The National Assembly for Wales, or Senedd, is the elected body responsible for the devolved administration in Wales.
Proposals for online voting
The National Assembly is considering trials for online and electronic voting. These were debated in 2018 as part of a wider set of reforms to the franchise and voting methods, including use of STV and votes at 16. Minister Alun Davies said:
“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. 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.”
Introducing the plans to the Assembly, he stated that:
Voting at elections in this country has been conducted in more or less the same way since the nineteenth century. Most of us go to a polling station and put a cross on a piece of paper using a heavy leaded pencil on a piece of string. Many people like this in fact, because it is a bit of an event, a chance to speak to the neighbours, and, in general, people do trust it. However, Presiding Officer, we also know that it is increasingly at odds with people’s everyday lives, and this is especially true for young people. For this reason, I intend to legislate for pilots at local elections and by-elections that would explore the options of electronic voting and counting, and voting in different places and on different days. The Electoral Commission would need to evaluate any pilot before we moved to make anything permanent and widespread, but time is overdue for making the voting process more modern and more flexible, observing, of course, the need to keep any new system completely secure.
The reforms also include an all-Wales electoral register, which would be necessary to make most kinds of electronic voting practical.
At a later debate, Carwyn Jones expressed some doubts:
Now, in principle, I favour the idea of electronic voting, but I'm not convinced that the security yet exists to make sure that that system is robust, and I think that's where we need to go. So, I wouldn't object to electronic voting in the future, but I think the public would need to be reassured, especially in the present day, that there would be no prospect of systems being hacked or, indeed, any prospect of somebody impersonating another voter. That, I think, is where the work needs to be done over the next few years.
while Vikki Howells AM noticed that it has not helped voter turnout in practice:
I know that one idea that's been considered as part of the Welsh Government's package of reforms is electronic voting. In framing my supplementary today, I wanted to cite an example where electronic voting had improved turnout. But, actually, looking at the experiences of Norway and Estonia, electronic voting actually had little effect on increasing participation. Instead, it was noted that we need to emphasise why voting is important.
Wales Act 2017
The Wales Act 2017 reserves certain powers to the UK Parliament, meaning that many or most areas of legislation and powers move to the Welsh Assembly and its government. As a result, local elections become a Welsh matter.
As a result, from April 2018 the National Assembly for Wales inherits powers in the Representation of the People Act 2000 to run trials.
The Assembly is also given powers to amend its methods of election and composition, but these require a super-majority.
Local government bill
Further powers for the Welsh government will be introduced in a Local government bill in the Autumn. this could include powers to compel trials: as Wales has a relatively small number of unitary councils, and it is possible that some may not wish to help, a backstop power would make it easier for the Welsh government to push ahead with trials.
- Teenagers set to get the right to vote at 16 in Wales walesonline.co.uk, 28 January 2018
- Giving more people a say in local democracy, gov.wales 28 January 2018
- 3. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services: Reforming Electoral Arrangements in Local Government, para 175 record.assembly.wales, 20 January 2018
- Plenary, 13/03/2018, para 70 record.assembly.wales
- Plenary, 13/03/2018, para 73 record.assembly.wales
- Schedule 1 New Schedule 7A Government of Wales Act 2006, Reserved matters, legislation.gov.uk
- Section 9, Wales Act 2017, New Section 111A of the Government of Wales Act 2006, legislation.gov.uk
- “Legislative proposals concerning local government elections in Wales will be included in a local government Bill, which I intend to introduce later this year. The proposals are in keeping with the consultation last autumn, the detailed results of which I will be publishing very shortly”. 3. Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services: Reforming Electoral Arrangements in Local Government, record.assembly.wales, 20 January 2018