Electoral Timeline

Key events in New Zealand's electoral history from 1852.

1852 The New Zealand Constitution Act (UK) established a system of representative government for New Zealand, with a General Assembly consisting of a Legislative Council appointed by the Crown and a House of Representatives elected every five years by males over the age of 21 who owned, leased or rented property of a certain value.

1853 First election for the House of Representatives: 37 MPs elected using first-past-the-post in a mix of single-member and multi-member electorates. Although a small number of Māori voted, most were effectively excluded because they owned their lands under communal title.

1858 Act passed to prohibit treating, bribery, undue influence and the use of licensed premises for electoral purposes or as polling booths.

1860 Right to vote extended to holders of goldfields miner's right, even if they did not own, lease or rent property.

1867 Four Māori seats created as a temporary measure for five years, with universal suffrage for Māori males over 21 (first Māori elections held 1868).

1870 Secret ballot introduced for general (European) elections (first used in 1871 general election).

1876 Four Māori seats made permanent.

1879 Universal suffrage introduced for non-Māori males over 21; parliamentary term reduced to three years.

1880 Responsibility for determining election petitions transferred from Parliament to the courts.

1881 First general election held under universal male suffrage; all MPs elected in single-member electorates; introduction of 'country quota' allowing rural electorates to have 25% fewer people than urban electorates; European and Māori elections held on single (but different) days.

1887 Independent Representation Commission established to redraw electorate boundaries after each five-yearly population census; country quota reduced to 18%; £10 candidate's deposit introduced.

1889 Plural voting abolished - 'one man, one vote' introduced (from 1890 election); multi-member electorates reintroduced in four main centres; country quota increased to 28%.

1890 Number of MPs reduced from 95 to 74; secret ballot compulsory in all contested European seats (i.e., traditional show of hands on nomination day abolished); absentee voting rights granted to seafarers.

1893 Universal suffrage granted to women over 21 (including Māori); plural registration abolished; plural voting for Māori property-owners abolished; only those whose descent was exactly half Māori or less allowed to choose whether to vote in European or Māori seats.

1895 Limit of £200 placed on each candidate's campaign spending.

1900 Number of MPs increased to 80.

1903 All multi-member electorates changed to single-member electorates.

1905 Absentee voting introduced for all electors unable to be in their own electorate on election day; first Chief Electoral Officer appointed.

1908 Second-ballot voting system introduced.

1911 First triennial national referendum on prohibition of alcohol. Referenda subsequently held alongside each general election (except 1931 and 1951) until their abolition in 1989.

1913 Second-ballot voting system repealed, and first-past-the-post reinstated.

1914 Act passed to provide for Legislative Council elected by Single Transferable Vote (STV), but never implemented.

1919 Women given the right to stand as candidates for Parliament.

1922 Chatham Islanders enfranchised for the first time (included in Lyttelton and Western Māori electorates).

1924 Registration as an elector made compulsory for all those eligible (except Māori).

1927 Postal voting introduced for certain specified groups (e.g. invalids) who could not get to a polling booth on election day.

1933 First woman MP, Elizabeth McCombs, elected in Lyttelton by-election.

1934 Parliamentary term increased to four years.

1937 Parliamentary term restored to three years; secret ballot introduced for elections in four Māori seats (first used in 1938).

1945 Country quota abolished.

1948 Legislation passed for registration of Māori electors (roll first used in 1949).

1950 Act passed to abolish Legislative Council (effective from 1 January 1951); legislative requirement for election day to be a Saturday.

1951 First election at which voting in European and Māori electorates conducted on the same day.

1956 Parliament passed new Electoral Act, including entrenched provisions that could not be amended unless the proposed changes were agreed to by either 75 per cent of MPs or a majority of those who voted in a referendum; eligible Māori required to register as electors.

1965 Number of European electorates in the South Island fixed at 25, with provision for the number of North Island electorates to increase.

1967 Proposal to increase the term of Parliament from three to four years defeated in a referendum; Māori permitted to be candidates in European electorates, and vice versa.

1969 Voting age reduced to twenty.

1974 Voting age reduced to eighteen.

1975 Term for non-Māori electorates changed from 'European' to 'general'; introduction of Māori electoral option, held after each five-yearly population census to permit Māori to choose which type of roll (general or Māori) they wish to be on until the next option; right to vote extended to permanent residents of any nationality.

1985 Appointment of Royal Commission to inquire into a wide range of matters concerning the electoral system.

1986 Report of the Royal Commission on the Electoral System, recommending (among other things) that a referendum be held on changing the voting system from first-past-the-post (FPP) to Mixed Member Proportional representation (MMP).

1990 Proposal to increase the term of Parliament from three to four years defeated in a referendum.

1992 Indicative referendum supports changing the voting system.

1993 Final and binding referendum endorses change of New Zealand's voting system from FPP to MMP; new Electoral Act passed; number of Māori electorate seats permitted to vary according to results of Māori electoral option.

1995 Declaration of final boundaries for 60 general electorates and five Māori electorates for MMP; first referendum held following a petition presented under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993.

1996 First general election held using MMP. Number of MPs increased to 120.

1997 First nationwide postal referendum held (on proposed compulsory superannuation scheme).

1999 Second MMP election, held with second and third referenda under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993.

2001 Parliamentary select committee review of MMP recommends no major changes.

2002 Third MMP election held.

2011 Referendum on the Voting System held with 2011 General Election. Click here for more information and results.

2012 Electoral Commission carries out the MMP Review stipulated in the Electoral Referendum Act 2010. Click here for more information and resulting recommendations.


Last updated: 28 May 2013