As the Welsh Assembly takes a historic step towards extending voting to 16 and 17-year-olds in Wales, Daniel Priestley – Law Student at Cardiff University currently on placement with the Electoral Reform Society shares how the move could create real change for democracy in Wales.
Last week the National Assembly for Wales voted to progress the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill. Amongst other things, this bill aims to expand the electorate for National Assembly elections to 16 and 17-year-olds for the first time.
Unfortunately, much of the debate and coverage of the Bill has been centred around the renaming of the Welsh Assembly. Whilst the renaming of the Welsh Assembly is an important step to recognising it’s wider legal and political role in Welsh society, it is concerning that politicians and news outlets have been focused solely on this issue. If the electorate was expanded across the United Kingdom, the reform would be grabbing national headings, so why is the issue being largely ignored for the Welsh Assembly?
Having been introduced in February 2019, the bill has now passed through the committee stage and if it passes through the next stages successfully, it will expand the electorate ahead of the Senedd elections in 2021.
Combined with a plan to provide effective political education for 16 and 17-year-olds (see ERS Cymru’s report “Our Voices Heard”), the bill has the potential to create a generation of first-time voters who are much more informed and engaged than their predecessors.
Around the world we have seen if you vote once, you are more likely to vote for the rest of your life so catching people early is incredibly important. Within the UK, Scotland has seen an increase in youth engagement with political issues. The Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform chaired by Professor Laura McAllister which recommended votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, found evidence that 16 to 18-year-olds in Scotland vote in larger numbers than 18 to 25-year-olds, therefore showing clear demand for the reform.
The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill has the chance to create real change to the Welsh political system – finally valuing young people’s voices within society.