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History series - Voting Eligibility




The first general elections in New Zealand took place in 1853. The voting criteria was different back then.

To be eligible to vote you had to be male, a British subject, at least 21 years old, own land or be paying rent of a certain amount per year, and not serving a criminal sentence for a serious offence.

1867 saw the establishment of four Māori seats, enabling Māori to vote without needing to meet the property requirements.

Initially voting involved telling a polling officer verbally of ones chosen candidate. However, voters recorded feeling intimidated, embarrassed, or pressured about their vote. Not to mention the high chances of corruption.

So in 1870, the secret ballot came into use, which allowed each voter to mark their choice on a printed ballot and place the ballot in a sealed box. Essentially this same system continues to be implemented today.

In 1879 after much controversy, Parliament decided to remove the requirement of ‘property ownership’. This allowed anyone who met the other qualifications to participate in the electoral process. This eventually gave rise to "working class" politicians and the birth of the Labour Party.

In 1893, about 40 years after the first general election – women were given the right to vote in New Zealand.

We have certainly come a long way in the development of our democratic parliamentary system.


Milestones in the political history of our nation – Aotearoa New Zealand. To learn more visit