More 16-18 year olds and foreign citizens could get the vote in local elections.
The Welsh Parliament has approved a bill which would let councils use a more proportional voting system in local elections and grant voting rights to 16-18 year olds and foreign citizens living in Wales.
The bill also paves the way for an overhaul of the voter registration system which disenfranchises thousands of people who are disproportionately young and from ethnic minorities.
Welsh councils will decide whether or not to participate in these reforms when they come into affect in a few years time.
In local elections, Welsh councils currently use the ‘First Past the Post’ system where voters can only choose one candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins.
With the Single Transferable Vote, voters can rank their candidates in order of preference. If their first preference is knocked out then their vote switches to their second preference. This process continues until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote. This system is used in Scottish local elections and in New Zealand.
Currently in Wales, only over-18s can vote in local elections. This is the same in England and Northern Ireland but not in Scotland.
In Westminster elections, across the whole UK only over-18s can vote. This has been the case since 18-21 year olds were given the vote in 1970.
The Welsh bill will grant councils the power to allow 16-18 year olds to vote in local but not Westminster elections. They can already vote in Welsh Parliament elections.
Swansea councillor Elliot King described this as “excellent news” and said it was “very sad to see the contempt in which some hold our young people”.
The bill will also allow councils to give the vote to all foreign citizens living in their area. Currently, as in England, only foreign citizens from the EU citizens and various other (mainly Commonwealth) countries can vote in local elections.
So Wales’s 6,000 strong Chinese community could now be allowed to vote. So could citizens from countries like the Philippines and the USA.
Like the rest of the UK, Wales currently has strict rules about voter registration which mean that many otherwise eligible people aren’t able to vote on election day.
Voters have to proactively register to vote at their current address 12 working days before a general election.
This rule means that young people, who tend to move home more and not know the rules, are less likely to be able to vote on election day.
According to Jess Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru (Wales), the bill “could pave the way to a new system of Automatic Voter Registration”.
The UK government has been resisting cross-party attempts to increase the number of people registered to vote.
Joe Lo is a co-editor of Left Foot Forward
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