People of Wales urged to register to vote amid fears thousands could be shut out of Senedd election
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Campaigning is now well underway for the 2021 Senedd election. But with the deadline for voter registration just days away, there are fears that many thousands face being shut out of the democratic process altogether.
The latest Electoral Commission figures show that 17% of eligible voters in Britain are not registered at their current address, representing as many as 9.4m people unable to use their right to vote.
As a result, and with the deadline looming on April 19, one organisation is leading a major push to urge those who have not yet done so to register to vote.
Analysis shows that areas with a high concentration of certain demographics – students, private renters and especially young adults, as well as some ethnic minority groups – are particularly in danger of having low registration numbers.
Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “With just a week to go until the registration deadline, we need a massive push from public bodies and civil society to ensure everyone is signed up and able to exercise their right to vote on May 6.
“Unfortunately, millions are likely to remain off the register, with many believing they were already signed up, or simply missing communications about the deadline. People often assume – quite fairly – that you shouldn’t have to opt in to your right to vote.”
Who’s entitled to vote?
There are thought to be about 2.3 million voters in Wales, which for the first time now includes anyone over the age of 16 as well as around 33,000 foreign nationals.
To be eligible, voters must be living in Wales, but can be a British, Irish or Commonwealth national, an EU citizen or a foreign national permitted to be in the UK.
While it is possible to register to vote online, this must have been done by April 19.
Why should I vote?
For a start, you’ll be helping to decide the makeup of Wales’ national parliament for the next five years.
With powers over pretty much all aspects of our day to day lives, the profile of devolved government has never been higher due to its say over matters of public health during the pandemic.
Given an £18 billion budget in 2020/21, health and NHS spending is accountable for just over half. But ministers also make decisions over other day to day issues including education, economic policy, transport, the environment, rural affairs, housing and how much money is allocated to your county councils every year.
And while most Senedd Members are elected via the traditional ‘first past the post’ method, Wales’ ‘top up’ system means that smaller parties also have a much better chance of returning members to Cardiff Bay compared to Westminster elections.
However, May’s elections will also provide a chance to select north Wales’ next Police and Crime Commissioner.
With Arfon Jones not choosing to contest the election, his replacement will have the power to hire and fire the chief constable and hold them to account.
They will also be responsible for setting North Wales Police’s budget and council precept (the portion of your council tax you pay for policing) and the force’s priorities for their term of office, which are reviewed each year.
In addition, some areas will also see by-elections for vacant community council seats, including two county council vacancies to represent Caergybi and Seiriol on Anglesey.
How to register
You can register to vote online here ahead of the deadline at midnight on Monday (April 19).
You’ll be asked for your National Insurance number, but you can still register if you do not have one, and after doing so your name and address will appear on the electoral register.
Alternatively, you can contact the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) for your area, which will be managed by your local county council.
If unsure if you are registered, you should also check with your ERO.
With this being the first set of elections where 16 and 17-year-olds and foreign citizens legally resident in Wales can vote, the Senedd Commission has also created resources to help young people understand what to expect.
These can be found by visiting this website.