With elections coming up across the country, campaigners across Wales are gearing up the familiar routine of doorstep conversations, leaflets through letterboxes and trying to convince voters that their candidate deserves to be re-elected, or should be sent to the council chamber for the first time.
But for over 100,000 voters, nobody will be trying to win their vote this year.
New analysis by ERS Cymru estimates that 106,920 Welsh voters will be denied a say across Wales with elections effectively cancelled across the country.
Nine out of Wales’ 22 local authorities will see local representatives returned almost a month before polling day. In the worst-affected council area, Gwynedd, 30,722 voters will be denied a choice with 28 out of 69 already decided due to lack of competition.
These elections haven’t been cancelled due to a natural disaster or in response to the pandemic. It’s the way we elect councillors that means that councillors will be keeping their seats without a vote being cast.
Uncontested seats – a symptom of the broken First Past the Post system
Across Wales 74 councillors will be elected unopposed, leaving residents without a say over who represents them and their local areas – making decisions on key services such as health, housing and education.
Uncontested seats come about partly due to the difficulty of beating an incumbent. When big swings are needed to take a seat, potential challengers look at the maths and decide it isn’t worth the weeks of campaigning. But this isn’t because the incumbent is universally liked – sizeable minorities can exist who want to replace their councillor, but with first past the post it is all or nothing.
Uncontested seats are yet another symptom of our broken First Past the Post system – one which creates safe seats for some candidates and parties but no-go areas for others.
The 9 Welsh authorities with uncontested seats
||Number of seats
||Number of candidates
||Number of uncontested wards
||Number of uncontested seats
||% Uncontested seats
||Estimated number of electors affected*
|Neath Port Talbot
*Estimated number of electors taken from Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales projections of 2022 electorate.
Local elections are the cornerstone of our democracy – a chance for local people to have their say over how their local area is run and, importantly, over who represents them.
However, we now have an opportunity to break this unhealthy cycle and give local democracy a much-needed shot in the arm. For the first time, local councils in Wales have the opportunity to switch over to the more proportional Single Transferable Vote, which is already used in Scotland.
This would mean politicians will have to fight for every vote as well as ending the scourge of safe seats and travesty of contests regularly being won without a single vote being cast.