Campaigners have hailed the passing of bill giving 16-year-olds the vote in Senedd elections as a ‘historic moment for democracy in Wales’.
The Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill will deliver the biggest boost to the franchise in Wales in half a century, the Electoral Reform Society said.
Members of the Senedd voted 41 to 19 with no abstentions. The Bill required forty out of sixty members to vote for the bill to pass.
The Bill will give 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in the 2021 Assembly elections, a significant change for young people in Wales. They are set to get the vote for local elections soon too, in line with Scotland.
The passing of the Senedd Bill will also extend the vote in the Assembly elections to all foreign nationals resident in Wales and change the name of the institution to Senedd Cymru/ Welsh Parliament.
“This is a historic moment for democracy in Wales,” ERS Cymru Director, Jess Blair said.
“Extending the vote to 16 and 17-year olds will give young people across Wales a voice in critical decisions about who runs this country, and make the decisions that affect their everyday lives.
“Tonight, the Senedd has made a substantial step forward in modernising our electoral rules – showing how Wales can do things differently 20 years after devolution.
“It is now imperative that over the next 18 months our institutions work together to deliver an effective campaign informing young people of their new right to vote and ensuring they are on the electoral roll.
“Wales now joins Scotland in delivering the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds, but young people in England and Northern Ireland are still missing this right. It is now vital that the next UK Government gives the vote to young people for General Elections and local elections to ensure we have a truly national franchise.
“Meanwhile, in Wales we mustn’t get complacent about the next stages of Assembly reform. Increasing the size of the assembly is the next step in delivering a Senedd fit for the 21st century and parties much now take this forward in manifestos for the next election.”
The Conservative party voted against the bill, with AM Andrew RT Davies saying it was a “stitch-up job”.
“The left-wing political establishment passes a stitch-up job in an attempt to fix the voting system in the Welsh Assembly, with foreign nationals now allowed to vote in Welsh elections,” he said.
“Labour and Plaid are driving the Assembly further from the people!”
Speaking after the vote, Plaid Cymru AM Rhun ap Iorwerth said they were “proud” to have ensured the passing of the bill.
“Plaid Cymru are proud to have ensured the passing of this Bill today which will ensure that the young people of Wales can participate in Wales’ democracy.
“This Bill is a reflection of the evolution of our Assembly into a national Senedd for the people of Wales. A crucial part of that is the ability of our young citizens to become a part of the political process.
“By extending the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds we show young people that we trust them, we’re ready to listen to them and we take their opinions seriously.
“It’s wonderful to see that the Youth Parliament has made such an impact in its first year and it is proof enough that the young people of Wales have a massive contribution to make and are ready and able to shape their world, their Wales.”
The party, however, said that they were disappointed that the Labour Welsh Government blocked an amendment to the bill that would have given the Senedd a Welsh-only name.
“Their intransigence was deeply frustrating,” Rhun ap Iorwerth said.
“However, Plaid Cymru’s persistence, supported by a number of Labour backbenchers, has been successful in ensuring that AMs in the future will be known as Aelod o’r Senedd/Member of the Senedd.
“So, in effect, we’ve won the debate on what the institution will be called from today.”