Whatever new arrangements may be put in place in response to Covid 19 for the General Election 2020, the Electoral Commission have been questioned as to what changes they have made to ensure the multiple problems experienced by Māori voters in the last election are not repeated. Complaints received by Massey University Māori politics educators Veronica Tawhai and John James Carberry during the 2017 General Election highlighted a range of issues concerning polling booth staff interactions with Māori voters, raising questions about institutional racism and discrimination in our electoral system.
“At the last election we had an undermining of our democracy in that some Māori voters were not assisted, but rather prevented, from exercising our basic right to participate in the election due to the ignorance, negligence, and in some instances outright prejudice of some voting booth staff” claims Tawhai. “That is unacceptable, and we are currently awaiting a response from the Electoral Commission on these matters to hear what progress has been made to rectify these problems for this year’s election – problems that lay with their staff, not Māori voters”.
Low voter turnout amongst Māori is often attributed to apathy, disinterest, lack of knowledge or general alienation from wider society. However during the 2017 General Election, problems encountered by Māori voters at various voting booths included: Voting booth staff being unaware of the existence of a Māori roll; Some voting booth venues not having a Māori roll on site; Staff being uninformed and providing voters incorrect information about Māori electorates; Voters enrolled in Māori electorates being given the wrong voting form, and sometimes being refused the correct form; Staff insisting Māori electors were unregistered when their names didn’t appear on the General roll as opposed to checking the Māori roll; Māori enrolling during advanced voting being told by staff they must enrol on the General roll and vote in a General electorate as opposed to having the choice of the Māori roll and a Māori electorate, and; Staff having difficulty locating te reo Māori (Māori language) names on either electoral rolls, even when given identification by those voters.
“These multiple issues resulted in some Māori leaving booths without having cast a vote, casting what would be a disallowed electorate vote from having been provided the wrong form, and overall feeling disempowered and devalued from the experience. Considering that these Māori features have been a part of New Zealand’s electoral system since 1867 it is remarkable that in 2017 this was occurring, the burden of which is passed on to Māori voters” states Carberry. “Despite the uncertainties caused by Covid, the Electoral Commission must provide some reassurances to Māori that we can be certain discrimination against Māori voters will not feature during this General Election 2020”.
Complaints were also received by Tawhai and Carberry from New Zealanders on the General Roll who were incorrectly told by voting booth staff that they could not vote for a ‘Māori party’ due to not being on the Māori Roll.