It is by design that upvotes on meta don't increase your reputation, and downvotes don't decrease it. You do need some reputation (gained through main) to participate in meta. While meta doesn't change your reputation, you can be awarded badges in meta (and there is even at least one meta-specific badge displayed in your badge list in main). See the meta faq on reputation for more information.
One of the reasons it wouldn't make sense for upvotes and downvotes to affect your reputation on meta is that they fundamentally do not mean the same thing as on main.
Another reason for this policy is probably that having more on-topic questions and answers in main is, generally speaking, a good thing, whereas rapid increases in the volume of questions (and answers) on meta would distract from main and reduce the utility of the site for providing support and creating high-quality answers about Ubuntu.