Vote2020

By Meriana Johnsen of RNZ

Māori trying to switch electoral rolls ahead of the election are frustrated they will not be able to do so until 2024, and are left with poor candidate choices in their current electorate as a result.

Sam Smith, from Ngāti Naho and Ngāti Maniapoto, recently moved from Auckland Central to Awhitu where he has found the choice of candidates in his electorate lacking.

"I'm out here now, and I can't vote in the electorate I want to for the next two elections, which means I have to vote on the general roll in the Port Waikato electorate where there is no one standing from any parties that I align with."

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On the other hand, Smith said his local Māori electorate - Hauraki-Waikato - offers a range of candidates from the likes of the Māori Party and Labour that do align with his values.

He said while he still intends to enrol so he can cast a party vote, he is unsure if he will cast an electorate vote.

He is worried that others in his position may be put off enrolling at all and said a law change was desperately needed.

Associate professor in Māori Studies at Victoria University Maria Bargh, who has studied elections for the past 15 years, agreed that Māori should be able to change electorates at any time.

"But failing that, around the election time - so every three years - certainly also makes sense because that's when the Electoral Commission is investing in information and awareness campaigns and it makes it easier to be able to communicate the rules and regulations around the Māori electorates during that particular time."

On average, 6000 Māori contact the Electoral Commission every year to request to change rolls. But at the last election, 19,000 people requested to change rolls but could not.

"Those numbers tend to increase as we get closer to the general election or even the local body elections and we knew that it was frustrating for voters to not be able to change so we felt that that was going to be a better option for Māori voters to be able to change between rolls leading up to general elections," the national manager of enrolment and community engagement at the Electoral Commission, Mandy Bohté said.

The recommendation from the Electoral Commission after the last election that Māori be able to change rolls once every three years was put to the Justice select committee.

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It was supported by Government members of that committee, but was opposed by National Party members including Nick Smith, who is also the party's spokesman on electoral reform.

"The danger is if you allow anybody to be able to switch at any time - or any three year cycle - is that it will be manipulated.

"There'll be political parties that will organise where they've got a close contest in a particular seat to get Māori to move from one roll to another for electoral advantage - that is National's underlying concern."

He said Māori should not be able to change rolls just because they do not like the candidates in their electorate, as there will also be non-Māori in this position who do not have the option to change.

Minister for Justice Andrew Little said he supports the right of Māori to change between rolls outside the current cycle.

He said he still intends for there to be a wider review of the Electoral Act which would include looking at the Māori electorate option.

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