NZ a world leader in voting rights
Candidate meetings, political debates, party manifestos, letterbox flyers, roadside hoardings, candidate scandals, editorial opinion pieces, letters to the editor, TV advertisements, Facebook, Twitter and chatrooms all remind us there’s a General Election in September. Since Kiwis’ first election of 37 MPs in 1853, New Zealand has been a world-leader in voting rights.
After the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and NZ was established as a British sovereignty in the1840s, Kiwis were ruled by a Governor appointed by the British Crown.
Settlers soon wanted to control their own affairs by electing their own representatives, so demanded self-government. Following British law, they decided only male British subjects aged 21 or more, who owned property, could vote.
At the time, labourers in NZ could earn 40-60 pounds per year, enabling many who previously had no chance of owing property, to fit into the five or ten pound ‘householder’ qualification.
By 1860 the first amendment was being made. It extended voting rights to males over the age of 21 who had a miner’s licence. Gold miners had previously been excluded because the miners lived in tents, shacks or boarding houses, which weren’t considered property. Over 20,000 gold miners became entitled to vote by 1869/70, compared with a total of 41,500 registered electors.
Since Maori traditionally owned land communally, they couldn’t fulfil the property ownership requirement for voting rights. Another law change in 1867 gave all Maori men the right to vote for candidates vying for the four newly established Maori seats. All European men gained voting rights in 1879.
New Zealand was the first country in the world to give votes to women in 1893. The suffragettes promoting votes for women only had ten weeks to get New Zealand women to register before polling day.
In WWI and WWII, special laws were passed enabling all New Zealand military personnel to vote, regardless of age. At the time of the Vietnam War, young people in several countries argued that if 18-year-olds were mature enough to fight, surely they were mature enough to have a say in electing their government. In NZ, the voting ages were reduced in two stages - to 20 in 1969, and to 18 1974. By 1975, permanent residents could vote, but only NZ citizens could become MPs.
Our current system of MMP (casting two votes - one for a candidate, the other for a party) was the result of a referendum held in 1993, and reviewed in 2012.
The 2014 general election saw over 3 million Kiwis, or 78 per cent of eligible voters, exercise their democratic right to vote.
If you want to know how to change to, or from, the Maori roll, what to do if you’ll be away from home or overseas on polling day, how to stop your details being published on the public electoral roll, or anything else to do with voting, contact the CAB Nelson Tasman. We’re here to help.
CAB Nelson Tasman ph 03 54 82117 9 Paru Paru Rd. www.cab.org.co.nz
New Zealanders are gearing up to go to the polls next month.