Electoral Reform in Local Government in Wales

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1 Electoral Reform in Local Government in Wales SECTION 2: Consultation response Children in Wales is the national umbrella organisation in Wales for children and young people s issues, bringing organisations and individuals from all disciplines and sectors together to speak with one voice, to exchange knowledge and practice, and to provide opportunities to enhance policy and practice through shared learning. One of our core aims is to make the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) a reality in Wales. Children in Wales campaigns for sustainable quality services for all children and young people, with special attention for children in need and works to ensure children and young people have a voice in issues that affect them. Children in Wales facilitates the voice of children and young people to influence government policy making through its Cymru Ifanc/Young Wales programme of work. For further information on the work of Children in Wales, please see and Our Response Children in Wales welcomes the opportunity to respond to the consultation on Electoral Reform in Local Government in Wales and have structured our response in accordance with the questions Welsh Government are seeking responses to. We have provided responses to those questions in which we consider we are best placed to contribute to the developing dialogue. In helping to inform our position, we have built on our previous comments in relation to the White Paper Reforming Local Governmnet: Resilient and Renewed where many of the proposals set out in this current consultation were first put forward. Our programme of work with our members, and with young people directly engaged through our Young Wales project, has also helped inform this response. Our response should be considered alongside the results of the survey we undertook with professional members and young people, and the full report of Young Wales on electoral reform Q1 Do you agree that the qualifying age for voting in Welsh local government elections should be lowered to 16? Children in Wales are in full agreement that the qualifying age for voting in local government elections should be lowered to 16. We support the reduction of the current voting age from 18 to 16, to allow all 16 and 17 year olds an opportunity to engage in the democratic process, at a national, local and community level. Reform is long overdue. Reform has the support of the majority of young people as reflected in the results of our survey (76%) and previous work undertaken with young people in Wales by both the Assembly and Cardiff University. 1

2 Reform, linked to the present review of the Curriculum, has the potential to not only enhance the knowledge and understanding of young people in democratic structures, but allow them to then exercise that right through the reform of the current voting system. Children in Wales, as the coordinating body for the UNCRC Monitoring Group, presented this view to the UN Committee in Geneva in May 2016 which was reflected in the NGO report submitted as part of the monitoring process. We have long campaigned for change. We would be delighted to work with the Welsh Government on this agenda as developments progress. Q2 Should EU citizens who move to Wales once the UK has left the EU continue to acquire the right to vote? Children in Wales are in full agreement that EU citizens who move to Wales once the UK has left the EU continue to acquire the right to vote. If you are a resident of Wales, utilising and accessing goods and services, then you should have a right to a say in local elections and democratic arrangements. We advocate an inclusive approach which does not differentiate entitlement to vote by country of birth. Children in Wales are presently undertaking a programme of work focused on the impact of Brexit on children s rights, and will be calling for EU nationals to retain their current status post Q3 Should voting rights be extended to all legal residents in Wales, irrespective of their nationality or citizenry? Children in Wales are in full agreement that voting rights should be extended to all legal residents in Wales, irrespective of their nationality or citizenry Q4 EU and Commonwealth citizens can stand for election to local government in Wales, Should this continue and be extended to all nationalities made eligible to vote? Children in Wales are in full agreement that current arrangements which allow EU and Commonwealth citizens to stand for election to local government in Wales should continue and be extended to all nationalities eligible to vote Q5 Should Electoral Registration Officers have a greater range of sources available to them to assist citizens to be added to the register? Children in Wales are in full agreement that EROs should have more ways to assist citizens to be added to the register. Our accompanying survey report highlights that 76% of respondents believed that EROs should have a greater range of sources available to them. We agree that automatic registration processes would improve the current system where there is a requirement on householders to register their entitlement well in advance of an election. This could be linked with existing arrangements around issuing National Insurance numbers to young people when they reach 16. Q6 Which data sources do you think should be used by Electoral Registration Officers? Registration linked to National Insurance Number processes would help ensure that every young person once they reach the age of 16 are registered to vote. Links to data already held by the DVLA or HMRC could also be explored for adults not currently registered. 2

