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The Māori Roll Explained

What are the Māori Seats and why do we have them?

The journey of there being Māori seats in parliament began in 1853, during a time when Māori were not represented in parliament as they did not qualify under the property requirement because they possessed their lands communally and not under individual title like Europeans. Stupid I know. In fact, back then, Māori could not even vote unless they had individual title granted by the Crown.

During the wars of the early 1860s, however, some European politicians argued that it was vital to assimilate Māori into the political mainstream to ensure lasting peace between the two races. They were also keen to reward those Māori tribes who had fought alongside the Crown. So, after much debate, parliament agreed to set up four electorate seats specific to Māori under the Māori Representation Act of 1867.  With this, to avoid difficulties with property ownership, all Māori men over 21 were eligible to vote and stand for Parliament.

Despite these changes, it wasn’t until after 1975 that Māori could choose whether or not they voted in Māori electorates. In 1975 the government introduced what is known as the Māori electoral option where voters could decide which roll they voted on. This is held alongside or following each census every five years. Basically, if you have Māori heritage you can choose to be on either the Māori or the general roll but you cannot change rolls until the Māori electoral option takes place.

The benefits of voting on the Māori roll means you get to choose who represents each Māori electorate and therefore gets one of the seven Māori seats in parliament. The Māori electorates are currently Te Tai Tokerau, Tāmaki Makaurau, Hauraki-Waikato, Waiariki, Te Tai Hauāuru, Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, and Te Tai Tonga.  

So how are the Māori electorates determined? Well, when New Zealand introduced the MMP voting system in 1993, the law was changed to vary the number of Māori electorates according to the size of the Māori electoral population, using a similar quota to that used to determine the number of General electorates.  Put simply, this change has meant if more Māori enrol on the Māori roll, it can result in more Māori electorates. Given this, since 1993, the number of Māori electorates has grown from four to seven.

The number of Māori seats does not reflect the proportion of New Zealanders who identify as being of Māori descent because many Māori choose to enrol in general electorates. The number of Māori seats reflects the proportion of voters on the Māori roll at any given time, and the number of seats will increase or decrease according to the results of the Māori electoral option and how many Māori are enrolled on the Māori roll. At the conclusion of the last Māori electoral option in 2013, there were 228,000 Māori on the Māori roll and around 184 000 on the general roll. So, it is split quite evenly.

At the moment Labour holds all seven of the Māori seats although they have been held by various political parties over the years including NZ First and the Māori Party. Any political party can put forward candidates to run in the Māori seats, however, at the last election only Labour, the Māori party, the Green party and the Mana party did.

With the completion of the election the Māori electoral option has come around again. This will be people’s last chance to choose whether they want to be on the Māori or general role until 2023. You can find out whether you are eligible to enrol on the Māori role and make your decision by going to https://maorioption.org.nz/.