Maori and voting

In reality it was a process by steps as it was in UK, where the First Reform Act had been passed in 1832, but the next was not until 1867. The First abolished the rotten boroughs but a substantial property qualification remained and in fact some individuals previously qualified to vote lost the franchise.

There was not a one-man, one-vote until the Third Reform Act in 1882 or thereabouts. Even then, town electorates where the majority of the "working men" resided had many more voters than country electorates so the value of votes was still biased in favour of the landed classes. It still is!

It was and is a slow process!

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When a legislature was established in 1852/4 in NZ, naturally the British model was followed with a property qualification and many settlers were excluded. Once again, country electorates had far fewer voters than town ones - in the Canterbury Provincial Council, country electorates had only a third of the voters of town ones so their electors had much more power in the scheme of things.
So plenty of settlers had just as much to complain about as any Maori!!

Because very few Maoris had an individual property qualification it is true that initially few of them had the right to vote. Then, however, it was realized that, in a situation quite unlike that to which the settlers were accustomed, most Maori land was held communally so most Maoris, it could indeed be said, were landholders in their own way.

Therefore, about 1862, the rules were altered so that all Maori men holding land in common, i.e. most of them, were enfranchised but the rules were not altered for settlers. For some years therefore, virtually all Maori men had the vote but most settlers did not - clearly it was the settlers, not the Maoris, who were at a disadvantage!

In due course the arbitrary nature of it all was recognized and in about 1867 the vote was extended to all adult men, irrespective of race, criminals and the mentally unsound only being excluded.

In this, New Zealand certainly was more advanced than Britain and most of the world. Yes, Maori electorates were introduced but half-castes had the option of voting in either them or general electorates so Maori influence was not trivial. Indeed Sir James Carroll, a half-caste, represented a general electorate - first Waiapu and later Gisborne - for many years. He was thus in a position to advance Maori interests and was one of the architects of the 1908 Suppression of Tohungas Act. (Today of course the grievance industry twists this into an example of white exclusion of things Maori but in fact it was advanced strongly by Maori MPs because they saw the harm the tohungas were doing to the health of Maoris.) Then of course. NZ led the world in 1893 when all adults including all Maori women received the vote - the universal franchise was established.

Of course the value of votes in different electorates varied substantially, particularly as long as the "country quota" persisted so that all country electorates had less voters than town ones. MMP very substantially equalised the value of votes, except that Parliament ignored the recommendations of the Royal Commission, introduced the "coat-tailing rule" and failed to abolish Maori electorates.

As, by definition, the latter have fewer eligible voters than general seats, this gives Maori electors a substantial advantage and it is only by virtue of coat-tailing that Marama Fox of the Maori Party is an MP at all. Add in the many Maoris holding general and list seats so that at present, in proportion to population, Maoris are now substantially over-represented in Parliament. We (non-Maori), not they, have a stronger case today for removal of inequities than Maoris ever had!!!

- Bruce Moon, 12/12/14