Choice will make waves

20:41, Feb 12 2013

The Electoral Commission's website is packed with information about our electoral system, including explanations about the Maori electoral option and how it gives voters of Maori descent the opportunity to sign on to the Maori electoral roll or the general electoral roll for voting in the next two general elections. This happens once every five years or so, just after the census of population and dwellings.

The next Maori Electoral Option will take place from March 25 to July 24. Which roll is chosen will determine whether Maori voters are represented in Parliament by an MP from a general electorate or a Maori one. Spreading the word about this choice is being facilitated by an array of organisations.

Enrolment manager Murray Wicks said these "teams" were carefully chosen and contracted to provide their services in an impartial manner. The commission will be monitoring and testing this.

The teams include the Maori Council. Some commentators wonder whether an organisation that is suing the Government over water ownership should be involved in what is meant to be a strictly impartial enrolment campaign. "It doesn't lend confidence to the neutrality of our electoral institutions," huffed Right-wing blogger David Farrar.

The test, perhaps, will be the extent to which the disadvantages of voting in Maori electorates are spelled out along with the benefits. These were comprehensively covered in the report of the 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System (which saw no need for Maori seats if we adopted MMP).

Readers who are not eligible to opt for the Maori roll may well be indifferent. They shouldn't be. Electoral boundaries must be redrawn after each census, too, and the number of Maori seats will be decided by the numbers registering on the Maori roll. Surges in Maori support for the seats added a sixth Maori seat in 1999 and a seventh in 2002, and the Maori Party hopes at least one new one will be created as a result of this year's Maori electoral option. It has a good chance of that hope being realised.

The total number of electorates - 70 - will remain constant. If more Maori seats are established, the number of general electorates will be reduced in proportion. The Maori option is more politically potent than is apparent at first blush.