Māori voters’ reasons for joining the Māori roll – or staying on the general one – are as diverse as the Aotearoa electorate itself.
Are you on the Māori roll or the general roll?
The Māori electoral option provides anyone of Māori descent with the choice to enrol on either the Māori roll or the general roll. It’s a sign-up event held over one four-month period every five to six years; the last one was in 2018, resulting in the first net increase of Māori changing to the general roll since 1996.
This topic has been controversial lately, with two bills being pulled from the private members’ ballot looking to change the rules around electoral roll switching. Shortly after, then justice minister Kris Faafoi announced a government bill that would allow Māori to switch rolls at any time.
The Māori electoral option is important as it determines the number of Māori seats in parliament, which fulfils our right as Māori to political representation, as guaranteed in te Tiriti o Waitangi. If you’re on the Māori roll you vote for a candidate in the Māori electorate you live in (as of 2020, there were seven). If you’re on the general roll, you vote for a candidate in the general electorate you live in (as of 2020, there were 65).
The Māori electorates have a complex history, beginning with the Māori Representation Act of 1867 that was introduced to give Māori men the vote. Since 1975, all those of Māori descent have been able to choose between the Māori roll and the general roll.
The newly proposed bills have led to debate over the potential for Māori to switch rolls in order to change an election outcome. However, we still don’t really know why people choose the Māori roll or the general roll. Is it simply strategic, or is it due to an array of complex reasons?
We believe the answer is likely the latter, and we all have different experiences. Here, we tell our stories of roll choice.
Tommy: ‘I didn’t feel Māori enough’
Last time I could switch rolls, my Pākehā complexion and lack of reo made me believe that I wasn’t “Māori enough” to change from the general roll. To me then, the Māori roll was only for those steeped in te reo Māori me ōna tikanga. In reality, if you are Māori, you deserve to be on the Māori roll, period.
So why did I not feel “Māori enough”?
Maybe it was because my Māori mum and nana died before my eighth birthday. With the health inequity present in this nation, Māori children are affected by whānau deaths unequally. This childhood trauma disconnected me from my Māori identity.
But growing up in the shadow of Puketāpapa (Mt Roskill) with my dad’s Pākehā family kept me connected to my whakapapa. Mum’s whānau grew up on Richardson Road, three streets away from where we lived. Hearing my uncles’ stories about living there always made me feel connected to my mum and nana. Also, in Roskill the Manukau Harbour, the source of life for our Tāmaki tūpuna, was never far away.
Colonisation purposefully disconnects Māori from our identity as tangata whenua. It wants childhood traumas and our unequal society to make people like me feel “not Māori enough”. But whakapapa is indestructible. Māori don’t need to question whether we are “Māori enough” through meaningless blood purity levels like half, one-quarter or one-eighth, as if we are death eaters from Harry Potter.
So 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!
Ema: ‘I ticked both boxes’
At the ripe old age of 21, I see all the mahi that other rangatahi are doing within the political sphere and I think back to when I was younger. I had no idea about any of this! Perhaps it’s because I’m from South Auckland, where for many politics don’t matter too much, because you’re going to be living paycheck to paycheck anyway, regardless of red or blue being in power.
I received my VoteNZ registration letter at 17 years old. I read it over and over to make sure that I fully understood, and yet I didn’t. I had no idea of the historical significance of the Māori electoral roll. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of colonisation and the consequences of it that remain today, I was well aware. It’s that I knew next to nothing about politics.
Despite this, I knew that I wanted to register to vote. I felt confident enough in my “Māori-ness” that I decided to tick both boxes – not knowing that you could only pick one. I now know that I should have been contacted by someone to sort this out, but I wasn’t. I was entered into the general roll as a default, and once I had learnt of the importance of the Māori roll, it was too late. With the current legislation in place, I still have to wait two more years to make this switch.
The lack of education surrounding politics, especially for Māori and Pasifika rangatahi, leads us to believe that it’s trivial, and that our voices don’t matter. But as everyone loves to remind us, we are the future. It’s up to us to do everything in our power to ensure that all that our tīpuna fought for was not in vain, and that tangata Māori realise the power we hold.
These experiences are our own, but we’re also interested in hearing yours…
Which Roll? Ko Tēhea Rārangi Pōti is a study discovering why tangata whenua choose to enrol on the Māori or general electoral roll.
We have a short anonymous survey available in either te reo Māori or English. But we don’t just want to hear from those who strongly identify with their Māori identity, or only those who love politics. Instead, we want to inclusively hear from diverse people with Māori whakapapa or of Māori descent. All survey participants will go into a draw for a $5,000 prize pool.
Currently, there is not much accessible information to empower Māori to make an informed electoral roll choice. To bridge this gap, we will ultimately use our survey findings to create an online resource to help Māori make an informed choice.
Ema Tuakoi and Tommy de Silva are working on the Which Roll? Ko Tēhea Rārangi Pōti study as research assistants.