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Explained: What going on the Māori roll means

If you’re Māori and aged over 18 you get a choice between voting on the Māori roll or the general roll.

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Te Karere presenter Scotty Morrison explains the difference between the general and Māori rolls. Source: 1 NEWS

What does it mean to choose to be one roll or the other?

If you choose the general roll you get to vote in your general electorate. If you enroll on the Māori roll you get to vote in a Māori electorate.

Once you choose a roll you can’t undo it until the next Māori option which happens every five years. So there’s no point trying to swap before next month's rescheduled election.

The number of Māori on the Māori roll determines the number of Māori seats, this could increase or decrease. The seats mean Māori are represented in Parliament.

Parliament is usually made up of 120 seats of which 72 are electorate seats - 65 are from the general roll and seven are from the Māori roll. The rest are list seats made up from the party vote.

Why do Māori seats exist?

Māori seats have a long history in New Zealand politics.

More than 20 years on from the Treaty of Waitangi, the New Zealand Wars ravaged the countryside so Māori seats were established in 1867 to bring about lasting peace and provide Māori representation in the Settler Government.

Māori often couldn’t vote due to rules around voters being eligible to cast a ballot only if they owned land. Since most Māori owned their land communally it meant they couldn’t vote.

This also meant Māori weren’t having their voice heard and after a debate in Parliament, four Māori electorates were established.

Nearly 10 years later in 1876 the Māori seats were established permanently.

Fast forward to 1967 when the law changed to allow Māori to stand in the European seats, as they were then known.

Up until 1975 a person with one Māori parent and one European parent could choose which roll they wished to register on. The then Labour government introduced the Māori electoral option every five years to join up with the general census.

In 1985 the Royal Commission on the Electoral System was established, giving considerable thought to the future of the Māori seats.

Its 1986 report concluded that separate seats hadn’t helped Māori and that they would achieve better representation through a proportional party-list system.

Before the first MMP election in 1996 the number of Māori seats was increased, for the first time in their 129-year history, to five. Two more were added in 2002, and the total has remained at seven ever since.