Mark Drakeford, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government
A consultation paper setting out a series of proposals for reforms to the electoral system in Wales is today being published. This includes who can vote; the registration of voters; the electoral process; who can stand as a candidate in an election and who can act as returning officers.
The purpose of reforming the electoral system is to make it easier for people to vote and easier for people to be entitled to vote. This means extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and to thousands of people in Wales who are currently denied their say at the polling booths. It also includes a number of options for local government elections, which fits with our wider reform programme for local government.
Following the consultation, I will seek to make legislative changes through a Local Government Bill. Any changes introduced through this Bill would apply to local government elections only. The National Assembly for Wales is considering reforms in respect of its own elections separately to this consultation.
The consultation proposes enabling 16 and 17-year-olds to register to vote in Welsh local elections. This has been the policy of the Welsh Government for a long time. We believe that if you are able to marry; to pay taxes and join the army at 16, then you should be able to vote in local elections.
The consultation also offers a range of proposals for the reform of the registration process to maximise the size of the electoral register. I want electoral registration officers to have more powers to add people to the register where they are confident they are at a stated address and are eligible to vote.
We are consulting on options to make it easier to vote. These include all-postal voting; electronic and remote voting. There are choices about voting on more days than the traditional Thursday; voting at places other than polling stations and in mobile polling stations.
While many people enjoy the traditional trip to a polling station, marking a paper with a pencil tied on a string, we need to recognise that for many this is an outdated tradition. People who are prepared to bank, shop and access important public services online, for example, may find it difficult to understand why voting electronically is not possible.
The consultation paper proposes that individual councils are able to choose their system of election – between first-past-the-post and single transferable vote. Following the publication and consultation on the Local Government White Paper, I propose that any changes to a council’s voting system should be subject to a two-thirds majority vote of that council’s membership, bringing this into line with the threshold for such changes to the National Assembly.
The consultation also asks for people’s views about preventing Assembly Members from serving as councillors at the same time. We believe that being an Assembly Member is a full-time job – and is remunerated as such. The National Assembly is the body which makes decisions about local government in Wales and conflicts of interest can – and do – arise when people are accountable to it and to local government at the same time.
But the consultation also asks whether the thousands of council officers and staff who are currently prevented from standing for election to their own councils should continue to be. Senior positions in councils are politically restricted posts but currently a school dinner assistant cannot be elected to represent constituents on their council but a school governor can.
Finally, the consultation tackles some of the archaic arrangements around returning officers. It considers making this a compulsory role of chief executives, allowing employing authorities to decide whether returning officers should be compensated for this duty, rather than charging a fee for conducting elections as if they were a consultant.
It is long overdue that this Assembly should have the power to decide on how Welsh elections are organised and how Welsh people get to vote.
I hope all Assembly Members will do all they can to encourage their constituents to respond to this consultation. It is designed to make our democratic processes more accessible now and for future generations. It is up to us to be bold and seize the initiative to extend the vote to Wales’ missing voters.