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An artistic representation of the Māori and general electoral rolls.
Design: Tina Tiller.

ĀteaApril 13, 2023

PSA: It’s easier than ever to switch between the Māori and general electoral rolls

An artistic representation of the Māori and general electoral rolls.
Design: Tina Tiller.

Voters of Māori descent can now swap between electoral rolls with a few clicks almost whenever they want.

Since 1975, Māori have had to wait four to six years for a tiny three-month window to enact our democratic right to switch between the Māori and general electoral rolls. But a recent law change allows Māori to switch between either roll much more easily – if you do it online, it only takes a few minutes and a couple clicks. 

The changes

People of Māori descent can now change electoral rolls whenever they want until three months before an election – the cutoff date this year being midnight July 13. The opportunity to change rolls is now being offered to the 512,000 voters who registered as having Māori whakapapa. 

The Electoral Commission recently mailed out information packs about changing rolls to the last known address of eligible voters. 

How to change

There are two ways to change rolls: filling in and returning the paper form or heading to the website. This law change reignites the roll choice discussion: if you’re eligible for both, which electoral roll should you be on? I can’t answer that question for you as it comes down to personal preference, but it’s important that all eligible voters at least think about whether or not they want to change rolls.

A banner for the Māori Electoral Option featuring a smiling man with a pounamu necklace over an elections orange background.
Image: Electoral Commission

What’s the difference between the two rolls anyway? 

The Māori roll is only open to people of Māori descent. The eligible group doesn’t solely include brown-skinned, staunch tangata whenua though. It also contains Pākehā-looking – and often identifying – people with a Māori ancestor. Having a Māori tupuna doesn’t automatically place you on the Māori roll, in fact the general roll is the default for people of Māori descent. 

The general roll is open to all New Zealanders aged 18+, including tangata whenua. Voters on the general roll choose the 65 general electorate MPs, like Chlöe Swarbrick in Auckland Central, Kiri Allan in East Coast and Matt Doocey in Waimakariri. Māori roll voters select the seven Māori seat MPs, like Rawiri Waititi in Waiariki or Kelvin Davis in Te Tai Tokerau.  

Why do I want to be on the Māori roll?

I probably think about this kaupapa more than most because I used to work for Dr Lara Greaves (Ngāpuhi, Pākehā, and Tararā) researching why eligible voters choose either roll. Working on that kaupapa and discussing it with my former colleagues helped me decide to change rolls. So when I received my letter, I followed the clear, simple instructions and swapped from the general roll to the Māori roll. In a previous article on The Spinoff, I outlined why I wanted to change rolls

Long story short, I used to not feel Māori enough to be on the Māori roll. But now, after reconnecting with my iwi, living with some hearty Māori from Te Tairawhiti and working in the rangahau Māori space, I think joining the Māori roll is tika. In my previous article, I said, “next time I can change rolls I’m gonna say a big f*$k you to colonisation and proudly recognise my special position as tangata whenua. If more Māori joined the Māori roll, the Māori perspective would increase in a system that was built to exclude our voice. Sounds good to me!” But there are plenty of reasons why an eligible voter might want to change rolls, all of which are valid. 

A map of the Māori electorates.
A map of the Māori electorates. (Image: Wikimedia)

Does it really make a difference where I vote?

Strategic intentions – like voting in a more competitive electorate – is one of the many valid motives for changing rolls. For example, if I was on the general roll I would be voting in David Seymour’s typically safe Epsom seat. In 2020, Seymour won Epsom with a 9,224 vote majority over second-placed Camilla Belich. However, in my local Māori electorate, Tāmaki Makaurau, Peeni Henare only beat John Tamihere by 927 votes – 10 times less than Seymour’s sweep. Voting in Tāmaki Makaurau this year means I will vote in a genuinely competitive election. 

The opportunity to change rolls is now open and more accessible than ever before. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the process to change was, and I can assure you that if you want to swap either way, it is very straightforward. We’ll put out another reminder closer to the July 13 cutoff, including the results of Greaves’ research into why eligible voters made their electoral roll choice. 

In the meantime, now is an excellent time to kōrero with trusted family and friends and have a good think about your roll choice if you’re eligible for both. You might conclude that the roll you are on is the right one, and if so, awesome; you don’t need to do anything and you’ll remain registered on your current one. On the other hand, you might figure out you want to swap rolls for some reason, which can now be easily done online. But if you change your mind and want to swap back, you now don’t have to wait half a decade to do so – you can do it right away, any time before midnight July 13.

New Zealand voters with Māori whakapapa can follow the on-page prompts on to swap electoral rolls online right now or return their filled out paper form to the Electoral Commission. 

Keep going!