Lowering the voting age, electronic votes and new locations for polling stations all feature as part of radical proposals to shake-up council elections in Wales.
The proposals, which form part of a 12 week consultation on electoral reform, were announced by Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, Mark Drakeford last week as part of a bid to make voting more accessible and easier to be entitled to vote in Wales.
Voting in council elections has been notoriously low across Wales, with Wrexham specifically seeing just 34% turnout to vote in 2012.
More recently the May 2017 council election saw a turnout of 40%, however individual wards such as Plas Madoc and Wynnstay both saw their local turnout stay below 30%.
Such proposals outlined by the Welsh Government could help boost turnout not just county borough wide, but also within individual wards.
Under the new proposals outlined in the 12 week consultation 16 and 17 year olds in Wales would be given the right to vote in council elections – under powers transferred to the National Assembly for Wales under the Wales Act
If enacted, they would amount to the biggest change to the Welsh electoral system since 1970 – when the voting age was lowered to 18.
The Welsh Government consultation also looks ahead to when the UK is due to leave the EU in 2019 and asks whether all foreign citizens normally resident in Wales should have the right to vote in local elections.
Making it easier for people to vote and modernising the voting system are also laid out in the consultation. Currently, unless you have a postal or proxy vote, registered voters have to visit their local polling station on the day of the election
Polling stations are generally held in community centres, village halls etc and people can cast their votes between 7am and 10pm on the day of the election.
However alternative options are looked at within the consultation, including electronic voting at polling stations and remotely, mobile polling stations and voting at places other than polling stations such as supermarkets, local libraries, leisure centres and railway stations.
The consultation also asks whether voting could take place on other days of the week rather than just Thursdays.
Changes would also be made to the voting system itself, with each council being given the option of using a First-Past-the-Post or Single Transferable Vote system. Councils would have to consult with local residents before deciding which system to use.
For example, this could result in Wrexham Council operating a different voting system to say the neighbouring counties in Flintshire and Denbighshire.
The consultation also asks if prisoners should be allowed to vote.
In making the announcement Mark Drakeford said: “I’m announcing a Bill and a wholesale package of reforms that will change the way councils work and the way they are elected. We want to make it easier to vote and easier to be entitled to vote.
“There’s no reason why 16 and 17 year olds can marry, pay taxes and join the army but can’t vote in our elections. There’s no reason why, in the twenty-first century, we can carry out all sorts of daily transactions online but can’t, as of yet, vote online.
“That’s why we’re setting out a number of different ideas to modernise the electoral system and putting out a call for the public to share their ideas with us too.”
Director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, Jess Blair said: “The time is right to have this conversation on how we do things differently when it comes to voting and engaging people around politics. This consultation on electoral reform is a welcome step forward and covers a huge amount of things that we believe could genuinely improve the way politics works in Wales.
“The inclusion of votes at 16 in this debate is about what kind of democracy we want to be – one which engages our young people in their futures, and secures a fair franchise.
“And we know it works. Sixteen and 17 year olds threw themselves wholeheartedly into the Scottish referendum, with 75% voting and 97% saying they would vote in future elections.
“Last week we launched our project, Missing Voices, which is looking at the barriers to voting in Wales. Therefore, we are delighted this is happening and believe this is a significant opportunity to have a debate about how we create a healthier democracy.”
Following on from a White Paper earlier this year, the Cabinet Secretary has also announced details of a Local Government Bill that would see mandatory regional working between Wales’ 22 councils on areas such as economic development, strategic land use planning and strategic transport.
These services will all be undertaken in three large regions: North Wales, Central and South West Wales and South East Wales. There will be scope for sub-regional working as part of these larger groupings.
The announcement comes after plans to merge local authorities across Wales – including Wrexham with Flintshire and potentially Denbighshire – were scrapped last year.
Councils would also be required to work regionally on other services like education improvement, social services, additional learning needs and other aspects of land-use planning but have more flexibility on the footprint in which they work together.
Certain specific functions would have to be undertaken regionally, for example, social services being aligned with the local health board boundaries.
Joint Governance Committees, comprising elected members of each constituent local authority, would be set up for each of the 3 regional areas and would oversee the services.
A more transparent relationship between residents and their local authority is also a Welsh Government aim, with mandatory broadcasting of council meetings.
Currently Wrexham Council webcasts planning, executive board and full council meetings, and has done so since 2014. However such requirements could mean the branching out to include scrutiny meetings.
There will also be a review of town and community councils, which will consider what needs to change so that the most local level of government works well and delivers results. The review is expected to start this summer and will take a year.
Mark Drakeford added: “I look forward to working with local government on the Bill and I urge everyone to have their say on this bold and pioneering package of electoral reforms we’re setting out today.”
We asked Wrexham Council if they have been involved in the shaping of the plans, and invited thoughts on mandatory regional working with Wrexham being bundled into a large ‘North Wales’ region. WCBC did not reply.
In May 2017 Wrexham.com conducted the most extensive coverage of the council elections that Wrexham has seen. You can view our coverage here.