Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi says New Zealand's electoral laws leave Māori "to feel like the other", and like they don't matter in a democratic process.
Waititi, who is co-leader of Te Pāti Māori, is pushing for changes to how the electoral roll system works, including renaming the rolls to the Māori and Non-Māori rolls, and giving Māori more freedom to switch between them.
But opponents say while there is room for more flexibility, they have concerns about enabling "tactical switching" in elections and creating "unworkable" law.
Justice minister Kiri Allan has proposed the Electoral (Māori Electoral Option) Legislation Bill, which would allow Māori voters to change their electoral roll almost whenever they choose.
Currently, they can only move between the general and Māori electoral rolls during a four-month period every four to six years. The last time this happened was 2018 and the next is 2024.
The bill passed its first reading on June 30 with support from Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori. National and Act opposed it. It has been sent to the Justice Committee.
During the debate on the bill in Parliament, Waititi described New Zealand's electoral law as "discriminatory", "anti-democratic" and "downright racist".
"Voter suppression is very much alive and well in Aotearoa," Waititi said.
The next election Māori could vote in after changing to the Māori roll was 2026 - which Waititi called an "eight-year lockout" from democracy.
"This is a stain on this country's democracy and it's a disgrace."
He described National and Act's opposition to the bill as "quite disturbing".
"To continuously work towards silencing Māori in this world-class democracy is an absolute disgrace," Waititi said.
Waititi told NZME this week his desire to change the rules had been inspired by constituents frequently raising the issue.
Waititi's bill, the Electoral (Right to Switch Rolls Freely) Amendment Bill, has been drawn out of the biscuit tin but has not yet had its first reading.
It would allow roll changes, rename the electoral rolls to Māori and Non-Māori and allow people to change electoral districts every two years.
"We've always been made to feel like the other... We have always felt like we don't matter in this particular process because we don't," Waititi said.
He said he was hoping to have these aspects of his bill added to Allan's through the parliamentary process.
A third bill - the Electoral (Strengthening Democracy) Amendment Bill, proposed by the Green Party - would also allow roll changes, among other reforms. It has also not had a first reading.
National Party justice spokesman Paul Goldsmith said in his opinion Waititi's comments about the party were "unhelpful and divisive".
In his view: "We can have a debate about how best to do things, but I believe we should do that in a respectful way, rather than resorting to labelling the opposition, or the different view, as somehow trying to destroy democracy."
Goldsmith said the current enrolment system was "perfectly logical" because it was based on census data, and changes between the censuses could skew the numbers.
He said National was "not opposed to more flexibility around changing between the rolls", but was concerned about the potential for "tactical switching" in general elections.
The Act Party's justice spokeswoman Nicole McKee said Waititi's comments were "water off a duck's back" for the party.
From her perspective: "How is it that by us saying 'make it fair for everyone,' that we're silencing one race over another?" McKee said.
"It's about debating the issues that matter to all of the people."
McKee said Act agreed the current "inflexible, impractical" system needed to be changed.
She said Act would support allowing switches every three years with the general elections, at least one month before polling day.
She said the bill in its current form would move from "one unworkable regime to another".
McKee, who is on the Justice Committee, said there had been few submissions on the bill so far and urged the public to do so before July 30.
Tauranga-based Labour list MP Jan Tinetti said from her perspective, "the reason the Government is changing the law is because the current system isn't fair".
"This issue has been repeatedly raised in reports by the Justice Select Committee and the Electoral Commission, so change is needed and overdue," Tinetti said.
"The Ministry of Justice undertook targeted engagement on the Māori Electoral Option in mid-2021. Feedback on the proposed changes was overwhelmingly positive."
Bay of Plenty-based Labour list MP Angie Warren-Clark agreed change was needed.
"The bill that I support is the Government bill that has been introduced by the Minister for Justice and I look forward to having the other bills debated in the house for first reading," Warren-Clark said.