Newshub Nation: Māori electoral roll - why some Māori voters are strategically swapping rolls and what you need to know ahead of Election 2023

Māori voters face a major political deadline: whether to vote in the general or Māori electorates. 

Those of Māori descent will have until July 13 to choose which roll they wish to be on. 

Approximately half a million voters with Māori whakapapa are registered to vote and just over half have chosen the Māori roll. 

Newshub Nation spoke to two different Māori voters to understand the different choices they have made and why.

Tommy de Silva (Ngaati Te Ata Waiohua) initially signed up to vote on the general roll in 2018.

De Silva, an editorial intern for The Spinoff, said despite his Pākehā complexion, he has "always felt strongly Māori, both Māori and Pākehā to be completely honest".

When he initially received the Māori electoral roll letter he didn't give it too much thought. 

"In 2019, I got a little pamphlet which was the Māori electoral roll letter," de Silva said. "At the time I didn't really understand what it meant."

However, after a law change in March 2023 made it easier for Māori to change between roles, he took the opportunity to switch. 

And he's not alone, as of June 22, 11,835 people have changed roll types – 6389 from the general roll to the Māori roll, and 5446 from the Māori roll to the general roll.

There have been 1360 new enrolments on the Māori roll and 727 new enrolments on the general roll, according to the electoral commission.

For de Silva, the switch is part of "a journey of rediscovering my whakapapa Māori". 

He has been "working in Māori spaces, living with Māori from Te Tai Rawhiti, which is always a good time, and as well as that, reconnecting with my iwi".

But De Silva admits it has taken time for him to get to this point. 

He said his journey was longer than it could have been because he always went to mainstream Pākehā schools. 

"We didn't learn anything about the people that lived here or my ancestors here, and I guess being in those sorts of schools, I never had the opportunity to learn te reo Māori as well.

"We're all the same, Māori are Māori, and there's no blood level or anything that can tell you whether or not you're Māori enough".

He said a lot of the time it is not Māori questioning whether or not he is Māori but instead, it's Pākehā asking, "Why are you explaining that you're Māori? Why are you trying to say these things, even though you've got a particular complexion and you look like me".

De Silva said his decision to switch rolls was also strategic. Were he to stay on the general roll, he would be voting in Epsom, a very safe seat for ACT's David Seymour. 

But now he's signed up for the Māori roll, he will be voting in the electorate of Tāmaki Makaurau, which he said is "a lot more of a competitive electorate for me".

Last election, the Tāmaki Makaurau winner Peeni Henare beat Te Pati Maori's John Tamihere in a narrow race. 

De Silva said voting on the Māori roll is "an opportunity to have my vote count more".

His advice for anyone who has the opportunity to choose between the Māori and general roll is to "have that sort of retrospective look into yourself and talk with close people around you and figure out what role is best for you and what might suit you".

TeRata Hikairo (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Marutuahu, Ngai Tai Ki Torere Nui) tells a very different story. Hikairo recently made the switch from the Māori roll to the general roll after being on the Māori roll since 2006. 

Hikairo, who is now a teacher, grew up immersed in Māori and spoke it for much of his childhood. 

He said it felt "natural for me to be on the Māori roll".

But he decided to switch rolls ahead of this election because he's getting older and "broadening my horizons".

He said the Māori seats are "very focused on kaupapa Māori, Māori people, and Māori issues, and I'm not just Māori, and I don't just live in a region right".

One big issue Hikairo has with the Māori seats is they cover wide areas, creating a sense of disconnect from smaller individual communities. 

"To be honest, I feel connected to my neighbourhood, I feel connected to the streets that I walk around, the places that I work, those whānaus in my neighbourhood and in my local area," he said. 

While Hikairo identifies with his whakapapa and iwi, he also identifies with Beach Haven, Birkdale, and the North Shore. 

"There's an MP for Northcote, which is still more of our own area, our own hood, our own neighbourhood.

"It's the same thing for our whānau. They're not Tāmaki Makaurau whānui, they live in Manurewa, they live in Clendon, same kind of thing".

Hikairo argued that "It's much easier to access a Manurewa MP that a candidate on the Māori roll representing an entire region".

Hikairo emphasised, "Who we can vote for is a lot more limited compared to the general".

"On the general roll, all parties stand candidates, on the Māori roll, not so much."

He said the Māori roll can feel restrictive and switching to the general roll doesn't change his blood or genealogy. 

"We don't just live in Māori things, we suffer the same health stuff as everybody else, we go to the same schools as everybody else. 

"What electoral roll I'm on didn't change my Māori blood, didn't change my Māori genealogy, didn't change my Māori language, didn't change my Māori family. None of that changed. What's changed is my ability to choose more widely who I can potentially vote for."

Hikairo said the most important decision isn't which roll Māori vote on, but that they exercise their right to vote. 

"Please vote, that's the most important thing."

"Ko tō reo, ko tō pōti. Ko tō pōti, ko tō reo.

"Your voice, your vote. Your vote, Your voice."

The number of people enrolled on the Māori roll is directly proportional to the number of Māori seats, meaning the number of Māori electorates could increase, decrease, or stay the same in future elections depending on how many enrol this year. 

If you are of Māori descent and are interested in switching rolls, or want to register to vote, you can do so here or phone 0800 36 76 56 to ask for an enrolment form to be sent in the mail.

"Check that your tamariki and your mokopuna are enrolled to vote too. There’s no deadline for first-time enrollers – if you’re enrolling for the first time, you can enrol and make your roll choice right up to and on election day," says Hone Matthews, Chief Advisor Māori for the electoral commission. 

Watch the full video for more. 

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