April 2016 Māori Law Review

Second Referendum on the New Zealand Flag – result and Māori voter turnout

Second Referendum on the New Zealand Flag

Result announced 30 March 2016

The Electoral Commission released the final results for the second referendum on the New Zealand flag on 30 March 2016. A majority of voters favoured keeping the existing New Zealand flag. Voter turnout was lower overall in Māori than in non-Māori electorates.

Overview and result

Voters chose to keep the current flag as the official flag of New Zealand. The majority was 56.6% in favour of the present flag. Those preferring a change to the alternative silver fern flag cast 43.2% of valid votes. Informal votes amounted to 0.2% of votes cast. The second referendum took place by postal ballot between 3 March and 24 March 2016.

The referendum process to decide whether to change the New Zealand flag followed a flag consideration project and the work of an expert panel. During those processes Māori claims were made to the Waitangi Tribunal that replacing the flag would be a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. The claimants argued that changing the flag would challenge their mana and tino rangatiratanga arguing that the flag is a taonga of theirs protected by Article 2 of the Treaty.

The Waitangi Tribunal declined to convene an urgent inquiry into the matter, stating that were such a hearing to take place, it would have little impact on the day-to-day lives of Māori in comparison to many of the cases which were waiting to be heard by the Tribunal. The Tribunal also stated that Māori would have a chance to influence the outcome of the referendum by engaging in the flag consideration process.

At the referendum, which was conducted by postal ballot, Māori electorates had a lower voter turnout than non-Māori electorates. (Expressed as a percentage of those enrolled.) This ranged from as low as 44.8% in the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate, to a high of 51.2% in both Te Tai Tokerau and Te Tai Tonga electorates. Voter turnout averaged 48.7% for Māori electorates; this being significantly lower than the overall turnout across all electorates of 67.8%.

General Elections have also resulted in lower turnout for Māori electorates. For example, in the 2014 general election, Māori voter turnout ranged from 60.65% to 69.27% (as a percentage of those enrolled to vote), in comparison to total turnout of 77.9% of all those enrolled voting. Youth is also a factor in participation levels. Voter turnout decreases even further within the Māori electorates in the younger age range: only 54.92% of enrolled Māori voters aged 18-24 voted, in comparison to 88.45% of those aged 65-69.  Data is not yet available showing voting by age in the Māori electorates for the Second Flag Referendum.


See these articles for details on voter turnout at the 2014 General Election and about the refusal by the Waitangi Tribunal to inquire urgently into the flag consideration process:

For more detailed statistics on the Second Flag Referendum see the Electoral Commission's website:


Author: Emerald UnRuh

Emerald UnRuh is the 2016 visiting indigenous scholar at the Māori Law Review. She is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa where she is studying International Development and Globalization on the Loran Scholarship. On graduating she plans to study law in her home province of British Columbia. As a proud Métis woman, Emerald is passionate about helping indigenous peoples, domestically and abroad.