3 Q7 Should a wider range of local authority staff be empowered to assist citizens to obtain registration through access to the local government register and have the ability to amend it? Children in Wales are in full agreement that that a broad range of local authority staff should be able to help people to register. In our attached survey, 90% of respondents agreed with this proposal. As and when adults make use of council services, checks could be made against the register and household members registered accordingly. It is essential however that any changes to the current system are relayed well in advance to the public so as they aware that such check will be made. Q8 What controls should be put in place to ensure the Electoral Registration Officer maintains overall control of the register? It is essential that EROs maintain overall control over the register and are responsible for ensuring that it is used as intended. Q9 Should the individual registration rules be relaxed to allow for block registrations in certain circumstances, protecting the right to vote for populations otherwise at risk of exclusion? Yes we agree that individual registration rules could be relaxed, and which would help the registration process for young people in higher education as an example. Q10 Should we place a duty on Electoral Registration Officers to consider whether any individual groups within their electoral area should be specifically targeted in registration campaigns? EROs should be identifying those groups which are least likely or be able to register, and to develop and deliver appropriate targeted campaigns accordingly. The consultation document highlights circumstances where this has already taken place and the learning from this should be shared more widely. It is essential that campaigns should be measured in their approach and contains sufficient and appropriate information to enable recipients to be sufficiently informed. The role of Third Sector organisations does not feature in this document, yet play a crucial role at a local level as trusted individuals with many groups that mainstream services struggle to engage with. This would include organisations that work with refugees and migrants, as well as children third sector organisations that work with vulnerable or disengaged children and families, and care leavers. Q11 Should we introduce arrangements so that agencies who are aware of people moving have a duty to inform the Electoral Registration Officers? Whilst in principle we agree with the intention, further consideration should be given to what we mean by agencies and which agencies, if any, would it be appropriate to place any duty on. We would suggest that public bodies health and local authorities be first considered rather than private businesses such as estate agents. Making links to the existing notification process for Council Tax or registration with General practitioners could be explored in the first instance. We would also suggest that any approach is agreed at a pan-wales level to ensure consistency between local authority areas. Q12 What are your views on the development of a single electronic register for Wales? Children in Wales are in full agreement that a single electronic register for Wales be developed. 74% of respondents to our survey indicated their support for this proposal. The use of common software would help 3

4 reduce costs and aid the additional proposals discussed elsewhere in this consultation around recording votes, including location. Q13 Do you agree that individual principal councils should be able to choose their voting system? Whist we agree that it is timely to review current local authority voting systems and look at models adopted elsewhere, for example, for national elections in Wales and in the other devolved and UK nations (and indeed other EU nations), we do not agree with this proposal We have some reservations in allowing Councils in Wales to determine which voting system they would wish to adopt, and the clear challenges this will present if we have different voting systems between local authority areas. There is a consistent system across the other devolved nations and for other elections. We have some reservations that different systems will lead to confusion, will not allow for any publicity, awareness and information to be delivered on a pan-wales basis, and we re unclear how this will address the low numbers of adults now engaging in the voting process. Some local authority areas could well end up having a different voting system for different elections - community council, NAfW, Westminster and European elections would we wish to create further barriers to participation by increasing complexity? The results of our survey informed that only 43% of respondents were in favour, a figure which dropped considerable to 24% amongst respondents over 25. We would urge the Welsh Government to give further consideration to the proposal to allow local determination on this matter, and to engage and consult with all relevant stakeholders to look at a preferred national model across all 22 authorities. Q14 Do you agree that a constitutional change such as this should be subject to a two-thirds majority? Our response to Q13 indicated that we do not support individual councils having the right to choose their voting system Q15 Do you agree that the term of local government in Wales should be set at five years? We are persuaded that in keeping with current arrangements for Westminster and assembly elections, that the term of local government in Wales should be set at five years. It should be noted however that there was a split in favour of keeping the existing arrangements amongst respondents to our survey Q16 Do you agree in principle with the desirability of reforming the voting system to encourage greater participation? Children in Wales are in full agreement that it is desirable to reform the voting system to encourage people to take part. 4

