NZ Election 2020: Māori Party asks for recount in two electorates, pushes for Electoral Act reform

Watch: The Māori Party made a remarkable comeback in 2020. Credit: Video - The Hui; Image - File

The Māori Party has requested a vote recount in two electorates - but former leader John Tamihere says the move is about exposing voter discrimination against Māori, rather than challenging the final outcome.

An application for the recounts was filed with the Electoral Commission on Wednesday. It means the final results in the Māori electorates of Tāmaki Makaurau and Te Tai Hauāuru, which were won by Labour's Peeni Henare and Adrian Rurawhe respectively, will now be contested.

But Tamihere - who ceded his co-leadership of the party to Rawiri Waititi last month, after he beat incumbent MP Tāmati Coffey to win the Waiariki electorate - said it's not a late attempt to snatch more seats for the Māori Party.

"The two seats we're going for recounts on are not necessarily to challenge the final outcome of who won," he told Magic Talk's Sean Plunket on Wednesday afternoon.

Instead, Tamihere says, it's an effort to expose the "pretty dumb" laws enshrined in the Electoral Act - such as the five-yearly Māori Electoral Option, which determines the number of Māori seats for the next one or two elections.

Unlike Pākehā, who are given the ability to change their electorate each election, Māori who don't vote on the general roll are locked into their Māori electorate for a five-year term until the next Māori Electoral Option.

"Where the Māori Party's going with this, ultimately, is an amendment to the Electoral Act, where in a sense Māori are allowed to choose their electorate every election, as Pākehā do," Tamihere said.

"[The current law] locks us out of the ability to vote on a roll of our choice per election, and that will be challenged. Part of that is this [recount] process."

Another thing the Māori Party is hoping to bring attention by requesting the recounts is alleged discriminatory treatment at voting booths. Tamihere says at present, Pākehā voting on the general roll get a superior experience when they cast their ballots.

"[Pākehā] don't stand in queues because there's only one clerk serving brown folks, [but] when white folks turn up there's a heap of clerks there and they get to vote pretty quickly. We don't," he told Plunket.

"When you're standing in queue waiting, you're starting to think 'what's going on here?'"

In addition to alleged longer wait times, Māori Party president Che Wilson told RNZ on Wednesday that some tangata whenua had also been refused their right to vote on the Māori roll at election booths.

"There was a case of a man in his 70s who has been on the Māori roll all his life and was told, 'no, you're now on the general roll'," he said.

Wilson told RNZ issues in Māori electorates were widespread, and they were looking at all the ways in which the system was skewed against Māori and could be made simpler. 

Tamihere points to Electoral Commission data which shows the margin between the winning candidate and second place was in both recounted electorates about the same as the number of informal votes - that is, ballots cast in which the voter's intention wasn't clear.

Tamihere lost Tāmaki Makaurau to Henare by a margin of just 956 votes, while the number of informal votes was 923. Meanwhile in Te Tai Hauāuru, Rurawhe beat Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer by 1035 votes, with 709 informal votes.

"There were 923 informal votes in Tāmaki [Makaurau], right? And when you've got only 1000 votes in a majority, you've got to determine why they're spoiled ballots, and how we can inform people to vote better if indeed they are spoiled," he said.

His hope is things will have improved markedly by next election.

"It will be a far better informed population as it goes to the 2023 ballot box, and the electoral office will be far better resourced to ensure queues didn't form solely because you're brown."

The Māori Party hopes to have its recounts completed within five days, Tamihere says.

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