Whakatau 2023 | Vote

Whakaaro: ‘Māori don’t see themselves reflected’ in political system

Thousands of people have opted to change between the Māori and general electoral rolls ahead of October's election.

Would a barbecued sausage get you to vote? What about having a voting station at your marae?

These were just some of the things on the menu to get more Māori and young people to have their say in this election.

The turnout for both groups last time was between 60 and 70 per cent - well behind the overall turnout of 82 per cent.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu deputy kaiwhakahaere Matapura Ellison said many whānau he had spoken with were keen to vote.

But a persistent challenge for iwi across the South Island was representation.

“Our whānau that I engage with are less engaged with election matters than tribal news, which lights their eyes up. It could be because Māori don’t see themselves reflected in the system. That’s a whakaaro I’ve heard [being] said in the lead-up to this election,” he said.

Many under 25

Māori role models in politics were particularly important given 38 per cent of the iwi were under 25, Ellison said.

“A system that reflects young Māori especially, but also Māori in general might be more enticing to them. Because it seems like, if they don’t feel it’s relevant, they just won’t vote.”

Otago University Student Association (OUSA) president Quintin Jane said students and young people were often left out of the conversation.

“When you’re in your early to mid-20s, you’re often not in that squeezed middle, or a young family trying to buy their first home. You’re just trying to get by, [to] find your place in the world. And the way that politicians engage with the voting public doesn’t always speak to young people, so they just feel ignored,” he said.

Reminders in the mail about enrolling to vote were often no use to students who moved flats often, Jane said.

Switching rolls

But barriers were being removed.

A legislation change last year had helped, Ellison said.

“Māori voters are now allowed [to] switch rolls at any time up to the three months leading up to the election. Before that, of course, Māori could only switch during the five to six-year Māori electorate optional period and that was confusing for a lot of people, people just got hoha [fed up],” he said.

More voting stations had also made a big difference for whānau without a car, Ellison said.

Polling booths had been carefully chosen so they were in community hubs - with nine in supermarkets and 11 at The Warehouse stores.

Diverse voting stations

“We’ve got about 44 marae that will have voting places, also kohanga, kura, wananga. Temples and mosques, we have a few of those as well. We even have a voting place we’ll be setting up that’ll be delivered in sign language at a sporting event that the deaf community is holding,” chief electoral officer Karl Le Quesne said.

It seemed to be working at Otago University.

“I was talking to the electorate manager yesterday and the biggest upswing in their voting is in the 10-minute gap between lectures, so students go and vote just outside the library on their way to lectures,” Jane said.

Food had also proved popular to get people voting on campus.

“They’d come along, pick up their food and then right next to them is the Electoral Commission going ‘hey, have you guys enrolled to vote?’,” he said.

Good uptake

“And so we definitely saw good uptake in people going ‘oh no, I haven’t updated my details since I moved to Dunedin’ or ‘no, I haven’t enrolled because I was 17 last year’.”

Ellison believed sometimes Māori, and rangatahi especially, did not understand the importance of voting.

“My bottom line to whānau, I say to them, ‘politics engages with you whether you like it or not, so take your power and get out there and vote’.”

When it came to involvement, there was always room for improvement, he said.

Both Ngāi Tahu and Otago University Student Association had also used social media, their own newsletters or magazines, emails and local candidates to get momentum going.

The Electoral Commission had made an effort to hire staff and volunteers from diverse backgrounds, Le Quesne said.

Connecting with community

“If people understand the community they’re working with, they’ll be able to connect with them quicker and easier and be able to communicate in a way that the community understands and identifies with. I think it’s important that every community can see themselves in the electoral system.”

So far, enrolments in the lead-up to the election on October 14 were matching, if not nudging slightly ahead of 2020 rates for the younger demographics, he said.

The commission had no plans to follow in Stats NZ’s footsteps and give out free Wahs tickets for participation.