We should oppose disproportionally sized electorates

Radio NZ report:

The government is proposing to change the electoral law to allow Māori voters to switch electoral rolls at any time.

Currently, Māori are only allowed to switch between the general and Māori rolls once every five years, a rule which critics have called undemocratic.

Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi said a bill to change the option to any time would be introduced to Parliament.

Allowing a change at any time, up to and including polling day, would allow Māori to fully exercise their voting rights, Faafoi said.

But to pass, the bill will need the support of three quarters of Parliament, including the National Party.

National should oppose this. The media have almost without fail neglected to give any balance to coverage of this issue. Here are the facts:

  1. Only voters of Maori descent even get a choice between the two types of roll. This is a privilege no other voter has.
  2. The current law allows voters of Maori descent to change between rolls after each census and before each redrawing of boundaries. This is because the law requires all electorates to have the same electoral population within 5%.
  3. Relatively few Maori change rolls. At the last option only 18,000 out of 470,000 changes or 3.8%
  4. Allowing people to change rolls after the boundaries are set could and would lead to campaigns to switch rolls to affect close races for electorate seats
  5. Allowing people to change rolls after the boundaries are set could lead to some electorates being drastically smaller or larger than other electorates

Now you might argue what does it matter under MMP, as the party vote determines the Government. This is true, but electorates are still very important to parties. Parties place great store on winning them. They can get you parliamentary representation if you get less than 5%. They get you greater parliamentary resources. They give the electorate MPs greater ability to be reported in local media etc.

I can guarantee you that if this change goes through, parties of the left will campaign for Maori to transfer to the Maori roll for the boundary setting (to gain more Maori seats) by telling people they can transfer back to the general roll once boundaries are done. At the moment Maori voters know that if they enrol on the Maori roll, they have to vote in the Maori seats and wards. This proposed law change will allow people to enrol purely for boundary setting, then swap out.

It will also be used tactically. In seats like Southland, having people transfer from the Maori to General roll will have little impact on the election results as it is a safe seat with few Maori.

But in seats like Northland and East Coast which are 37% and 52% Maori a tactical voting campaign could absolutely change who wins the seat.

The current law is simple. If you choose to be on the general roll or Maori roll for the purpose of setting the boundaries, you must vote on that roll until the next time boundaries change. Labour and others want people to be able to enrol on a roll purely for the purposes of boundary setting, but then tactically swap to the other roll to vote.

National should resist this law change.

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