The Welsh government has laid out proposals for extending the right to vote in council elections to 16 and 17 year olds in a bid to give more people a say in local democracy.
The proposals, which were announced in response to last year’s consultation on reforming the electoral system in Wales, also involve allowing all foreign nationals legally resident in Wales to vote in local elections.
As well as extending the franchise, the Welsh government is looking at ways to ensure more people register to vote, including the introduction of automatic registration.
‘I am concerned we are still seeing far too many people, particularly young people, disengaged from the political process,’ said Alun Davies, cabinet secretary for Local Government and Public Services.
‘There are many reasons for this but we must do more to make the process more attractive, welcoming and transparent.
‘The proposals we’re announcing this week will, we hope, help increase participation and improve the democratic process for everyone in Wales.’
Mr Davies called on local authorities to pilot innovative new voting methods.
These could include remote digital voting, mobile polling stations and voting at places like supermarkets, local libraries, leisure centres and railway stations.
‘I would like to see authorities in Wales take the lead and pilot a number of innovative voting methods, something put on hold at the UK level since the mid-2000s,’ he said.
‘I want to see whether, for example electronic voting or counting, voting on more than one day and in places other than traditional polling stations, could boost participation rates and improve the overall experience for Welsh voters.’
Responding to the announcement, Jessica Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru said: ‘We are delighted to see the Welsh Government bringing forward these innovative ideas to modernise our democracy.
‘It is an opportunity for Wales to lead the way in creating a political system that works for everybody and it is particularly pertinent as we recognise the centenary of the first women getting the vote.’
The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) have called on Westminster to back a ‘fair franchise’ and to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote for all elections in the UK.
They warned there would soon be a ‘glaring constitutional injustice’, with 16 and 17 year olds able to vote in local elections in Scotland and Wales while around a million people of the same age in England and Northern Ireland would be denied that right.
‘The Welsh government are setting a positive example for Westminster — it’s time the UK Government followed suit in backing a franchise fit for the 21st century,’ said ERS chief executive Darren Hughes.