What you need to know: Electoral Reform Report

What's happening?

The Independent Electoral Review was established in 2022 to consider how to make New Zealand's electoral system more clear, fair, and accessible. On 6 June 2023, the independent group released an interim report. It presents key findings from the first stage of public engagement and makes more than 100 draft recommendations. The interim report supports a second stage of engagement on the review that runs from 6 June to 17 July 2023.

However, this report, which purports to give all New Zealanders a 'fair go,' actually does the complete opposite. Amidst calls for lowering the voting age and debate over the right for convicted criminals to vote, it further divides our country based on race and grants special voting or democratic rights based on ancestry.

The review includes considerations of four main areas:

  • the overall design of the legislative framework for the electoral system
  • maintaining a fit-for-purpose electoral regime for voters, parties, and candidates
  • previous recommendations made by the Justice Committee Inquiries and the Electoral Commission
  • the term of Parliament.

What was more notable, however, was the matters that were deemed outside the scope of the review:

"The review does not include broader constitutional matters. Matters specifically out of scope are: online voting, alternatives to the MMP voting system, the retention of Māori electorate seats, re-establishing an Upper House, the role and functions of the Head of State, or the current size of Parliament. It also does not cover local electoral law."

This extensive 338-page document only reinforces the growing division within our nation, demonstrating once again that Māori are to be treated differently under the law as compared to other New Zealanders. The report makes over 100 recommendations and provides the opportunity to make a submission or complete an online survey by 17 July 2023. These recommendations can be viewed in the Executive Summary

The Electoral Review release coincided with the final Future of Local Government Review report on 21 June 2023 and includes similar recommendations to those in the electoral review.

Of the 100 recommendations that are included in the Independent Electoral Review a snapshot of just 10 are included in the survey response document that is being used as a submission tool.

Five of the 10 recommendations specifically focus on Maori engagement, rights or support, with no other ethnicity mentioned. This heavily skewed report is yet further evidence of the efforts to realise the recommendations of Labour’s He Puapua Report.

The Electoral Review challenges the democratic rights of New Zealanders and raises concerns about the direction our electoral system is heading.

What are our concerns?

The recommendations of the Independent Electoral Review include changing the parliamentary term, reducing the threshold for votes from 5%, lowering the voting age and prisoner voting rights.

However, our concerns are specific to the recurring theme of “giv[ing] effect to te Tiriti o Waitangi/ the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles when exercising functions and powers under the Electoral Act.”

The Electoral Review Report uses modern conceptualisations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi throughout to justify differentiating rights and processes. What they refer to as the 'Treaty Principles' seem to be obligatory, albeit vaguely defined, parts of anything bureaucrats produce. The Treaty of Waitangi does not include any principles and despite efforts to confirm the principles, there is no legislated definition of them.

Thematic threads of co-governance are embedded all through the document, though without explicitly naming it. The entrenchment of ambiguity and vagary into our democracy must not be allowed to progress.

Although categorically listed as out of scope, the entrenchment of the Maori electorates has been included in the recommendations as a special protection. The retention of Maori electorates was the subject of specific comment in the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System. This report noted that should MMP be introduced (it was not the system at the time) it would provide better options for representation for Maori than the geographically large Maori electorates that did not adequately reflect the iwi-hapu-centric identity of Maori. The Commission recommended the removal of the Maori electorates nearly 40 years ago.

Rather than acknowledging or considering this the Review has gone out of scope to recommend entrenchment.

The report proposes that Māori be treated uniquely in electoral law, beyond the status quo of choosing which roll to be on, with the option of being able to register to vote on the Māori roll based on their ancestral/iwi connections rather than their physical address. The report states that “Māori may hold a stronger connection to their turangawaewae and may want to have a say in who represents that community”. Turangawaewae is often translated as 'a place to stand'. It is a place where we feel especially empowered and connected. A spiritual home. Naturally this is very open to interpretation and changeability. 

Allowing only one ethnicity to pick and choose where they vote is not democratic, every New Zealander has connections to different places and may want to have a say in that community, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to decide to vote there. This is would make the system very vulnerable to strategic manipulation.

The report also allows Māori to enrol in different rolls for local elections than for general elections and grants them the freedom to change rolls at their discretion as many time as they want. We are concerned that this will increase the risk of tactical roll-switching, with voters changing rolls to participate in electorates where contests are considered tight or more important to win. The report dismisses these concerns, stating that "any negative impacts are outweighed by the benefits of allowing Māori voters to exercise their roll choice at any time." This purported benefit is intangible and unquantifiable so to say it outweighs potential manipulation of the democratic system is concerning.

The justification the report provides for recommending lowering the voting age is that it would enhance Māori voting participation. It argues that the younger-skewed Māori population compared to non-Māori creates an "inequity" under the Treaty. Lowering the voting age is a deeply unpopular position across the population. The writers of the Electoral Review report seem content to manipulate the system and weaken democracy without limits if they perceive that it will give more Māori the vote, even if those Māori would not be eligible due to their age in the current system.

The report further states that the restriction on prisoners from voting needs to be removed, as "all Māori have a Treaty right to exercise their individual and collective tino rangatiratanga by being able to exercise their vote in the appointment of their political representatives." Again, this ignores the incarcerated individuals of other races and the implications of giving them the vote. 

