Guide to New Zealand Electoral Rollsby Seonaid Lewis
Electoral rolls are one of the resources New Zealand researchers use as “Census substitutes”.
They can be very useful in telling you where your ancestor lived, and what they did for a living. Often you are able to discover other members of the family, by finding out who else was living in the house with the person you are researching.
However, it must be remembered that people found on these must be of voting age, and that “universal suffrage” wasn’t obtained until 1893 when women were given the vote, and there were several steps along the way till this was achieved.
The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 was passed by the British Parliament in 1852. Although it was based on the British political system, it was considered the most liberal of constitutions of its time.
The “privilege” (not right) to vote was restricted by:
- sex (voters had to be male)
- age (they had to be at least 21 years old)
- nationality (they had to be British subjects)
- property (they had to possess property of a certain value).
New Zealand was considered liberal at the time, as people didn’t have to be a wealthy landowner to qualify – you could qualify
- as freeholders (property owners), who owned land worth £50 or more
- as leaseholders, who held a lease on land worth at least £10 per year
- as householders, who lived in a house with an annual rental value of £10 (in a town) or £5 (in the country).
Those owning property in more than one area, were entitled to have a vote for each property, until “plural voting” was abolished in 1889.
Maori were technically permitted to enrol and vote, but many were unable to as they owned land communally rather than individually.
Universal suffrage was obtained in 1893, with New Zealand being the first country in the world to give women the vote.
It was not compulsory to register to vote until 1924 for Europeans and 1956 for Maori.
Although it is compulsory to register to vote today, there is no legal requirement to vote.Search New Zealand Electoral Rolls
Voting rights timeline
The New Zealand voting rights timeline, 1853 - present.
Voting for members of the House of Representatives was instituted in 1853, and Auckland Libraries’ holds all electoral rolls from then until the present day; 1853 to 1935 are available to search on findmypast.com.au here.1853
Male British subjects of 21 years or more who either:
- Had owned property of the value of £50 or more for at least 6 months before the date set for the registration of electors, or,
- Possessed leasehold land to the value of £10, for at least ten years before the date set for the registration of electors or
- Owned a lease that had three years still to run, or,
- Occupied property as a householder, where the annual rent was at least £10 in an urban area, or £5 in a rural area, for at least 6 months before the date of registration.
Notes: Prisoners and aliens (persons born outside the British Commonwealth who had not been naturalised) were not entitled to enrol. Men could enrol for each property that met the above qualifications so there could be multiple entries for one person in one or more electorates.
It was not compulsory to enrol. The name of every person entitled to enrol was not necessarily recorded.1860
Miners Franchise Act 1860 (abolished 1879) entitled men who had held a miner's right continuously for three months to register as an elector. Miners who were not registered but met the criteria on Election Day were entitled to vote.1867
Four Maori seats, created in 1867 were reaffirmed in 1876. Adult males over the age of 21 years with half or more Maori blood were eligible to vote for one of the four Maori seats. They were not required to enrol so rolls were not printed. From 1867-1893 Maori males who met the age, residential and property franchise provisions were entitled to enrol in the electorate where their property was located and have their names included on European rolls.1875
The Lodgers Franchise Act 1875 (abolished 1879) enabled some tenants to enrol.1879
Qualifications of Electors Act 1879. Entitlement to enrol was extended to all men over the age of 21, providing they were British subjects who either owned property or had lived in New Zealand at least one year and in an electorate for six months before registering as an elector. These changes which came into effect in 1880-1881 rolls did not apply to Maori.1889
Multiple voting was abolished and the law entitling 'one man, one vote' passed.1893
Residential qualification reduced from six months to three months.
Women were granted the right to vote. More women are listed on the 1894 rolls than 1893. Men or women with half or more Maori blood could only vote in a Maori electorate. Those with exactly half-Maori blood could vote in either a Maori or the General Electorate while people with less than half-Maori blood could only vote in the General Electorate. Persons voting in Maori electorates were not required to enrol so published rolls do not exist.1896
The qualification for registration of an elector changed with the repeal of the non-residential provision. Registration determined solely on residential grounds. All persons of more than half-Maori descent were only allowed to vote in one of the Maori electorates.1905-1906, 1908, 1911, 1914 and 1922
Separate rolls for 'Absent Voters' and 'Seamen' exist for some electorates.1908
New Zealand Maori Voters' Rolls 1908 on microfiche at Auckland Libraries contains full name, tribe, hapu, address and sex of those who voted in Northern, Eastern and Western Maori electorates. A roll for Southern Maori was not found.1919
The first published Maori rolls titled NZ Maori Electoral Rolls 1919 for Northern, Western, Eastern and Southern Maori electorates are available on microfiche at Auckland Libraries. Content is similar to 1908.1924
Enrolment for Europeans, 21 years and over, became compulsory.1949
Maori rolls published under the same procedure as General Rolls from 1949.1956
Enrolment for Maori, 21 years and over, became compulsory.1969
Age of enrolment reduced from 21 to 20 years of age.1974
Legal definition of Maori was changed to enable Maori descent to register on either Maori or General Roll according to their cultural identification.1975
Age of enrolment was reduced to 18 years. Voting rights granted to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents who had resided in an electorate for one month.1976
Residential period was extended to 3 months.1985
Residential period reverted to one month.
Women’s suffrage petitions
Auckland Libraries’ holds copies of the 1892 and 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petitions, as do other libraries throughout New Zealand. Archives New Zealand holds the originals.
Local body government electoral rolls
Coverage of these depends on when a form of local governance was established, in each area. Local government was based on the Municipal Corporations Ordinance of 1842, which stated that as soon as the population of a district reached two thousand, then the Governor was required to proclaim it a borough with the appointment of a Mayor, eleven Aldermen and Burgesses.
These resources used to find registered voters (often called Burgesses in the early days) are generally called:
“Burgess Rolls”, “District Electoral Rolls”, or “Register of Electors” and the local authorities can be named “Wards”, “Boroughs”, “Districts”, “Counties”, “Boards” etc.
Over periods of time, boundaries change and these are amalgamated into larger areas.Search New Zealand Electoral Rolls
- Bromell, Anne, New Zealand electoral rolls: a guide to the information you can expect to find in the rolls, where to locate them, and how to use them in your research
- McRobie, Alan, New Zealand electoral atlas
- Auckland Libraries’ website