A District Court judge is overseeing a recount of the Te Tai Tokerau electorate in last month's general election after unsuccessful candidate Mana leader Hone Harawira called for a judicial recount, saying people were not allowed to cast special votes because they were not on the electoral roll.

Mr Harawira lost his Te Tai Tokerau seat to Labour's Kelvin Davis by 739 votes, but yesterday lodged an application in the Whangarei District Court for the judicial recount.

In his application Mr Harawira said he was concerned about the large number of special votes that were rejected because the voter was not enrolled. He aims to ensure that the votes in his electorate are counted to the full extent possible, including reconsideration of special votes rejected because candidates could not be found on the electoral roll.

Under election rules, only those enrolled to vote can do so. Judge Tom Broadmore will be overseeing the recount in Auckland over the next five days.

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The last successful judicial recount was in 2011. National's Paula Bennett led the race for the Waitakere electorate by 349 votes on election night, but lost it to Carmel Sepuloni after special votes gave the Labour candidate an 11-vote advantage.

Ms Bennett reclaimed the seat with a margin of nine votes after she requested a judicial recount. But in that case Judge John Adams ruled that he would not attempt an audit of those who were not on a roll.

Mr Harawira said the judge was wrong in that case and did have the power to review any decision of the Returning Officer or the Registrar of Electors in respect of the checking of special voting declarations; or the allowance of special votes.

"While the Returning Officer may have to accept the work of the Registrar of Electors, it is clear that your Honour does not, and the special votes rejected by the Returning Officer during the Official Count may be looked at afresh," he said.

"Irrespective of whether the recount changes the result of the election in Te Tai Tokerau, these issues need to be independently examined and substantial improvements made ahead of the next election to ensure our people's basic rights are respected and their participation in the democratic process is encouraged and affirmed."

Mr Davis said he was not surprised by Mr Harawira's actions.

"People handle defeat and loss in different ways. Hone's predictable and we expected this," Mr Davis said.