The Waitangi Tribunal recently released He Aha I Pērā Ai? The Māori Prisoners’ Voting Report. This is an urgency report that addresses three claims that seek to repeal a section of the Electoral Act 1993 which prevents all prisoners from voting.

The report follows a Supreme Court ruling in 2018 which found that the law is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

The Tribunal found that Māori have been disproportionately affected by the Act, exacerbating an already disproportionate removal of Māori from the electoral roll. In 2010, Māori were 2.1 times more likely to have been removed from the electoral roll than non-Māori. In 2018, the number was 11.4 times more likely.

The Tribunal found the Crown breached the Treaty of Waitangi principle of partnership by failing to ensure any potential consequences for Māori were taken into account during the Select Committee process when the law was enacted in 2010.

The Tribunal also found that the Crown failed in its duty to actively protect the right of Māori to participate in the electoral process and exercise their tino rangatiratanga. By failing to take sufficient action to enable and encourage released prisoners to re-enrol, the Crown further breached this duty.

Having found the Crown acted inconsistently with the Treaty principles, the Tribunal recommended that the Crown:

  • remove the disqualification of all prisoners from voting, irrespective of sentence;
  • start a process to enable and encourage all sentenced and released prisoners to be enrolled in time for the next general election in 2020; and
  • ensure Crown officials provide properly informed advice on the likely impact that any Bill will have on the Crown’s Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

Other electoral issues affecting Māori will be considered in the Waitangi Tribunal ‘Constitution, self-government and electoral system’ kaupapa inquiry.