Polling booth staff mislead and confuse Māori voters

By Talisa Kupenga

A Māori politics lecturer and citizenship educator is slamming Electoral Commission staff for confusing and misinforming Māori voters at the polling booth.
Massey University's Veronica Tāwhai says this could further contribute to non-voting among Māori and revive previous claims of deliberate sabotage of Māori votes by polling booth staff.

"Māori and particularly young Māori are constantly criticised for either being uninformed, uninterested or apathetic when it comes to participating in political activities such as voting and yet when our people attempt to be proactive in exercising our democratic rights … some are prevented from doing so due to ignorance among officials that are meant to be assisting in the process. This is completely unacceptable."

Tāwhai says she has received complaints from Māori voters around the country about Electoral Commission staff, including those manning polling booths and phone lines.

Issues include:

  • Staff being unaware of the Māori roll and insisting electors are unregistered when their names are absent from the General roll
  • Staff having difficulty locating Māori names on the Māori roll, even when provided identification
  • Staff providing incorrect information about the Māori electorates, electorate areas and where electors can be enrolled
  • The wrong forms being provided to Māori enrolled in Māori electorates
  • General roll voters being informed they are unable to vote for a 'Māori party' if they are not on the Māori roll
  • Māori voters being ignored by polling booth managers, who are there to help or hear complaints

Tawhai says the confusion comes during the 150-year anniversary of the Māori electorate seats.

"Many New Zealanders unfortunately have little to no knowledge of the Māori seats something we need to remedy with future citizenship education, but [the fact] Electoral Commission staff are themselves ignorant of the basic make-up of our electoral system in an election year when they are responsible for assisting electors is unthinkable."

Tawhai contacted the Electoral Commission requesting an immediate memo be sent to all staff with correct voting process information, but managers would not take her call.

A woman assisting Tawhai said she knew nothing about the Māori seats before being instructed by managers to redirect Tawhai to information about voting, leaving Tawhai to question the Commission’s commitment to a democracy for all.     

"In the absolute minimum, anyone with responsibilities within the Electoral Commission should have an understanding of our electoral system in order to ensure they are able to fulfil their roles in assisting all New Zealanders, including Māori, to exercise our vote as is our basic democratic right whether we be on the General or Māori roll."

Chief Electoral Officer Alicia Wright says they are taking the matter seriously and as of today issued a reminder of process to staff.

"They all receive training, including on the General Roll and the Māori Roll, and every voting place issues both Māori and General electorate ballot papers.

"We want everyone to have a good experience when they go to vote, and if that doesn’t happen, we want to hear about it."

The Commission has contacted Veronica to discuss the matters she raised and assure her they will be followed up.

If voters have any issues at a voting place contact the Electoral Commission as soon as possible with details of the experience and when and where you voted enquiries@elections.govt.nz