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What action is the Welsh Government considering and why?
The Welsh Government is intending to remake the rules governing local government elections in Wales. This will be done through two pieces of subordinate legislation, the Local Elections (Principal Areas) (Wales) Rules 2021 and the Local Elections (Communities) (Wales) Rules 2021.
Responsibility for local government and Senedd elections was devolved to Wales through the Wales Act 2017. Since then the Welsh Government has implemented a number of electoral reforms including the extension of the electoral franchise to 16 and 17 year olds and qualifying foreign citizens. Presently, local government elections in Wales are governed by the Local Elections (Principal Areas) (England and Wales) Rules 2006 and the Local Elections (Parishes and Communities) (England and Wales) Rules 2006.
The principles of electoral reform in Wales centre on improving accessibility of elections, encouraging participation and the simplification and consolidation of electoral law where possible. The Welsh Government believes the current Rules governing local government elections are no longer fit for purpose. Given the franchise changes, it is no longer appropriate for the same rules to apply to England and Wales, the breadth of the Rules is vast and cover a number of elections that are not relevant in Wales. The current Rules from 2006 were made prior to devolution of the policy and (with the exception of certain forms) are in English only.
In practice, other than the changes highlighted below, in terms of procedures and requirements, the proposed new Rules will largely be unchanged. The changes include the following and were consulted on in the Electoral Reform in Local Government consultation paper in 2017.
- Providing for online submission of nomination papers
- No longer requiring 10 subscribers to a nomination paper
- A requirement that candidates declare any political affiliation in the 12 months preceding the election
- changes that allow candidates the option of not publishing their home address.
Minor changes are also being made to update the rules to reflect the extension of the franchise for local elections to 16 to 17 year olds and qualifying foreign citizens through the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 for which full impact assessments were completed.
The remade Rules will be fit for purpose because they will be bilingual, consolidated and will use clearer, more up to date legislative terminology. The will also include provision for policy changes that were consulted upon throughout the lifetime of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021.
A consultation on the draft Rules was held between the 2nd August 2021 and the 24th September 2021 which sought the views of practitioners and stakeholders with an interest in and knowledge of electoral law. 31 responses were received along with responses from three consultation events which were held in addition to other bespoke stakeholder meetings.
How have people most likely to be affected by the proposal been involved in developing it?
In the first instance, the Rules will remake, consolidate and simplify existing law. This issue has been discussed at length with the electoral community and input into the general principle of taking this approach to local government election Rules in Wales was generally welcomed. Specific issues have been discussed with the Association of Electoral Administrators, and where applicable the Electoral Commission and at three consultation events with Returning Officers, electoral administrators and representatives of One Voice Wales and Town and Community Councils. A proposal to require returning officers to publish candidate statements was included in the draft set of rules presented to electoral administrators for consultation. Following feedback from stakeholders about the administrative difficulties presented by the proposal, the provisions were removed from the final version of the rules whilst consideration is given to the best way forward.
Any new policy proposals were consulted upon as part of the Electoral Reform in Local Government in Wales consultation paper in 2017, and were subsequently scrutinised throughout the legislative process of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 and Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021.
What are the most significant impacts, positive and negative?
The most significant impact of the policy will be to electoral secondary legislation in Wales. The new local government Rules will be specific to Welsh circumstances, will be made bilingually and will be drafted to provide clarity of law. For the first time the Rules will be available in Welsh allowing candidates and administrators access to the legislation in their language of choice. The impacts will also mean that candidacy is more accessible to those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage (for example caring responsibilities or people with mobility issues) who will now be able to submit their nomination forms electronically. Candidates will also have their privacy protected by having a choice regarding whether they share their home address. Candidates will be required to share details of political party membership in the last 12 months (where this is different to the party they are standing for). However, candidates must already state which party they are standing for and this is not considered to be a significant impact.
In light of the impacts identified, how will the proposal:
- maximise contribution to our well-being objectives and the seven well-being goals; and or,
- avoid, reduce or mitigate any negative impacts?
The purpose of this proposal to make electoral law more accessible to practitioners, candidates and to voters. The work will ensure that Welsh election rules are available bilingually and that where a policy change has been made, it is done with the intention of providing voters with more information, a more straight forward process to follow or to remove barriers around standing for, or participating in, elections. The intention is to mitigate confusion caused by having England and Wales Rules that are not relevant in Wales, and to remove barriers to participation based on out-of-date processes that not reflect current working or societal practices.
How will the impact of the proposal be monitored and evaluated as it progresses and when it concludes?
The proposals will be formally reviewed in 2025 i 2026 so that changes can be made in time for the 2027 elections. This will build on a post-election report by the Electoral Commission. Continuous monitoring will take place informally by discussing with electoral administrators and the policies contained within the Rules will be monitored through ongoing work around electoral reform. Any issue relating to the accessibility of elections will be discussed with existing, and ad-hoc, working groups to ensure the needs of voters are met. Several issues emerged during consultation, particularly in relation to poll cards at town and community council elections, which require consideration and consultation and these will be considered for future policy and legislative work.