Voting is an essential part of democratic life – from Mayoral contests to Westminster elections. Yet in an alarming number of places next month, voters in Wales will be denied a vote.
That’s not because there aren’t elections happening – there are. It’s because in 92 local council seats, there’s only one candidate standing: which means there’s no ballot box. Those 92 candidates have won before polling day.
We estimate that 127,631 Welsh residents will be denied the vote in this year’s council elections, with swathes of councillors already being elected before a single vote is cast.
That’s almost 100 ‘democracy deserts’ which do voters and our politics a huge disservice.
This isn’t just a problem in one or to authorities. Half of Wales’ local authorities are returning councillors without opposition. In the worst-affected council area, Gwynedd, 25,270 voters will be denied a choice of candidate in the local elections.
It means local residents across Wales will not be able to express an opinion on the future of key services and council tax levels. In addition to the 92 one-candidate wards, one ward in Powys (Yscir) has not a single candidate. They will be totally unrepresented.
All this means that, sadly, Wales now accounts for the vast majority of uncontested seats in the UK – with Wales’ 92 uncontested seats figure comparing to just four for the whole of England in this round of elections.
Why does this matter? Local elections are one of the main opportunities for voters to have our say over services that affect our everyday lives.
But with nearly 130,000 people across Wales having no choice at the upcoming elections, that opportunity is being taken away for many of us. Welsh residents are being denied a voice – to the detriment of our democracy and our services.
There’s one fairly simple reason why: it is the symptom of a broken First Past the Post voting system, one which creates hundreds of safe seats, where other parties often don’t stand a chance of winning.
But it’s also the symptom of wider issues of political engagement in Wales which need tackling head on – from the need for votes at 16 and decent citizenship education to moving towards automatic voter registration and fair funding for political parties. Wales needs a wide-scale democratic revival.
This May’s elections will be the first since last June’s referendum, and with Article 50 being triggered at the end of March there has never been a more important time for people’s opinions about the future to be heard.
These figures are a damning indictment that the current system isn’t working. So the next step? Let’s remove the barriers to having an effective and representative democracy.
We need to look at the way politics works in Wales – including reforming the voting system for local elections so that no one is denied a voice.
In case you’re interested here are the 11 ‘democratic deserts’ in Wales:
||Estimated number of electors
||Number of uncontested seats
|Neath Port Talbot
*includes ward with no candidates