A Government move to take away the right of a poll on Māori wards could see Whangārei District Council call for submissions on the issue then cancel it a couple of days later.
Imminent changes to the Electoral Act and swift work on the part of groups seeking a poll on Māori wards have left the council in an odd position of having to advertise for submissions, then possibly two days later have to advertise that there can be no submissions.
The poll demand petitions started after Northland Regional (NRC), Whangārei (WDC) and Kaipara (KDC) District councils voted to introduce Māori wards.
Under legislation if the petitions gained signatures of 5 per cent of voters a poll of ratepayers would have to be held.
However, since then, the Government has used parliamentary urgency to rush in a bill to get rid of a public veto on Māori wards.
Democracy Northland exceeded the 5 per cent of electors needed to call for a poll on the NRC's plan to adopt Māori wards by a significant margin. It obtained 8601 votes, 142 per cent of the 6027 required.
Support was even stronger in the Whangārei and Kaipara districts, which have also resolved to establish Māori wards, with 5124 and 1364 signatures, 166 per cent and 172 per cent of the 3080 and 790 required, respectively.
WDC CEO Rob Forlong said the council's electoral officer confirmed that the poll petition met the threshold of 3080 signatures and a binding poll has now been triggered. This also triggered the need for a public notice on Thursday, which might need to be cancelled as early as Saturday.
The situation is expected to be similar for NRC and KDC.
"Under current legislation, a poll on the establishment of Māori wards will be required by May 21. To meet that deadline our electoral officer is preparing a public notice for Thursday, February 25,'' Forlong said.
''At the same time, the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, which removes the mechanism for binding polls to be held on establishing Māori wards or constituencies, is also expected to come into effect on Thursday, February 25 – the same day as the public notice regarding the binding poll will be appearing.
"That means we have to give formal notice of the poll on Thursday and may need to advertise that the poll has been cancelled on Saturday."
Forlong said the council had no choice in these actions.
"They are (or will be) mandatory legal requirements. We have alerted the Department of Internal Affairs to the situation, and they are working hard to assist us."