Story: Voting rights
Since its first election in 1853 New Zealand has been world-leading in voting rights. All Māori men were able to vote from 1867 and all European men from 1879. In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world where women were able to vote in national elections.
Full story by Neill Atkinson
Main image: Campaigners for women's right to vote, Women's suffrage memorial, Christchurch
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Early voting rights
New Zealand’s first election was held in 1853. To be able to vote in it people had to be male, aged 21 or over, and British subjects who either owned or rented property worth a moderate amount of money. At that time, New Zealand’s suffrage, or voting rights, was quite generous compared to other similar countries such as England.
Miners usually didn’t qualify to vote as the property they lived in wasn’t worth enough. To avoid unrest like the rebellions that had occurred on Australian goldfields, the New Zealand government passed a law in 1860 so men who had a miner’s right (a licence, which cost £1 a year) were eligible to vote.
At first few only a few Māori could vote, as most Māori land was owned collectively. In 1867 the government created four Māori electorates which covered the whole country. All Māori men aged 21 or over became eligible to vote for these Māori seats. Separate Māori seats still exist in the early 2000s, voted on by people registered on the Māori electoral roll. Since 1974 Māori have had to choose whether to be on either the Māori roll or the general roll.
In 1879 all adult men were given the right to vote, as long as they were British subjects (New Zealand was still a British colony) and had lived in the electorate for at least six months.
In the late 19th century many people and organisations were lobbying for women to have more political rights, including the right to vote. In New Zealand this was led by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, who were also anti-alcohol campaigners. They organised several petitions in favour of women gaining the vote. The largest had nearly 32,000 signatures – almost one in four women had signed it.
Laws giving women the vote had nearly been passed several times, but they had been narrowly defeated. In September 1893 the law was passed, and New Zealand became the first country in the world where women had the right to vote in national elections. In November of that year women first voted in an election.
Changes in the 20th century
In 1969 the voting age was lowered from 21 to 20. It was lowered again to 18 in 1974.
In 1975 people who were permanent residents of New Zealand were able to vote, though only citizens were able to become members of Parliament.