The Western Bay of Plenty District Council will hold a binding poll to see whether Maori wards should be introduced for the next two triennial elections in 2019 and in 2022.
The poll came about thanks to the efforts of some councillors and local residents, who petitioned for a public referendum after council initially voted 9-3 in favour of creating the racially-segregated wards.
The petition containing signatures from more than five per cent of electors was delivered on February 14 to council chambers at Barkes Corner, and confirmed as valid on Tuesday.
The council still has the opportunity to establish a Maori ward/wards as an outcome of this process, if a majority of electors vote in favour of the wards.
“Regardless of what the result is, it will be binding for two triennial elections (2019 and 2022),” says electoral officer Dale Ofsoske.
Councillor Margaret Murray-Benge, who voted against the proposal in November, is pleased with the outcome.
“We’re already divided into three geographic wards, and people can vote and have four councillors from each,” she says. “If Maori have a separate ward they can only vote for one person. What’s really stupid is I could stand in a Maori ward if I wanted to.”
She says throughout the process of gathering signatures for the petition, it became clear there was a ‘rumbling’ in the community.
“People think things have gone too far. We are all New Zealanders here.”
Fellow councillor Mike Lally says he received thanks from one person this morning for helping to start the petition process.
“We still have signatures coming in,” says Mike. “It is clear people do not want separatism – they’ve had enough of race-based laws.”
Voting documents will be posted to electors from April 27, from which time special voting and early processing will occur. The polling day will be held on Saturday May 19 and will be conducted under the provisions of the Local Electoral Act 2001 by the council’s electoral officer.
The results are expected to be declared officially on May 21, with a public notice of the results published on May 23.