Tuesday Tip: New Zealand Electoral Rolls

NZ electoral rolls – tips and tricks!

So, why are electoral rolls such a big deal for NZ family history, anyway? The answer is that we don’t have the personal information from the NZ census of past decades such as exists for England and some other countries. So electoral rolls are one of the sources that we use as a substitute. Through them, we can find the living place and (often) occupation of ancestors who qualified to vote. However, that’s also where things get a little complicated, because the rules about who could vote have evolved over the decades since the 19th Century and the changes affect which ancestors appear on rolls and which do not.

To help with this problem, the Auckland Libraries website has a NZ Voting Rights Timeline of important dates when rule changes were made about the eligibility to vote. Some like 1879 (male franchise) and 1893 (women’s franchise) have a very big impact. Others (like changes over time about the age at which people could vote) are more subtle, but still important.

Lady voters going up to polling-booth, election day, Auckland, 1899.
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A12353

The NZ Electoral Commission’s website also has a section called The History of the Vote which I recommend  to researchers wanting more historical background. It offers some interesting snippets of social history – such as an account of drunkenness and corruption in Auckland elections of the 1850s, including tampering with the electoral rolls!

NZ electoral rolls 1853 to 1981 are now digitized and available through Ancestry.com. This database may be accessed through the Auckland Libraries website on library premises for free. (It is not available through the website from home computers.)  NOTE: scroll to the bottom of the page of the NZ electoral roll database and you will find a detailed list of the election years covered. Those (few) without an asterisk beside the year are not yet searchable by voter name, but only browsable.

New Zealand Electoral Roll for Geraldine District, 1876.

For the years after 1981, come into the Auckland Research Centre on level 2 of the Auckland Libraries building in Lorne Street, in central Auckland. We hold a full set either on microfiche or hard copy that continues to the current – 2013 year.


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