Big changes to Welsh Police and Crime Commissioner elections

Jessica Blair, ERS Cymru Director

Posted on the 2nd May 2024

Today, voters across Wales will have to show ID to vote for the first time as they head to the polls to elect four Police and Crime Commissioners, covering North Wales, Dyfed Powys, Gwent and South Wales respectively.

A lot has changed since the last set of elections, none of it for the better. The UK government has changed the way that Police and Crime Commissioners are elected, so that they no longer need to get broad support to win. They have also brought in voter ID, which makes it harder for people without ID to vote. And to top it all off, these elections will be stand-alone elections, rather than held alongside a set of elections that might motivate people to come out to vote.

While the public tends to not be particularly interested in Police and Crime Commissioners, they have a lot of power. They are paid nearly £90,000 a year to set the budget for the police in their area and employ the Chief Constable.

A low-interest election

When Police and Crime Commissioners were first created in 2012, we warned that the turnout could be incredibly low. We thought a result as low as 18.5% could be possible. In the end the turnout was just 15.1% nationally – in Wales it was 14.9%.

Whatever electoral system you use that is incredibly worrying, but at least in that first contest candidates needed broad support of those who took part to win. But the government have now lowered that bar.

Lowering the barrier to victory

When someone has the power to fire the local Chief Constable, you want to them to represent the views of the local population. But the government in Westminster has lowered the bar to victory, to allow Police and Crime Commissioners to saunter into office, even when a big majority don’t want them.

Police and Crime Commissioners used to be elected with the Supplementary Vote. Everyone marked who their first and second favourite candidate was, and if no candidate won a majority, they checked these choices to see which of the top two candidates were the most popular more broadly.

But now we have to use First Past the Post – so candidates can win on a third or even quarter of the vote. Imagine a Police and Crime Commissioner elected on a third of the vote, when turnout is around 20%. That’s a tiny minority setting the priorities for our police forces.

Making it harder to vote

The Westminster government has also made it mandatory for Welsh people voting in the UK General Election and Police and Crime Commissioner elections to provide photo ID in order to vote.

It’s the biggest change for a really long time and that presents a massive risk. A lot of people don’t have access to voter ID.

A lot of the ID that is accepted – driver’s license and passport – costs money to get and the forms of ID that are free are mainly targeted towards older voters.

The Welsh government has rejected imposing voter ID on elections they run, but they don’t have any power over the general election or Police and Crime Commissioner elections. This is just a recipe for confusion.

A race to the bottom

The lower the turnout, the lower the margin of victory for the winning candidate. Even a single vote can make the difference between victory and defeat. Because of this, the winner often is the person who can get more people to the polls. When turnout is this low, the race become more about getting your supporters to turn out, rather than trying to convince anyone new to vote for you.

A tiny minority of voters shouldn’t be able to claim a ‘mandate’ to take the decisions that affect all of us.

So, make sure you get out and vote, but it’s up to the government to organise elections that don’t end up like this.

The government’s voter ID scheme risks the very principle of free and fair elections.

One voter turned away is one too many.

Add your name to our call to scrap voter ID

UPDATE: Turnout for the 2024 Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Wales was just over 17%.

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