Mar 11, 2013


If you do one thing this year, enrol or switch to the Maori roll. I can’t stress it enough – enrol on or switch to the Maori roll. Do it. Do it now.

In 1975 the then Labour government introduced the Maori electoral option. The option lets Maori choose between enrolling on the general roll or – as every patriotic Maori should – enrolling on the Maori roll. The option is held in census’ years and determines whether or not there will be an increase or decrease in the number of Maori seats.  

Along with the Treaty of Waitangi, the Maori seats lend Maori a special constitutional status.* This is the unintended consequence of the seats creation. For 129 years the Maori seats were capped at four – despite explosive growth in the Maori population and the extension of the franchise – thus limiting Maori political power. Until 1951 elections for the Maori seats were held separately and until 1975 only “half-castes” could elect to vote on either the European roll (as it was then called) or the Maori roll. It wasn’t until 1993 that the number of Maori seats was tied to the Maori electoral population.**

The Maori seats give our people, for want of better metaphors, a foot in the door and a seat at the table. They anchor Maori political power. Without them, Maori political progress is wholly dependent on the acquiescence of non-Maori parties. It will be a perverse situation if we, rather than external actors, are responsible for limiting our own political power.

If we enrol in numbers the smart money is on an eighth Maori seat, probably in South Auckland. I’m picking that’ll mean Te Tai Tokerau, Tamaki Makaurau and Hauraki-Waikato will have to be reconfigured.

It’s so, so important that we enrol on or switch to the Maori roll. I can’t emphasise that enough. Unlike the provisions of the Electoral Act regulating the general electorate seats, the provisions around Maori representation are not entrenched. In other words, the Maori seats are subject to abolition by simple majority.

It’s also worth considering the timing of the electoral option (i.e. five-yearly). The practical effect of the five-yearly option is, I think, to discourage Maori from switching rolls. There may be a constitutional rationale for the restriction, but as the Electoral Commission notes one of the main concerns among Maori is that they cannot switch rolls at or between elections. The Commission recommended that Maori should have option of switching rolls between elections. The compromise option appears to be limiting enrolment several months before or after elections rather than anytime between.

The Maori seats don’t lend Maori more electoral power than non-Maori. Maori roll voters can only vote in one electorate and cast one party vote. The Maori seats do, however, ensure that kaupapa Maori issues will not be – or at the least don’t have to be – subsumed into the body politic.*** That's something we have to preserve. Now enrol.

Post script: for a good backgrounder on the Maori seats have a look at this research paper - The Origins of the Maori Seats - by the Parliamentary Library.

*See the Waitangi Tribunal report linked to above.
**For an accessible discussion citing those facts see this piece at Te Ara.
***That should probably read “subsumed into mainstream political discourse”. However, I like the words body politic and the metaphor it represents.


  1. How long does a Pasifikan have to live in NZ to constitute as Maori?

    How long did it take the original Pasifikan settlers ?

    Are we as Pasifikan not all 'common people' in line with the original meaning of Maoli/Maohi/Maori ?

  2. At the risk of being pedantic (which is considered to be a positive character trait by some):

    In 1975, the law change allowed Maori to freely chose to enrol in either a general electorate or a Maori electorate. (And, pari passu, removed the odious "half-caste" provisions from the 1956 Act.

    It was in 1980 that the law changed to allow Maori the five-yearly choice to switch either way between the general and Maori rolls. Had practicable effect following the 191 census.

    1. The 1975 law would also have made it so that the number of Maori seats would rise and fall with the number enrolled on the Maori roll. After the 1975 election say Muldoon's National Party installed, the new National Government (in 1976, before the change could take effect with a census) passed a law, the sole purpose of which was to set the number again at 4.

      I would also note that the major change in the Maori/General roll make-up occurred not in the 1991 option, but the special 1994 option.

  3. this is my home...I dont have anywhere else in the world that I can call home as an indigenous person...this is whenua,my turangawaewae,my ahi kaa

    I already have to share it with people who break promises to me so why should I extend it to they extend to me the same rights as an indigenous person in their country...I think not

  4. Morgan - why is it that you think the five-yearly option discourages Maori from enrolling? Any Maori person who is not enrolled to vote can enrol at any time, choosing when they do so whether they want to be on the Maori roll or the General roll. They can also re-enrol at a new address if they move at any time (just as with non-Maori).

    Finally, I would note that the Maori seats *are* inherently more likely to result in overhang than general seats are (because of the decision we made to draw boundaries with respect to overall population), which many people would view as investing those voting in Maori seats with more electoral power.

    1. The enrolment window is small. In many cases people, quote, "can't be fucked" when enrolment rolls around every 5 years while others miss the enrolment window due to a lack of publicity. After all, the time between enrolment windows (and the four month window itself) is one of the most persistent complaints among Maori voters.

    2. Except that's not the enrolment window. Anyone - Maori or non-Maori - can enrol at any time. The only exclusion is that those who are *already enrolled* cannot change the type of roll they are on except during that window.

      I could understand if your complaint was: the Maori option window is small and that is why so few Maori are enrolled *on the Maori roll*, but your complaint appeared the time for the Maori option is why so few Maori are enrolled to vote total.

      If there are Maori whom you know who think that Maori can only enrol during the Maori option, please let them know that they are mistaken, and that they can enrol at any time.

    3. Yes, by enrolment window that is what I'm referring to (i.e. the ability for those already enrolled to switch rolls). I assumed that that went without saying, but in hindsight it didn't.

  5. Is that what primarily defines a Maori now... A name on a piece of paper that entitles you to vote as a Maori ?

  6. yes I have already switched to Maori Roll

  7. I am considering switching over to the General Roll. I am disillusioned by the state of affairs in the Maori Electorate I am registered to. I am unhappy with the incumbent but I also know it's extremely unlikely the current MP will lose their seat next year. Cult of personality rules.

    More importantly, I am deeply unhappy with the three-way struggle for the seats. It wouldn't be a problem if that struggle was fought on issues. But it's not. It's fought on the basis of personal ego-driven disputes between (for want of a better term) the 'combatants'. And all of those three parties are using every PR weapon they have to convince voters otherwise.

    Absolutely diabolical.



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