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Maori ward raises timing issues

A hikoi in Martinborough to protest for Maori wards in South Wairarapa district culminated in a waiata in the council offices. PHOTO/FILE

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Restrictions on switching from the general Maori roll could cause inequity for voting on Masterton’s Maori Ward.

In May this year, Masterton District Council decided it would be forming a Maori ward for the 2022 local elections.

The council said in its submission to government on the Maori electoral option that the council represented an estimated 27,500 residents.

“Over 20 per cent of our community identifies as Maori, and our Maori population is growing.”

Ruapehu District Council said Maori wards were like Maori parliamentary seats and were established in areas where only those on the Maori electoral roll would vote for the Maori Ward candidates.

The council’s submission said the main reason for council making the decision to form a Maori ward was to enable more Maori representation in council’s decision-making processes.

“The current timing and frequency of the Maori Electoral Option presents a barrier for Maori in our district who may want to vote for the Maori ward in 2022 but are not currently on the Maori electoral roll.

“While this adds urgency, the arguments for reviewing the timing and frequency of the Maori electoral option are broader. We strongly advocate urgent reconsideration of the timing and frequency of the Maori electoral option.”

Maori can only choose the Maori electoral roll option when they first enrol to vote, or during a specified four-month period every five to six years. The last opportunity for Maori to switch roll was in 2018, and the next will be in 2024, MDC said.

Rangitane o Wairarapa iwi representative Tiraumaera Te Tau said at the last council meeting that she thought the submission was good and questioned how many other councils had submitted.

“If it goes ahead, it should be made clear how we communicate to our wider Maori community that are on the general roll that actually have the option of going to the Maori roll.”

The council said in its agenda that the establishment of a Maori Ward enabled Maori voters who were registered on the Maori electoral roll to vote for the Maori ward.

“Maori voters who are registered on the General roll must transfer to the Maori roll if they want to vote for the Maori ward.”

It said without the opportunity for Maori to switch roll until 2021, Maori voters who were still enrolled on the general roll wouldn’t be able to vote on the Maori ward.

“To enable Maori to make a choice regarding Maori or general roll before the 2022 local elections, the process would need to change.”

The council said in its submission that there were implications for Maori regardless of the roll they chose.

“Depending on the political dynamics at play, these implications could be different for each and every election.

Maori voters should be able to participate in democracy in the way that they feel best meets their needs for every election.”

It said the timing of the Maori electoral option lined up with the census, which it referred to as a “head count”.

“Given the Maori Electoral Option impacts people’s voting entitlements, at the very least, Maori should have the opportunity to choose the Maori roll in the lead up to both the local and national elections.”

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