The Māori Option was introduced in 1975 to permit Māori to choose – for a few months after every five-yearly census – whether to be on the Māori electoral roll or the general roll.
This option increased the number of Māori seats to seven, by 2005. Although Māori, especially new voters, continue to opt for the Māori roll, significant numbers of Māori also choose the general roll, for various reasons. This, combined with increased immigration and the principle of proportionality, has prevented a further increase in the number of Māori seats, as the total number of seats is limited to The 1986 Royal Commission on the Electoral System said the Māori seats had gone some way towards providing for political representation of Māori interests, but they did not ensure that Māori electors had an effective voice. It recommended MMP as the best system for those purposes, with or without the Māori seats.
When MMP was introduced in 1993, parliament decided that the Māori seats should be retained, along with the Māori Option. However, unlike other important provisions of the Electoral Act which need a 75 per cent majority to be changed, the Māori seats can be abolished by just 51 per cent of parliament.
It should be remembered that Māori representation within Kawanatanga (a right provided to Māori in Article III of the Treaty) is a fundamentally different concept from the relationship between the Crown and hapū leaders envisaged in Articles I and II of the Treaty.