May’s elections will see an exciting democratic first as voters head to the polls: 16 and 17-year-olds in Wales will be able to vote in elections for the Senedd.
This exciting breakthrough comes following legislation passed in 2019 that extended the right to vote in Senedd elections to anyone over the age of 16, as well as all qualifying foreign citizens. It sees Wales follow the example of Scotland, which allowed 16/17 votes for Holyrood elections back in 2015.
There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm among 16 and 17-year-olds for voting this May in Wales, just as we have seen in Scottish elections in which they can vote.
The win for votes at 16/17 was a real victory for Electoral Reform Society Cymru and the Votes at 16 coalition – and one we can build on. There is real momentum for change, to foster that sense of civic duty and engagement that we need.
But as it stands, the UK government is only increasing resentment by depriving 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland, Wales and across the UK the chance to have their say over who represents them in Parliament.
It remains a democratic travesty that 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote in these nations – yet across the UK, those same voters will be denied a say over their MP at the next election.
This is why the ERS is calling on the government must ensure young people across the UK are able to take part in General Elections too. Westminster is looking isolated in preventing the nearly 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds from participating in public matters, but the movement for a fairer franchise is growing.
Championing voter engagement
To mark Votes at 16 Week, ERS Cymru is leading a call for party leaders to ramp up their engagement with new voters ahead of the Senedd elections on 6th May.
In a letter from 32 leading Welsh civil society organisation and academics democracy campaigners encouraged parties to ensure that they are reaching out and listening to these new voters when producing their policies.
Responding to the letter, Andrew R. T. Davies, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said that his party “welcomes the opportunity to engage with all those now old enough to vote for the first time”, adding it was “the most important Senedd election since 1999” and that “a stronger and more successful Wales is only possible if we engage and listen to our next generation”.
A Welsh Labour spokesman also commented that “the pandemic has changed so much of our lives – we want young people to shape the recovery and Welsh Labour will work alongside them to build a fairer, stronger and greener nation”.
Votes at 16 Week (22-26 February) sees a series of online events and activities for young people to raise awareness of May’s elections showing their commitment to making sure that young people have their voices heard in Wales.
What about Westminster?
With votes at 16/17 a reality now across the devolved nations we must also ensure all voters are heard in Westminster – including scrapping Westminster’s outdated winner-takes-all system.
Young people often feel particularly excluded in politics – but whatever generation you are part of, Westminster’s warped set-up is leading to millions of ignored votes each election.
We cannot leave another generation behind. Let’s build a stronger franchise – to start revitalising our democracy and rebuilding trust in politics at last.
Sign our petition to extend the right to vote to 16 & 17 year olds UK wide