Posted: Wed 10th Jul 2024

“Groundbreaking moment for democracy” as Automatic Voter Registration set to be introduced in Wales

Wrexham.com for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area

The historic Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill, which was first introduced to the Senedd in October 2023, has been passed by the Welsh Parliament yesterday.

The Bill will remove barriers to democratic engagement and create a system of electoral administration fit for the 21st century, by:

  • introducing new pilots leading to the automatic registration of voters for Senedd and local government elections in Wales – with 400,000 people potentially set to be added to the register;
  • establishing a new all-Wales body responsible for co-ordinating the effective administration of Welsh elections;
  • creating a new online voter information platform;
  • introducing measures to increase diversity in the membership of the Senedd and local government.

Expected to get Royal Assent in the summer, the Bill also includes commitments to expand the role and remit of the Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru.

The proposals complement the recent reforms to the Senedd and its electoral system made through the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Act 2024.

Counsel General, Mick Antoniw, said, “This is a big year for elections, with last week’s General Election reminding us everyone’s vote counts, and by voting we can determine who runs our governments. It is important that every citizen has the opportunity to vote and that means being on the electoral register. According to the Electoral Commission, around 400,000 people are missing from it. This is bad for democracy. Our Bill will seek to automatically register every citizen who is entitled to vote.

“Members of the Senedd have voted to bring our electoral system into the 21st century and to make it more accountable and accessible to the people of Wales.”

This is the first time Automatic voter registration (AVR) will be introduced in the United Kingdom, pending successful trials.

AVR means voters are automatically added to the register by local authority officers and don’t have to initiate the process themselves. Voters are then contacted to ensure the details are correct and to ensure they are happy to be added to the register and whether they want to register anonymously.

The Electoral Reform Society has hailed the passing of the bill as a big step forward for Welsh democracy that will help to enfranchise the up to 400,000 missing voters who are not on registered to vote or registered incorrectly in Wales.

AVR is already used around the world such as in Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and some US states.

The Electoral Reform Society is now urging the UK Government to bring AVR in across the United Kingdom to help enfranchise millions of missing voters. The Labour Party has committed to ‘improve voter registration’ in its manifesto.

During the general election there were 2.9 million applications to register to vote across the UK. However, last year, the Electoral Commission found that up to 8 million people were not registered to vote or registered incorrectly.

There are substantial demographic inequalities in terms of the different people more likely to be registered to vote. Electoral Commission figures show that young people are far less likely to be registered to vote than older people, with 60% of 18 and 19-year-olds registered in Great Britain and 67% of 20-24-year-olds, compared to 96% of over 65s.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of Electoral Reform Society, said: “Participation is a vital sign of the health of our democracy, so it is crucial that as many people as possible are able to cast their vote.

“The passing of this bill is a groundbreaking moment for democracy in Wales, as well as the wider United Kingdom. Automatic voter registration is a win-win for voters as it takes one more thing off their to-do list while also strengthening our democracy by helping to enfranchise the hundreds of thousands of missing voters in Wales.

“Labour have committed to improving voter registration and we would urge the new UK government to now bring in AVR to end the scandal of the millions of voters missing from the electoral rolls.

“The introduction of measures such as voter ID in recent years mean people now face more barriers to casting their vote than at previous elections. It is crucial that we reverse this trend by expanding access to voting and making it easier for people to exercise their basic democratic right.”

Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said: “The passing of the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill today sees Wales lead the way when it comes to modernising UK democracy. The introduction of AVR will level the playing field and should vastly reduce the number of people missing from the register.

“This Bill also sees an emphasis on improving the information available to voters at election time and puts measures in place to increase the diversity of our political institutions.

“Modernising Welsh democracy has been an ongoing piece of work with the franchise extended to 16 and 17-year-olds for Welsh elections back in 2020. Recently the Senedd also voted to strengthen the Welsh Parliament by increasing the number of members and moving to a proportional list voting system.

“The new government in Westminster should look across Offa’s Dyke and learn from the democratic innovation taking place in Wales. Welsh voters will soon have many more barriers removed to their participation and we hope voters across the border will soon join them in this.”

 

Top pic: Recent election count trays await your verdict at the ballot box.

 

 



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