Government exploring changes to proposed electoral legislation to ensure cross-party support

The Government is exploring changes to proposed electoral legislation to ensure it is "enduring" after both National and ACT signalled they wouldn't support it.

The Electoral (Māori Electoral Option) Bill in its current form would allow Māori to switch between the general and Māori roll at any time, up to and on polling day. One exemption would be to stop people from switching rolls ahead of a by-election.

Currently, Māori voters can only switch between the rolls every five to six years in a four-month period following a census. The last opportunity was in 2018 and under the current rules Māori won't be able to change rolls until after the 2023 election.

However, National's said it believes allowing people to switch rolls at any time "leaves the system open to tactical roll switching". 

National's justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said this is acknowledged by the Government not allowing switching before a by-election.

"Our primary concern was that logic is the same when it comes to the general election and also local government elections whereby, you know, one group of New Zealanders would have the opportunity of choosing between which seat suited them best in terms of the politics of the day."

ACT's got a similar position. In a differing view in a Select Committee report, the party said electors shouldn't be able to swap rolls "as often as they like". 

"It is our view that one person, one vote means that any elector who changes their electoral roll choice should do so only once within an electoral cycle."

The Government's now exploring making changes to the legislation to ensure any amendments are "enduring". 

"I have been in I think a relatively constructive dialogue with my counterparts from across the House about what would be appropriate, what the various parties could live with," Justice Minister Kiri Allan told Newshub. 

That could include not allowing switching rolls ahead of a general and local election. 

"Any New Zealander doesn't want to feel like somebody else has the right or the ability to game a system. So where somebody might be able to do something tricky within our electoral system that would undermine the integrity," she said.

"I think that is an argument that can be made, that there might be an appropriate period of time out from any election - general election, local election, by-elections etc, where there might need to be a pause where you can't change your roll. 

"But outside of those periods which are relatively limited, there might be some movement. So I'm absolutely interested in exploring that conversation."

"I'm absolutely interested in exploring that conversation."
"I'm absolutely interested in exploring that conversation." Photo credit: Newshub.

Goldsmith told Newshub he understood the Government would introduce a Supplementary Order Paper - a proposed amendment to the Bill as the legislation goes through the House - stopping people from switching rolls three months out from any election. 

"We are wanting to give people more flexibility," he said. "We had concerns around those election periods and the Government appears to have listened to that and provided that they do, we will support it."

One of the potential issues for the Government is that some legislation making changes to electoral law needs a 75 percent majority or referendum. That means it would need the support of National for it to pass.

Allan told Newshub she's received advice "that it's not necessarily necessary" to get 75 percent support for this piece of legislation. She said the Speaker will also receive advice.

"That aside, though, there is a principle here that I'm interested in, and that is ensuring that whatever amendments we make, that they are enduring," she said. 

"I always like to think that on these types of issues, electoral law and others, where it's possible, that we can get some enduring, bedded-in good policy reform."

Goldsmith said he has had advice saying the legislation does need 75 percent support.

When Goldsmith first raised concerns about the legislation in June, he was accused of being "on the edges of playing the Māori card" by Labour's Willie Jackson.

"It's one of their strategies to always say you can't trust Māori in terms of what they're going to do. So it's disappointing hearing that sort of carry-on," Jackson said.

"We're trying to get more Māori involved in the system and this might be one way of doing it."

Goldsmith on Tuesday said that was "par for the course".

"Our primary concern is to maintain public confidence in the system and that that system works effectively and has public confidence."