The Māori Electoral Option is a period of 4 months, every 5 years, when Māori electors can choose whether to be on the Māori or the General Electoral Roll. The outcome of the Māori Electoral Option is a key factor in determining the number of Māori seats in the New Zealand Parliament. The Electoral Commission estimates that approximately 6,000 Māori voters each year request to change electoral roll, but in 2017 over 19,000 voters applied to change.
The guaranteed Māori seats are a distinguishing and controversial feature of New Zealand’s democracy. In recent years, a number of reports, commentators and politicians have called for the seats to be abolished on the grounds that they are no longer “needed” in New Zealand’s proportional electoral system. These claims are usually grounded in principles of equality. This paper makes the opposite claim: that principles of equality create convincing and coherent justifications for the Māori seats.