Towards Universal Suffrage

In 1867 Parliament established four Maori seats, in which all Maori men over 21 could vote for their own representatives. history-miss-twentyone_1.jpg

Then in 1879, after much debate, the franchise was extended to all adult European men, regardless of whether they owned or rented property (this was known as universal manhood suffrage). In 1889 plural voting was abolished, which confirmed the principle of 'one man, one vote'.

In 1893, after a long and dramatic struggle, the right to vote was granted to all adult women. By that time it was widely accepted that the franchise was a right of citizenship, and that therefore all adult citizens should be able to take part in elections (with some exceptions, such as prison inmates and the mentally ill).

Universal suffrage changed New Zealand politics forever. Since the 1850s most members of Parliament had come from the wealthy colonial elite, but after 1879 (and especially after 1890) 'working men' began to be elected.

The Liberal government, which ruled from 1891 to 1912, drew much of its electoral support from the urban working class, as well as from small farmers. The working-class vote would also be crucial to the rise of the Labour Party in the early twentieth century.

Did you know?

People living on the Chatham Islands were not able to vote in elections until 1922, when they were included in the Lyttelton and Western Maori electorates.


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Last updated: 21 February 2013