Democracy in England is looking ‘glaringly behind the times’, as the Welsh government publish plans to improve participation and upgrade how local elections work.
New legislation published today by the Welsh Government  will pave the way for votes at 16/17 for local elections in Wales, and allowing councils to switch from a first-past-the-post voting system to the proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) method, backed by the ERS.
If this government-backed bill passes, England will soon be alone in Great Britain for using First Past the Post for all local elections, as Scotland and Northern Ireland use STV.
It comes just a week or so before a bill for votes at 16/17 to be enacted for Welsh Assembly elections too, alongside a suite of pro-democracy reforms to boost participation .
The move is part of a package of reforms that make up the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill that provides for the establishment of a new and reformed legislative framework for local government elections, democracy, performance and governance.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“This is a real boost for Welsh democracy, with votes at 16/17 and moves towards a fairer voting system. Sadly, Westminster and local elections in England are looking increasingly out-of-touch and outdated in contrast. Scotland, Wales and NI all using proportional voting systems for fair results, while Scotland and Wales are expanding the franchise to young people. Today’s move is testament to the campaigning of ERS Cymru, and represents a step forward for political equality.
“With trust in politics at rock bottom and people desperately wanting to be heard, it’s vital we bring our democratic structures into the 21st century. This election should be the last ever conducted under a rotten First Past the Post set up.
“With millions of votes going to waste in local and Westminster elections, it’s about time the whole UK backed the reforms in Wales and Scotland and ensured all voters were heard. Let’s build a stronger franchise and a better democracy.”
Commenting as the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill is published by the Welsh Government Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said:
“This legislation has the potential to revolutionise local democracy in Wales, transforming the way elections work and are run.
“The inclusion of measures to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds in local elections will offer young people the chance to have a say in crucial decisions that affect them at a local level. It is also great to see, with a separate Bill going through the assembly on Senedd elections at the moment, that the franchise will be consistent for all Welsh elections .
“Proposals to allow councils to move to a fairer voting system have the potential to be a gamechanger and local authorities should consider these reforms seriously. It is clear that the current voting system in local elections limits diversity, ensures wasted votes and encourages uncontested seats. STV, as is used for both Scottish and Northern Irish local elections, should be adopted across Wales as the voting system for local elections. This is a substantial first step.
“Plans to change the way electoral registration works, by developing automatic registration are very welcome. Integrating services and information so Electoral Registration Officers can easily identify people who should be on the register will not only simplify the registration process but ensure far more people across Wales are registered to vote.
“This is fundamental to making sure that more people have their say on local services that affect their lives.”
The ERS’ Democracy Denied report on England’s local elections revealed how voters are left ignored by a winner-takes-all system: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/election-audit-2019-democracy-denied-as-report-reveals-how-voters-are-left-voiceless-across-england/
There were 17 local authorities in May’s local elections where the party getting the most votes did not get the most councillors up for election. And in nearly half (115) of all English local councils, one party was able to secure more than half of the councillors up for election – despite winning less than half the vote.
Uncontested seats: The ERS uncovered hundreds of uncontested and under-contested seats and wards in councils across England affecting over 800,000 potential voters. “Democracy wasn’t just lacking in these wards – it was effectively cancelled,” the ERS say. In contrast, there were no uncontested seats in Northern Ireland, which has long used the proportional STV voting system.
Lack of choice: Despite voters showing a renewed desire to support a wide range of parties, there were approximately 2.65 million voters who live in wards where only a binary choice was on offer in May.
Notes to Editors
 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-50419406 Bill here: http://senedd.assembly.wales/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=26688
 Phase 1: Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill, expected to pass later this month https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/in-wales-votes-at-16-is-one-step-closer-to-reality/ Phase 2 of these reforms may also see moves to a larger Assembly and using STV for Senedd elections.