125 years ago on 5 December 1890, the first ‘one man, one vote’ election in New Zealand was held. For the first time people could only vote once – a practice that continues to this day.
Since New Zealand’s very first election in 1853, men who owned or leased property of a certain value could vote in every district in which they qualified. This practice was called plural voting.
It was quite easy to do in early elections because up until 1881 elections in different districts were usually held on different days. The move to a single election day had slowed the practice, but did not stop it.
Representation Act Amendment Act 1889
From 1878 onwards many attempts were made to stop plural voting. In 1889, Governor George Grey moved an amendment to prevent people from voting in more than one district under the Representation Act Amendment Bill. It passed by 55 votes to 18.
The change was not total. Property owners were still allowed to enrol in every electorate in which they qualified (plural registration) even though they were only allowed to vote in one.
This meant that they could vote in by-elections in more than one district during a parliamentary term. There was also a dual vote remaining for Māori property-owners, who could vote in both Māori and European electorates if they fulfilled the property qualification.
Both of these exceptions were abolished in 1893, finally achieving a true ‘one man, one vote’ situation. Later that year this changed again when women were given the vote. This resulted in our current system of “one person, one vote”.
Would be interesting to know when other countries moved to one man one vote and then one person one vote.