The age-old adage about waiting for a bus and two turning up at once seemed particularly appropriate last week as we gave evidence on the Elections and Elected Bodies Bill to a Senedd Committee. This was just six days after we gave evidence on the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill.
It’s rare to see major legislation on democratic reform. And even rarer to see two pieces of legislation to reform democracy going through at the same time. If both bills pass we will see a very different Welsh Parliament and a very different democracy in Wales.
While the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill reforms the Senedd, the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill largely changes the way elections will work in the future.
This includes provisions to introduce automated or automatic registration, removing the need for voters to register themselves.
A welcome move towards automatic voter registration
In our evidence to the Local Government and Housing Committee this week, we welcomed the move towards automatic voter registration. This is a common sense approach to removing a barrier many people face in accessing their vote. Around 260,000 eligible electors in Wales are not registered to vote, just shy of 10% of the eligible population. Data also shows that some groups are less likely to be registered than others, with young people, EU nationals and people who have recently moved house and those in the private rental sector among the least likely.
While we support this move it is also important that it is delivered effectively and properly communicated to voters. Things like an easy way to find out whether you are registered or to be able to correct any incorrect information will go a long way to ensuring voters are confident that they are properly registered.
With changes to the way people are registered to vote we have an opportunity to think differently about how to communicate with voters ahead of an election and how better information can be provided.
There are many things we can learn from other countries when it comes to democracy, including how information is provided ahead of elections. In Estonia prior to an election a simple information sheet is sent to all voters listing what the election is for, when, who the candidates are and where you can vote. Wales should absolutely take this approach and send information to voters ahead of an election.
More information provided for voters
In terms of information, there are welcome changes included in the Bill. This includes a new voter information online platform, which will provide that one stop shop for information that is desperately needed. ERS Cymru convenes the Democracy Group Cymru, a network of organisations working with newly enfranchised or under registered groups. A one stop voter information platform was one of the things the group suggested was needed following the 2021 Senedd elections so we are really pleased to see its inclusion in this legislation.
In the committee this week we also welcomed provisions to improve the diversity of the Senedd and Welsh local government. One of the points we raised around this was the need for much better data around the diversity of our elected representatives. Having proper data will highlight where gaps lie in representation and show whether progress is or isn’t being made.
The Elections and Elected Bodies Bill is an extensive piece of legislation, and we have responded in much more detail in our written evidence to the Committee. The Bill is a genuinely exciting package of democratic reform that will really set the tone across the UK. Lawmakers in Wales are removing barriers for voters and improving information and communication.
Lawmakers in the other nations should look to follow Wales’ lead.
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