16 and 17 year olds in Wales have officially secured the right to vote for Senedd elections, after a crucial piece of legislation received Royal Assent on Wednesday.
The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act has officially been entered onto the statute book – the biggest change to the franchise in Wales since the reduction of the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1969.
It follows years of campaigning from ERS Cymru and a coalition of youth and civil society campaigners, including the NUS and the British Youth Council.
ERS Cymru successfully lobbied parties to back votes at 16/17 during the last Senedd elections, and later provided evidence to the Welsh consultation on extending the franchise. UK-wide, the Society works with the British Youth Council and other youth focused organisations – including on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Votes at 16 – to make the case for change.
There’s more good news (hopefully) soon to come. A separate piece of legislation is currently progressing through the Senedd on extending the right to vote for 16- and 17-year olds for the next Welsh local government elections, due to take place in 2022.
This marks a momentous day for efforts to build a fairer franchise, with Wales joining Scotland in introducing votes at 16/17. 16 and 17 year olds can also vote in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.
16 and 17 year olds will now rightly have a say over critical issues that affect their future, such as health, education and the economy. As we’ve already seen in Scotland, this is a boost for our democracy as a whole – strengthening citizenship and boosting political engagement. A survey commissioned by the Electoral Commission following the Scottish Independence Referendum (in which 16 and 17-year-olds were entitled to vote) found that 75% had taken part.
Further research has shown that these young people planned to stay politically engaged. A survey carried out in February 2015 – after the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 – found that 67% of 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland said they’d vote in a General Election if given the chance.
Over the past few years, ERS Cymru have spoken to hundreds of young people across Wales – the first set of young people that will be voting in 2021 – and they can’t wait to vote for the first time and truly have their voices heard.
These changes send a decisive signal that 20 years after devolution Wales now has significant powers to do things differently and change the way elections work. England looks increasingly isolated on this, and it’s a constitutional injustice that 16/17 year olds will continue to be denied the vote for Westminster elections. It’s time for the government to get behind this win-win policy.
Unfortunately, a generation of young people in England and Northern Ireland will now be left behind, while Scotland and Wales make major strides in strengthening democracy. Let’s build a truly united franchise for the UK and extend it across the board.
Instead of chucking up barriers to people voting through imposing mandatory voter ID, Westminster should look at the efforts being made in Wales and Scotland to build a better, fairer democracy.
Sign the ERS’ petition for votes at 16/17 for Westminster elections.