12 October 2005

Maori electorate seats

Here's a rant I've been saving up for a while - these are some comments I posted on DPF's blog where he was discussing Tony Milne's arguments in support of the Maori electorate seats. In some respects I agree with some of Tony’s points about the Maori seats. My main issue with the current conversation is the perception that the Maori seats dramatically distort the election - I’m not convinced they’re as widely unusual as some people suggest. First, as Tony notes (and I beg to differ with DPF here), in general terms, each Maori seat represents the same number of people as general seats and therefore the “value” of a vote in the Maori electorate is the same as a vote in a general electorate. The 2002 report of the Representation Committee noted that the “target” number of voters per electorate was as follows (www.election.govt.nz/electorates/ reviewing_electorates.html): - South Island general electorate: 54 308 - North Island general electorate: 54 288 - Maori electorate: 53 130 (Although, my rough calculations from the Statistics Department data (revised General and Māori electoral districts based on Usually Resident Population Count, 2001: www.stats.govt.nz/census/2001-electoral-profile/default) suggests an average – total, not just voter – population of 86,000 people for each Maori electorate and 60,000 for each general electorate.) Secondly, manipulating electoral boundaries to ensure that that electorates generally reflect “like” people is nothing new. In fact, it is mandated for general electorate districts. One of the key consideration when the Representation Commission sets electoral boundaries is “communities of interest” (see s35(3)(f) of the Electoral Act). Notably, this allows the Representation Commission to “group” particular voters within certain electorates. For example, there was a famous (successful) challenge to electorate boundaries when urban voters in Marton were going to be split between 2 electorates, diluting “urban voices” with “rural voices”. Further, it’s no surprise that the Mangare electorate has a Pacific Island population of 49% while neighbouring electorates have a much lower proportion (Mt Roskill: 15%; Maungakiekie: 22%, Manurewa: 23.8%; Manukau East: 34%) – the process of electoral boundaries tries as much as possible to ensure significant groupings of one particular ethnic group are included in the same electorate. Overseas, I’m aware of some (successful) legal challenges in Canada where boundaries were drawn though the middle of First Nation communities (there the requirement is to have regard to “communities of interest or identity”). And I think I recall some electorate maps in the US being rather hotch-potch as they tried to draw electoral boundaries to ensure Black representation. On this basis, it’s not hard to see the Maori seats as an extension of the “communities of interest” proposition – rather than the just the provision of “separate” seats. For a long time, particular voters – typically rural voters – have had the benefit of this type of drawing of the electoral boundaries. Why is it so bad if Maori benefit from it?


Graeme Edgeler said...

Dean, I'll post again on some of your broader points, but an initial thought about one of your calculations did occur to me (my apologies that I can't analyse this using your data from the census, but I'm on a computer where I cannot open excel files).

You say that each Maori seat represents 86,000 Maori. This suggests that the Maori seats represent (86,000 x 7) 602,000 people (approximately 15% of NZ's just over 4m population).

Approximately 44% of Maori are represented on the General Electoral Roll, not the Maori Roll, so from this we can estimate that (602,000 / 0.56) there are 1.075m normally resident NZers who are of Maori descent (somewhere around a quarter of the population). You will recognise that this figure is wrong.

Let us assume (recognising that this will not happen) that after the next census, the Maori electoral option is taken and there are only enough Maori who wish to remain on the Maori Roll for there to be one seat - I do not think that it would be reasonable to say that that seat represented over 600,000 people.

Dean Knight said...

Yes - there's a reason I became a lawyer not a mathmetician!

David Farrar has pointed out that the (target) stats also include people who are not old enough to vote.

If I redo the stats based on people over the age of 18, I think it comes out like this:

- average voters per general seat: about 44,000
- average voters per Maori seat: about 49,000.

And, of course, not everyone registers to vote anyways.

The key point of the stats, though, is to say that our electoral processes requires parity between the number of voters in general and Maori seats - each individual electorate vote therefore has the same "value"!


Graeme Edgeler said...

The point I was attempting to make was not that you'd confused potential voters with "electoral population", but that you'd conflated 'number of Maori' with 'number of Maori on the Maori electoral electoral'.

Your figure of 49,000 essentially divides the number of Maori able to vote by 7. You figure of 44,000 may divide the number of non-Maori able to vote by 62.

This is wrong.

What you should do is divide the number of Maori on the Maori electoral roll by 7, to get the Maori figure, and divide the number of people (including Maori who have opted for the general roll) on the general roll by 62 to get the general figure.

I'll re-word my analogy: if only enough Maori opted for the Maori roll for there to be one Maori seat it would be unreasonable to assert that that seat represented 340,000 voters.

Graeme Edgeler said...

Sorry for the repeated comments, I just re-read this :)

You say: "The key point of the stats, though, is to say that our electoral processes requires parity between the number of voters in general and Maori seats - each individual electorate vote therefore has the same "value"!"

This is categorically false.

Electoral processes actually require parity in the total number of people in each electorate. The relative youth of the Maori population (42% are not old enough to vote, compare to 26% of all New Zealanders, and 23% of non-Maori) means that there are substantially fewer voters in each Maori electorate than in each general electorate.

My rather simple analysis (i.e working backward from your numbers, without the actual numbers in front of me) would suggest that there are approximately 42,000 potential voters in each general seat, and approximatelt 31,000 potential voters in each Maori seat.

Course Outline

Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

"From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"

This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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