5 Piloting change in future by-elections would provide an opportunity to test out different methods and get valuable feedback from voters taking part. 79%v of respondents to our survey agreed that change was necessary, with greater use of technology cited as areas worth further exploring Q17 Are there other initiatives not covered below which might be taken to enable greater participation in elections in Wales? Respondents to our survey have made a number of suggestions. It is also worth pointing out that there is still support for tried and tested means of voting through polling stations, disingenuously referred to as old-fashioned in the document, and it is vital that we do not abandon this for untested models before we are certain that they do indeed enable greater participation in elections in Wales. Q18 Should councils be able to choose to use all-postal voting at council elections? Building on our response to Q13, we would wish to see a consistent approach adopted across Wales. We are persuaded by the Electoral Commissions present position that multiple methods of voting should be developed, including postal voting rather than elections run entirely by all postal voting. For many individual that act of leaving the home and going to a polling station to vote is highly valued, and often seen as a family of group activity. 57% of respondents to our survey did not wish to see all-postal voting, with comments citing the desire for choice and seeing voting as a community activity which we would not wish to lose. Q19 Should it be subject to pilot exercises first? No our response to Q18 is that multiple methods of voting should be developed, including postal voting rather than elections run entirely by all postal voting. Q20 Should councils be able to operate all-postal voting in an individual ward or a number of wards within a council area? No our response to Q18 is that multiple methods of voting should be developed, including postal voting rather than elections run entirely by all postal voting. Q21 Should electronic voting be enabled at local elections? Whilst we agree that consideration should be given to enabling people to cast their vote electronically, we are somewhat concerned by the potential cost of installing and maintaining such equipment (which may only be used every 5 years). A full cost benefit analysis should be undertaken and clarity in terms of who precisely would be required to pay for this equipment, store and maintain it. It may well be that this remains desirable in the future but in the current financial climate, less of a priority than other vital council services. It should be noted however that 73% of respondents to our survey were in favour of electronic voting, although a number of concerns were raised. Q22 Should remote voting be enabled at local elections? 5

6 We would suggest that further exploration is undertaken in terms of seeking to address some of the challenges previously presented with remote voting before reaching a definitive conclusion as to whether to pursue this option further. 74% of respondents to our survey supported this proposal, although concerns related to security were raised by a number of respondents Should it become desirable to enable remote voting at local elections, this should be one means amongst multiple methods of voting rather than elections run entirely by all remote voting. Q23 Should electronic counting be introduced for local elections in Wales? In line with our response to Q21, we are somewhat concerned by the potential cost of purchasing, storing and maintaining electronic counting machines Again, a full cost benefit analysis should be undertaken and clarity in terms of who precisely would be required to pay for this equipment, store and maintain it. It may well be that this remains desirable in the future but in the current financial climate, less of a priority than other vital council services. Q24 Should mobile polling stations be enabled at local elections? Children in Wales are in agreement that mobile polling stations could be in use for local elections, and would help enabled many community groups and those living in remote areas vote more easily. 87% of respondents to our survey agreed with this proposal, and reasons cited included enabling better access and enhancing inclusivity We note that they have not been piloted in the UK, and this is something worth considering first before any commitment to roll out on a all wales scale. Q25 Should we enable returning officers to make use of polling places in addition to fixed polling stations? We agree that there should be greater flexibility for returning officers to make use of polling places in addition to fixed polling stations. Consideration would need to be given to appropriateness of an alternative venue in terms of security and privacy. Many public places, such as schools, are already in use, but this could be extended to other local authority services such as libraries or community one-stop-shop hubs as appropriate 78% of respondents were in support of this proposals, with the desire to increase participation rates cited as factors to explore change. Q26 Should we enable local elections to be held on more than one day and on days other than a Thursday? We agree that it is worth exploring other options beyond the traditional Thursday and for voting to take place over more than one day. It is not clear why change is being considered and whether there is any evidence that moving away from a Thursday alone would increase participation rates of whether this change alongside other changes would 6

