I have prepared the following (draft) submission on the Electoral (Māori Electoral Option) Legislation Bill, which you all have until Saturday to submit on. Happy to consider comments, or to fix typos: have I used the word whakapapa incorrectly, etc? Please let me know :-)
The Justice Committee
Electoral (Māori Electoral Option) Legislation Bill
Submission of Graeme Edgeler
1. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Electoral (Māori Electoral Option) Legislation Bill.
2. I recognise that the policy questions raised by the bill can be fraught, and that there are theoretical arguments around election fairness that argue against allowing eligible voters to switch between the Māori roll and the General roll at will, but I support the overall principle of this bill, that the option should be more open than the law currently provides.
3. The principle argument I have heard against this policy change will allow for gaming of the Māori seats: the suggestion that people might move to the Māori roll after a census to increase the number of Māori seats and then change back the General roll to vote in a more marginal electorate. I do not think this is a particularly realistic possibility, simply for the reason the vast majority of voters do not think like that, and not least because voters who care enough to go on the Māori roll to increase the number of Māori electorates are almost certainly already on the Māori roll.
4. While the Government appears to have recognised that this at least a partial concern, with the inclusion of new section 78A dealing with by-elections, I do not consider that the issue is one that should be a complete block to removing the current ban on roll-switching. However, if there is some concern that this is an issue – particularly as the bill amends reserved sections of the Electoral Act – I offer some additional safeguards and alternatives which the Committee could consider that would still meet the aim of the bill in allowing more freedom to change between the Māori roll and General roll.
Why a Policy Change is Welcome
5. I have not always supported a change to allow voters to switch between the Māori roll and the General roll, as I have a general aversion to rules which might allow for gerrymandering. As noted above, I now consider this a relatively minor concern in this case/
6. The choice to be on the Māori roll or on the General roll is an expression of individual identity. It may be one that can change over time, but it is not that will change frequently for any one person. How that identity is expressed will differ between individuals, but that identity may manifest itself in different ways even when an individual’s beliefs do not change.
7. For example, someone of Ngā Puhi ancestry might have chosen to go on the Māori roll because being on that roll enables them to have a say in who represents the Ngā Puhi rohe in Parliament, through voting in Te Tai Tokerau.
8. But if they moved to Hamilton to live and work, they may consider it wrong that they would be voting to determine who would represent Māori who whakapapa to Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Raukawa and the other Iwi who have rohe within the boundaries of the Hauraki-Waikato electorate.
9. Forcing this person, who chose to go on the Māori roll as an exercise honouring their whakapapa to later vote in in a way which may undermine their mana is wrong, and the law should not require it.
Other Ways of Achieving this Policy Goal
10. I welcome change to abandon the status quo, but recognising that the Committee and the House will likely be considering alternative measures to achieve this policy which can attract broader support, I offer the following as options which will advance the policy underpinning this law, while also lessening the risks some have identified with allowing completely free change.
Roll Changes not Permitted After the Roll Closing Date
11. One of the practical issues that will arise with the bill as drafted is that, by permitting roll changes up to the election, and even on election day, some voters may be at least somewhat enrolled in two electorates: these are voters whose name will be on a printed electoral roll, and who will be sent an Easy Vote card for an electorate they are not going to vote in.
12. I understand that one of the aims of this bill is to place the Māori roll on an even playing field with the general roll. The bill as currently written goes beyond this. People who may only enrol on the general roll cannot change their electorate whenever they wish, but instead only change the electorate they are in when they move (or once the boundaries are re-drawn). Moreover, they must live in their new electorate for a month before their new enrolment takes effect.
13. If a voter is on the roll for Wellington Central, and moves to Christchurch Central after the rolls are printed, they vote in their old electorate for that election. The same could apply to those who change roll type after the roll closing date: when a person changes roll after the roll closing date, that decision – like an updated enrolment – does not take effect until a month later, after the election.
14. New enrolments, of people not then enrolled to vote, could of course choose which roll to enrol on as they can now.
Allow Changing of Rolls when Re-enrolling after Moving
15. Another way in which the bill as drafted does not treat those who may enrol on either the Māori roll or the General roll equally with those who may only enrol on the general roll is that it permits a person to change roll without moving. When a person on the general roll moves, they may change electorate.
16. One alternative, which would treat the Māori roll and the general the same would be to only permit a change in roll type when a person moves and has to change their enrolment. This would address issues like the one I raised above about a person on the Māori roll not wanting to vote in electorate to which they do not whakapapa.
Change once per term
17. Alternatively, as recommended by the Electoral Commission following the 2011 and 2014 election, voters could be permitted to change roll type once per term, which would address the concern some have about possible gerrymandering.
18. I would not object to the bill as introduced passing in that form, although I can see some benefit to adopting the roll-closing date as a date after which roll changes are closed.
19. In the aim of reaching agreement, I invite the Committee to consider alternatives, such as those I outline above.
20. I look forward to speaking the committee in person if that can be arranged.