Power & people: Democracy in the new NZ
May Wang has voted in every general election since arriving from northeast China 12 years ago.
As an Asian migrant, she is part of a demographic that is less
likely to enrol or turn up at the ballot box.
The Mt Roskill mother of two and accountant said many elderly Chinese did not understand New Zealand's political system, or worried about the language barrier. But she relished the chance to cast a vote for the first time in her life.
"I never voted in China. It was new for me," she said. "In New Zealand, people asked you to vote, they said, 'This is your right'."
Her first general election, in 2005, was difficult to ignore: "It was in the mail, television, newspaper, radio, everywhere."
Even though her English was limited, she said, the registration process and voting were easy to navigate.
"It was a good process. We got a brochure in the mail which told us which place to go, and information on candidates."
On election day, "volunteer workers said where to go and told you how to do it".
Her most important issue was which political party had the best social welfare and economic policies, and candidates she felt she could trust.
"You have to carry people even when they are not working but want to work ... "
If anything could be changed for future elections, Mrs Wang suggested online voting for general elections.
"More people would vote."
New migrants less likely to vote
When it comes to voting in New Zealand's elections, new migrants rank alongside beneficiaries, solo mothers and the unemployed for turning up at the ballot box.
Pacific Islanders, Chinese and Koreans in particular are less likely to vote than other ethnicities.
Under-representation at the polling booth is also reflected in Parliament, where the proportion of Asian MPs is below the share of the total population.
A study by the New Zealand Immigration Service shows that after 18 months in New Zealand, nearly a quarter of migrants are still not on the electoral roll.
As the country becomes more diverse, experts say, it is important that migrants and minority groups have a larger stake in the democratic process.
In her Superdiversity Stocktake report, Mai Chen says New Zealand already do more than most comparable countries to allow new migrants to vote. A person needs only to have permanent residency for a year before they can cast a vote in general elections. Most countries require voters to gain citizenship, which can take three to five years.
New Zealand also has a sophisticated suite of measures to help those with little or no English to vote.
The Electoral Commission provides information packs in 21 languages (other than New Zealand's three official languages) and at the last election made connections with migrant community groups to deliver enrolment information to hard-to-reach people.
Ms Chen says that as New Zealand becomes "superdiverse", getting new migrants to vote will become more complex and expensive.
Her report makes a number of recommendations for central government, in particular making voter participation a whole-of-government priority with cross-party support.
The Electoral Commission should regularly review linguistic diversity, and consider voting forms in languages other than English accordingly, the report says. Access to interpreters should be improved at polling booths and safeguards need to be introduced to make sure non-English speaking voters are not
taken advantage of by electoral volunteers.
The report points to initiatives in other similar jurisdictions which could be considered here. In Toronto, Canada, election information has to be made available in every language spoken in 2 per cent or more of the homes in a city. If applied to New Zealand, information would have to be available in English, Maori, and Samoan.
Victoria University researcher Fiona Barker said language barriers were only one factor in non-voting. Dr Barker and her colleague Kate McMillan have been speaking to migrants about their experiences in registering and voting in New Zealand. She said the biggest factor in voting or not voting was how long they had lived in the country.
"People are entitled to vote at a time when they're not settled, they are still working out their way in society and don't understand the political system. For many people they don't feel ready to vote yet."
Dr Barker said the most important step was getting migrant voters enrolled and educated about MMP.