Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Maori voters may be allowed to swap rolls every election cycle

Prime Minister John Key. File photo / Steven McNicholl
Prime Minister John Key. File photo / Steven McNicholl

Prime Minister John Key says he has no objection to an Electoral Commission proposal to allow Maori voters to switch between the Maori roll and the general roll between elections, rather than only at the five-yearly Maori Electoral Option.

The Electoral Commission made the recommendation in its report on the general election, saying one of the main complaints from Maori voters was that they could not switch rolls other than during the five-yearly electoral option, the last of which was in 2006. It proposed allowing Maori voters to switch once in each three year electoral cycle instead.

Although National has advocated scrapping the Maori seats, Mr Key said he would not have a problem with allowing voters to switch more easily.

"In broad principle I've never been that worried whether someone's on the Maori roll or the general roll, it's just personal choice."

A Maori Party spokesman said it would welcome the change.

"We are very concerned at the falling turn-out to elections, and we welcome the Commission's bold proposal to have a Maori option once each electoral cycle, instead of with each census. We have called for this in the past."

However, electoral law specialist Graeme Edgler said in his submission on the report it would give one group of people a greater opportunity to influence an election than other voters.

"Allowing someone to switch between the two rolls at any stage during the electoral cycle would permit someone to change electorates with the intention of influencing the result: for example, to vote in a by-election, or because the polls suggest that the general or Maori electorate they may be in will have greater influence over the result."

He said the proposal would also undermine the rationale for the Maori seats to ensure Maori representation in Parliament and allow Maori to vote collectively.

"If it is adopted, a choice to be represented through the Maori roll will be much more able to be exercised for transient tactical reasons ..."

The Electoral Commission report will be considered by the Justice and Electoral Select Committee before the Government has to consider any recommendations that committee makes. Another recommendation was for refusing to file a return to be made a corrupt practice, carrying heavy fines and a possible prison sentence. Currently failing to file a return carried a minimal fine compared to filing a false return which was a corrupt practice. It meant candidates could choose to cop the fine rather than reveal something they did not want known in their return.

The commission also proposed future referenda be done by postal ballot rather than with a general election.

It said the election had cost $37.121 million, of which $8.507 million was for the referendum, up from $28.66 million for the 2008 election.

Other recommendations included allowing scrutineers into advance voting booths in future because of the increase in numbers of those voting ahead of election day. However, the party rosettes those scrutineers are allowed to wear could be on the way out. The commission said the rosettes were the subject of most election day complaints by voters. The law prohibited any election advertising on election day, but there was an exemption for scrutineer rosettes. It recommended removing that exemption as well as one allowing ribbons in party colours on cars.

THE RECOMMENDATIONS

* Allow Maori to swap between Maori roll and general roll once every election cycle.
* Make a refusal to file a return a "corrupt practice".
* Hold referenda by postal ballot rather than with a general election.
* Review regulation of electioneering on social media.
* Prohibit party scrutineers wearing party rosettes at polling stations.
* Prohibit ribbons or streamers in a party's colours on cars on election day.
* Allow party scrutineers in advance voting places.
* Prohibit election advertising within 100m of an advance voting place.
* Review law to ensure it provides for interruption of polling by an emergency, such as earthquake.

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