Overall, this report is preoccupied with manipulating a fair and democratic system in order to set the balance in the favour of one race. Rather than seeking to create a system that gives every New Zealander the same rights and opportunities, the review suggests that equality is in itself discrimination.

The final key recommendation in the online survey is singularly focused on Maori.

Do you support our draft recommendations to better uphold the Treaty of Waitangi in our electoral system?




Don’t know

Requiring in the Electoral Act that the Electoral Commission give effect to te Tiriti / the Treaty and its principles

Requiring the Electoral Commission to prioritise establishing Māori governance over data collected about Māori in the administration of the electoral system

Removing most restrictions on when Māori can choose to enrol in Māori electorates or general electorates (the Māori electoral option)

Giving support to iwi, hapū, and other Māori organisations to lead voter participation and engagement activities

Establishing a fund to facilitate party and candidate engagement with Māori communities, in ways appropriate for Māori

At a time when 27% of our elected representation in Parliament are Maori, the continued differentiation of electoral rights and consideration based upon race is completely unnecessary and a distraction that serves only to make more division.

This review should remove all references to race and ensure that any changes to our electoral system do not differentiate New Zealanders by ancestry or ethnicity.

What can we do?

We are, yet again, in the position of defending our democracy and ensuring that our voices are not silenced.

It cannot be a coincidence that we have been flooded by requests of assistance with submitting. This opportunity for public response will be used in discussions as justification for future change. Our silence is weaponised and taken as acceptance.

We must speak out about this. The Independent Electoral Review is accepting submissions until the 17th of July, allowing limited time for the Ministry of Justice to receive public feedback. 

There are three options available to respond and impact what happens with this report:

  1. Complete the online survey - the 20 page survey includes the 10 key themes with the opportunity to respond yes/no/don’t know. There are also text options.
  2. Download the online survey form and e-mail it to [email protected]
  3. Make your own written submission and e-mail it to [email protected]

There is also a postal option sending to: Independent Electoral Review Free Post 113, PO Box 180, Wellington 6140.

Key points to include in your submission:

Completing the on-line survey will provide you the opportunity to provide 'yes' or 'no' answers to key points of the review. Should you wish to make your own submission response that asks for the protection of the rights of New Zealanders to be treated equally in our democracy, we have provided a text below that you may wish to cut and paste into your email to [email protected].

SUBJECT:      Independent Electoral Review Submission

“I am writing this submission in response to the Interim Report released by the Independent Electoral Review Committee.

“As we live in a liberal democracy, any recommendations from this review must ensure that ALL New Zealanders are assured of the same electoral rights regardless of race.

“The New Zealand Bill of Rights provides an assurance of equal suffrage and any electoral reform that seeks to differentiate electoral rights or considerations based upon race compromises equal suffrage.

“The Treaty of Waitangi, Article 3, provides that all New Zealanders will be afforded the same rights and privileges. The recommendations for this review afford different rights and privileges based upon race or ancestry.

“On this basis my submission is that all references to race or ethnicity must be removed from the recommendations and that the reforms are based upon all New Zealanders being considered equal before the law.”

Additional information on the Future of Local Government Report (in case you're interested):

The Electoral Review Report is all the more concerning when considered alongside another of the Government's reports: The Future of Local Government Report. These reports were released at almost the same time and push the same ideological perspectives around "Treaty Principles".

The Future of Local Government report sets out to prioritise "wellbeing" but the focus of the document is primarily on the wellbeing of Māori rather than all New Zealanders. 

The report creates further obligations for frameworks that local governments will have to abide by to prioritise Māori. Māori will be given oversight of this to determine and measure the local government's Māori commitments. It seems that this recommendation is based on the concept that Māori are a single collective identity, rather than individuals who hold their own opinions and have vastly differing experiences.

The report details that “bringing the strengths of Māori and Western forms of democracy together provides a base from which all cultures can be better represented in local governance”. However, a system cannot be said to be democratic if some have more rights than others. Rather, actions taken supposedly in the name of Māori but which create a system of differing rights based on race, erode democracy.  Basing governance on race is inherently divisive and contrary to democratic principles.

The LG Report proposes that funding will be increased for the following reasons:

  • To build Te Tiriti and Te Ao Māori capabilities and grow relationships with hapu/iwi and Māori.
  • To lift their capacity and capability to innovate and experiment in the delivery of wellbeing for communities.
  • To trial and grow participatory and deliberate democracy practices.

Most New Zealanders will not only not benefit from this funding and it will be used to actively undermine their rights. When the report's view is that wellbeing is for Māori and democracy is game for dismantling, it is concerning to see money being pumped into these spaces. It is clear that this funding seeks to create "democracy practices" that primarily benefit one race.

Despite significant concerns raised about governance, the report states that "co-governance with Māori at the local government level just makes sense" alongside treaty obligations. This demonstrates the ideological perspective of the report and conveniently ignores the substantial concerns many in councils and in the wider population have voiced about about embedding co-governance in local government.

By promoting co-governance and unequal rights through multiple reports, projects, agencies, and channels, the Government makes it very difficult for New Zealanders to oppose it as each report or project is pointed to as evidence to justify the others.