The Māori Electoral Option is a “barrier to participation”, tangata whenua say.
In response, Carterton District Council [CDC] is pushing for an amendment to the option at this year’s Local Government New Zealand [LGNZ] general meeting.
In February last year, the government repealed the mechanism which accommodated binding polls on proposed Māori wards.
As a result, 32 councils have adopted Māori wards in time for this year’s local elections, bringing the total number of Māori wards to 35.
But voters currently on the general roll will be unable to vote in a Māori ward until the 2025 local elections, because they are only allowed to switch rolls during a four-month period, which usually happens every five years under current legislation.
The last Māori Electoral Option was in 2018, and the next one is due to happen in 2024.
“Conversely, those currently on the Māori roll will be required to vote within the newly established Māori wards in the 2022 local election, regardless of their preference,” CDC said.
The council said it had raised the remit “as a matter of concern” following representation discussions with Rangitāne o Wairarapa, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāti Kahukuraawhitia, and Hurunui-o-Rangi Marae.
A joint statement from Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Rangitāne o Wairarapa, and Ngāti Kahukuraawhitia said a change to the Māori Electoral Option would strengthen the Māori-Crown relationship at a local level, and would improve the process for councils to consider improved Māori representation.
They said supporting the remit would be a step forward in recognising rangatiratanga [self-determination/soverignty] as mentioned in Article 2 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi – The Treaty of Waitangi.
“Furthermore, this action would also be consistent with the English version, which purports to improve the ability for Māori to make decisions about their resources and taonga.
“As mana whenua, our time has come to sit within the governance of our district.
“We wish to create a new chapter within the history of Wairarapa through civil leadership, walking side by side as equal partners within the Carterton District Council.
“Together, we can create a better district for all.
“We have raised our concerns with the Carterton District Council that there are not enough voters on the Māori Electoral Roll within the Carterton district to consider introducing a Māori ward, and have identified the Māori Electoral Option as a barrier for change.”
The Ministry of Justice initiated consultation on the Māori Electoral Option in August last year, but the process was criticised for its lack of a consultation document, analysis of the problem or possible options, and the short timeframe, CDC said.
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi announced an independent review of electoral laws ahead of the 2026 general election, with an independent panel to report back by 2023.
In October last year, Faafoi signalled that targeted electoral changes would be considered for the 2023 general election, including changes to the Māori Electoral Option.
But the flow-on effects to local electoral law have not been mentioned, CDC said.
Local electoral law is not included in the independent review’s scope.
CDC’s remit has been supported by Masterton, Greater Wellington, Porirua, Lower Hutt, and South Wairarapa councils.
LGNZ’s Annual General Meeting will take place in Palmerston North in July.