7 have the desired outcome. A stronger evidence base is required, and again, any change could be subject to a pilot first. 79% of respondents agreed with this proposal although even where there were agreements, many respondents added a number of caveats within their supporting comments. Some were in favour of a Sunday whilst others objected strongly to a Sunday, and not only on grounds of religion but this being a time for other interests. Q27 Should consideration be given to simplifying postal voting procedures and literature? If issues have been raised, then this is something certainly worth looking at again. Again, may third sector organisations could assist the Welsh Government with this Q28 - How do you think the process could be simplified? No comments Q29 Should electors attending a polling station be required to produce ID before they are allowed to vote? If so, what types of identification should be accepted? It does not appear that the case for change has been made, and any change would not necessarily result in greater participation but potentially to increased bureaucracy and possibly reduced engagement. Not all potential voters have a passport, a driving license or a utility bill in their name. Certain groups, notably young people, care leavers and those on low income, would be at a greater disadvantage as a significant number will not possess these documents. It should be noted that respondents to our survey were spilt 5-50 on this proposal, with some in favour keen to prevent fraud whilst other cited the reasons above and another believing that the right to vote should not be dependent on having formal ID Q30 Do the advantages of requiring ID outweigh the risk of deterring voters? No, we don t believe they do, although this should be subject to further discussion and periodic review. Q31 Do you agree that it should no longer be necessary to publish a candidate s home address in election literature, including anything published electronically? Children in Wales are in full agreement that it should no longer be necessary to publish a candidate s home address in election literature, including anything published electronically. Many concerns have been raised by election candidates, and the safety of candidates (and their family) should be our main priority above publishing their home address. 72% of respondents to our survey agreed with this proposal Q32 Do you agree that each candidate should be required to provide a personal statement for inclusion on a website provided by the authority to whom they are seeking election? We agree that there is a need for greater information to be made available to help voters make an informed choice when casting their vote. 7

8 78% of respondents to our survey agreed with this proposal Q33 Do you agree that it should not be permissible to serve both as an Assembly Member and councillor? We are in agreement with the Welsh Government that it is not permissible and that an Assembly Member if elected to a full time position, and as such, is not able to fulfil their obligations to their full potential. The consultation document does not explore the option of a job share, whereby two Assembly members are able to share one role, and which could enable them also to be a part-time councillor (if permissible and again with one other) Q34 Do you agree that candidates should be required to disclose a party affiliation if they have one? Yes we agree that candidates should be required to disclose a party affiliation if they have one. 82% of respondents to our survey were in agreement. It is essential that candidates are transparent and disclose any allegiances with another party, and how independent are some candidates standing for election as such. Q35 What sort of evidence should be required to suggest there is an undisclosed party affiliation? We would expect candidates to sign a declaration and for this to be subject to challenge where there are reasonable grounds for doing so Q36 Should any council staff below senior level be able to stand for election to their own authority? Q37 Is there still justification for councils to keep a list of those other than senior officers who should be politically restricted? Q38 Do you agree that the statutory chief executive role should include that of returning officer? Q39 Do you agree that any addition to salary in recognition of returning officer duties should be a matter for the local authority to determine? Q40 Should Welsh Government move to a system of calculating Assembly election costs on an agreed formula, based on the size of electorate? No comments Q41 Should Welsh prisoners be allowed to register to vote and participate in Welsh local government elections? If so, should it be limited to those sentenced to less than twelve months, four years, or any sentence length? Q42 By what method should prisoners cast a vote? Q43 At what address should prisoners be registered to vote? Children in Wales does not have a definitive position on whether welsh prisoners should participate in local government elections, and have not had engagement with our members or young people on this issue. However, we do note the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in that a blanket ban on prisoners voting contravenes the European Convention of Human Rights, and welcome the Welsh Government considering making changes as are Scotland at present. We do agree that welsh prisoners should be registered to vote which would be consistent with our response to earlier questions in developing an automatic registration system. The Welsh Government will need to consider the welsh prisoners detained in other parts of the UK. 8

9 Q46 - We have asked a number of specific questions. If you have any related issues which we have not specifically addressed, please use this space to report them: Consideration will need to be given to how to enable young people in local authority care aged 16 and 17 year who are currently held in secure accommodation. Although this is a small number, the only placement in Wales in Hillside (NPT) with many welsh children placed out of area in both England and Scotland. Sean O Neill Policy Director Children in Wales October

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