the government's proposals to change the electoral act / NZME
National has lashed out at the proposed changes, saying it has concerns the bills as proposed will allow ‘gaming’ of the electoral system.
Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith told NZME he believes people could change electoral roles to swing by-elections and then switch back to the Māori role but he didn’t rule out working with Labour to amend the bill.
"You could easily exclude switching three months or four months before a general election or before local elections. That's a suggestion we're making," Goldsmith said.
Minister Willie Jackson says National is on the "edges of playing the Māori card" over electoral law reform. / NZME
Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson dismissed National’s opposition as “[on the] edges of playing the Māori card".
"They are wondering if there are votes in going against Māori initiatives and issues. They are playing around, half supporting us, so we will see where they go." Jackson said.
ACT leader David Seymour (Ngāpuhi) says he’s seen the draft bill.
"We will consider it in Caucus before offering our feedback.
"We're open to flexibility but not at the expense of a free and democratic electoral system," he said.