By Rhydian Thomas, Head of the Electoral Commission, Wales
The Welsh Government has consulted on modernising the way local elections in Wales are conducted and today we publish our views on these proposals.
Areas being consulted on include extending the franchise for local government elections to 16 and 17 year olds; improving electoral registration; ; modernising the electoral process; the use of the Welsh language in elections and making voting more accessible for voters while maintaining its security.
One part of my role as Head of the Electoral Commission in Wales is to make sure elected representatives have the information they need to assist them in making decisions relating to our changing democracy. While it’s not appropriate for the Commission to give a view on all the questions asked, such as the merits of making changes to the franchise or to voting systems, we have shared our experience and understanding from other parts of the UK and have made a number of recommendations on matters where we do have a view.
One important area addressed in our response is that of electoral registration. It underpins our democracy and therefore it is vital that the system puts voters first and is easy for people to access. After all, nobody can vote unless they are registered.
Many people today have an expectation that services should work together to get people registered. As proposed in the consultation, it is now time to move away from a system which relies on voters taking steps to register themselves, and instead develop an automatic or direct enrolment process which has the potential to deliver more accurate and complete electoral registers more efficiently than current resource intensive canvass processes.
When someone moves home they are generally faced with an arduous to-do list, from setting up utility bills and signing up with a local GP to working out when the bins are collected and where best to park the car. In all this, registering to vote is often low on many people’s lists and I am sure many people mistakenly assume they are placed on the register when they update their records with their local authority.
It is also the case that electoral administrators reported a significant number of duplicate applications were received in the weeks before both the May 2017 local elections in Wales and the June 2017 general election. By this I mean voters submitted new registrations, not realising that they were already registered to vote. We continue to recommend that an online ‘look up’ facility should be provided on a UK-wide basis for electors to check whether they are already registered and we are keen to explore options for enhancing the existing online registration service.
We think the registration system in Wales could also be improved by combining the electoral registers for each local authority into one single register for Wales. This could make it easier to share information when people move home and help identify duplicate entries, improving the accuracy of the register.
There is now a Wales Electoral Coordination Board which brings together the senior Returning Officers in Wales, the Association of Electoral Administrators, the Electoral Commission, Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales and the UK Government. The aim of this group is to assist in enabling well run elections in Wales by coordinating policy on electoral matters and ensuring consistency of electoral management. We believe the development of this group is vitally important to bringing together the Welsh Government’s electoral modernisation programme and consideration should be given to how the role of the Board could be developed, in the medium to long term, to support Welsh Government’s overarching electoral modernisation programme.
It is time to modernise the laws governing our elections. Many of the rules currently in place have not been changed since they were introduced over 100 years ago. The Electoral Commission continues to support the recommendations to modernise and simplify electoral law made by the Law Commissions in 2016 and ask that the Welsh Government takes them into consideration when developing their proposals.
This is an opportunity for Wales to develop and showcase its modern democracy and we are ready to work with the Welsh Government to explore how their proposals can be implemented for the good of all voters in Wales.
Read our response to the consultation here.