A Generous Franchise?

By the standards of the time, New Zealand's was a wide, liberal franchise. history-liberal-party_0_0.jpg

The £5 or £10 'householder' qualification was quite low, especially as labourers in New Zealand could earn £40-60 a year. Acquiring property - 'getting on' - was one of the main ambitions of those migrating from Britain to the colonies. Although only about half the adult European men in New Zealand actually enrolled to vote in the 1850s, probably three-quarters of them were eligible.

Apart from a tiny minority of 'aliens' and prison inmates, most of the non-Maori males excluded from the franchise were recent arrivals and transient workers like farm labourers, timber workers and seafarers, who usually lived in boarding houses, tents or shacks, or aboard ship. As they did not possess property, these men were not considered 'bona fide' (genuine) settlers. One station owner said of his hard-drinking farm labourers: 'Their political knowledge is absolutely nil, and, were the colony to give them political power, it might as well give gunpowder to children.'

But even though New Zealand's electoral franchise was generous, most parliamentary elections in the 1850s and 1860s did not arouse much excitement. Voter turnout was quite low and candidates were often elected unopposed.

 

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Last updated: 21 February 2013