May’s election will be the first that 16 and 17 year olds and all resident foreign nationals are able to vote in Wales, representing around 100,000 potential electors.
Now a coalition of 32 leading civil society organisations and academics – led by ERS Cymru – is calling on political parties to ramp up their engagement with new voters ahead of the Senedd elections on 6th May.
The group has sent a letter to party leaders in Wales, signed by the Children’s Commissioner, Race Council Cymru, the NUS, Youth Cymru, Diverse Cymru and dozens more – which calls on parties to ensure that they are reaching out and listening to these newly enfranchised groups when producing their policies, remembering that the cohort of voters for this election has changed. That could include making accessible versions of their manifestos across social media platforms, and participating hustings and other events that focus on newly enfranchised voters.
The letter comes as unreleased YouGov polling commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society shows that 69% of 16-24 year olds think the Senedd Elections are important – a higher proportion than in any other age group except the over 65s.
The polling also demonstrates that this youngest age group are also much more likely to have engaged in political activity in the last 12 months, with 77% reporting to have engaged in some political activity compared with around half of people in all other age groups.
Despite these higher rates of wider political involvement and activism, almost half of 16-24 years said they’d be unlikely to contact their MS or MP (44% and 45% respectively) over an issue that could be addressed by either parliament, suggesting parties need to work hard this election to create ‘voting habits that last a lifetime’.
May’s election represents a significant step forward for Welsh democracy, with new voters adding fresh energy to the debate . It comes at a difficult time when we know the election will be anything but ordinary, but political parties and their leaders have a duty to ensure they play their part in the successful extension of the franchise.
As ERS Cymru’s Jess Blair noted: “When Scotland extended their franchise to 16 and 17 year olds for the Independence referendum in 2014, we saw 16 and 17 year olds turning out in higher numbers than their 18-24 year old counterparts.”
We know that the first vote is crucial to building democratic habits that last for a lifetime, and evidence from Scotland has shown that younger people’s involvement raises the diversity and quality of political debate for everyone.
Read the letter in full here:
We are writing to you as a coalition of 32 organisations and academics working with newly enfranchised groups. The forthcoming Senedd election represents a pivotal moment in the history and development of Welsh democracy; a radical reform that ensures Wales is a global leader in progressive democratic reform. For the first time, 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote, alongside qualifying foreign citizens. This means the introduction of over 100,000 new potential electors who can have their say on May 6th in the Senedd election.
We know however that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic means the election will be anything but ordinary. It is vital that these newly-enfranchised voters are warmly welcomed, and that political parties engage fully and energetically with them to encourage young people and qualifying foreign citizens to vote.
Since its creation, successive Senedd elections have failed to realise a 50% turnout of voters. It is evident that we face an uphill battle to ensure these newly enfranchised groups know about their right to vote, are listened to, and take part in elections. As a result we believe it is vital that the parties all play their part in the successful extension of the franchise to ensure no one is left on the sidelines this election.
As a coalition of civil society and academics who work with young people and foreign nationals we are calling for:
- All parties to commit to publishing easily accessible and engaging versions of their manifestos on a wide range of platforms, targeting foreign qualifying citizens, young people and communities that are traditionally less likely to vote.
- All parties to ensure that they are reaching out and listening to these newly enfranchised groups when producing their policies, remembering that the cohort of voters for this election has changed.
- All parties to participate in hustings and other events that focus on newly enfranchised voters.
A YouGov survey conducted in November 2020 showed 69% of 16 to 24 year olds surveyed said the upcoming Welsh Parliamentary election was important to them. Research suggests the first vote is crucial to building democratic habits that last for a lifetime, and evidence from Scotland has shown that younger people’s involvement raises the diversity and quality of political debate for everyone. It is now up to political parties and their campaigners to reach all of Wales, including these newly enfranchised voters, to make this the success it can be.
We have a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to engage a whole new generation of people and communities in our democracy, but if parties don’t step up this opportunity might be lost. All of us benefit from a healthier democracy, where all of us are counted.
Becky Ricketts, President, National Union of Students Wales
Sign our petition to extend the right to vote to 16 & 17 year olds UK wide
Charlotte Davies, Chief Executive Officer, Swansea Music Art Digital
Claire O’Shea, Head of Partnership, Hub Cymru Africa
David Daniel, Project Development Officer, Newport Rising
Dr Andy Mycock, University of Huddersfield
Dr Christine Huebner, Nottingham Trent University
Dr Jan Eichhorn, University of Edinburgh
Dr Thomas Loughran, University of Liverpool
Dr Katherine Smith, Nottingham Trent University
Ele Hicks, Policy, engagement and research manager, Diverse Cymru
Fadhili Maghiya, Director, Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel
Frances Beecher, Chief Executive, Llamau
Gillian Mitchell, Chief Executive Officer, National Youth Arts Wales
Graeme Farrow, Arts and Creative Director, Wales Millennium Centre
Grug Muse, Prosiect Pleidlais 16/17 Officer, Urdd Gobaith Cymru
Ieuan Bater, Llais Ifanc Peer Leader, Youth Cymru
Jasmine Jones, Coordinator, Gypsies and Travellers Wales
Jess Blair, Director, ERS Cymru
Kate Seary, Devolved Elections Assistant, Democracy Club
Katie Dalton, Director, Cymorth Cymru
Kathryn Allen, E-Democracy UK (New enterprise)
Kirstie Edwards, Projects & Participation Officer, Youth Cymru
Leila Usmani, Race Alliance Wales
Mared Edwards, Llywydd yr Urdd/ Urdd President
Mark Willmore, Head of Learning, Training and Employment, Llamau
Nia Evans, CYP Mental Health Manager, Mind Cymru
Nirushan Sudarsan, Llais Ifanc Peer Leader, Youth Cymru
Owen Evans, CEO, Children in Wales
Patience Bentu, Community Engagement Officer, Race Council Cymru
Paul Glaze, Chief Executive, Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services
Professor Laura McAllister, Cardiff University
Professor Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales
Richard Bowers, Communications Officer, Wales Council of the Blind
Rocio Cifuentes, CEO, Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales (EYST Wales)
Sam Austin, Deputy CEO, Llamau
Siôn Edwards, Communications Manager, Y Fenter | The Venture
William Evans, Young People’s Influence and Participation Lead, Mind Cymru
Yvonne Murphy, Omidaze Productions