Wales politics

'Archaic' voting system in Wales needs reform, society says

Council services Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The Wales Bill, which recently became law, gives the Welsh assembly powers over elections

The voting system is "archaic" and needs to be changed to re-engage the public, the Electoral Reform Society Cymru has said.

Turnout at the last Welsh local council elections in 2012 was 38.6%.

Society director Jess Blair said politicians needed to make a "big effort" to modernise the process and engage Welsh voters.

The Welsh Government is looking at changing the way councillors in Wales are elected.

Monday will mark one month until the deadline to register to vote to be eligible to vote in this May's local elections, which will determine who will run everything from schools, to local libraries and bin collections across Wales.

At last year's assembly election voter turnout was just 45.3% while turnout in Wales for the EU referendum was 71.7%.

The lowest assembly election turnout was 38.2% in 2003.

'Removing barriers'

Ms Blair told BBC Wales' Sunday Supplement programme, politicians and ministers had a "responsibility" to address issues which stop people voting in Welsh elections.

"Politics has often held us back from removing barriers in elections," she said.

"If we look at the types of systems that we are using they are quite archaic, people can only turn out on a Thursday and vote between 7:00 GMT and 22:00, it doesn't reflect the modern age.

"Politicians kind of need to get with it a little bit and think about how they can interest voters and engage with them a lot more and remove those barriers to people voting."

Ahead of last year's assembly election, current Economy Secretary Ken Skates said compulsory voting should be considered to boost turnout in Wales.

But Ms Blair said online voting, on-the-day registration, and allowing people to register when they access council services, should be part of the solution.

"I think forcing people who don't understand the process or don't feel informed, is kind of putting the blame on the voter, rather than the politicians, decision makers or councils themselves to put their messages across and really inform and engage voters," she added.

Image caption Professor Roger Scully said compulsory voting was an unpopular but "plausible" idea

Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford is considering ways of changing the system in Wales, including letting authorities decide which voting system they use.

"First past the post" is currently used but he wants feedback on offering a form of proportional representation - currently used in Scotland.

Cardiff University's Professor Roger Scully said one of the reasons turnout was so low at Welsh local elections was that voters felt they "didn't have a choice".

At the last council elections, 9% of seats in the 22 local authorities were uncontested, meaning only one candidate was on the ballot.

Prof Scully told the Sunday Supplement programme the turnout at the EU referendum showed people voted when they thought their vote mattered.

"When people think there's a choice that's very stark, where they can really make a difference then they turn out to vote."

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