The difference between universal suffrage and equal suffrage

Universal suffrage is about whether a country allows all adult citizens to vote regardless of gender, race, religion, property, income, wealth or social status. We achieved this in 1879 for male New Zealanders and 1893 for female New Zealanders.

Equal suffrage is about each vote having equal power. If you had a law which said women only elect 20% of the MPs despite being 50% of the population, then you would have universal suffrage but not equal suffrage. It would be outrageous if women had less voting power just because they are women.

Another example of unequal suffrage is the old rotten boroughs in the United Kingdom. In the 1831 UK Election, 152 had less than 100 voters in them. This gave the residents of those areas hugely disproportionate political power.

Another example of not having equal suffrage is Fiji under their 1990 constitution. It said 37 seats are reserved for indigenous Fijians, 27 seats for Indian Fijians, and six for other races. The respective populations were 329,000 and 348,000 for the first two groups. This means the number of MPs per 10,000 was:

  • Indigenous Fijians 1.12
  • Indian Fijians 0.78

So this meant the vote of an Indian Fijian was worth only 69% of the vote of an Indigenous Fijian.

This was universal suffrage, but not equal suffrage. It was widely condemned around the world.

This is what Labour and Greens have just voted for in Parliament. They have voted for a law change in Rotorua where the votes of people on the roll will be worth only 39% of the votes of people on the Māori roll, for Ward Councillors.

They are ending equal suffrage in New Zealand. Despite this massive constitutional change, the media have barely reported on the issue.

You can submit against the bill here. If you don’t speak up now, it will be too late once this is established as a precedent.

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