Democracy in England is looking “glaringly behind the times” compared to Wales, according to the Electoral Reform Society.
New legislation published today by the Welsh Government will pave the way for votes at 16 at local elections in Wales.
It will also allow councils to switch from a first-past-the-post voting system to the proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) method.
If the bill passes, England will soon be alone in using for using First Past the Post for all local elections, as Scotland and Northern Ireland use STV.
Wales’ move is part of a package of reforms that make up the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said the changes were a real boost for Welsh democracy.
“Sadly, Westminster and local elections in England are looking increasingly out-of-touch and outdated in contrast,” he said.
“Scotland, Wales and NI all using proportional voting systems for fair results, while Scotland and Wales are expanding the franchise to young people.
“Today’s move is a testament to the campaigning of ERS Cymru and is a real step forward.
“With trust in politics at rock bottom and people desperately wanting to be heard, it’s vital we bring our democratic structures into the 21st century. This election should be the last ever conducted under a rotten First Past the Post set up.
“With millions of votes going to waste in local and Westminster elections, it’s about time the whole UK backed the reforms in Wales and Scotland and ensured all voters were heard. Let’s build a stronger franchise and a better democracy.”
Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said that the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bil had the potential to “revolutionise” democracy in Wales.
“The inclusion of measures to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds in local elections will offer young people the chance to have a say in crucial decisions that affect them at a local level,” she said.
“It is also great to see, with a separate Bill going through the assembly on Senedd elections at the moment, that the franchise will be consistent for all Welsh elections.
“Proposals to allow councils to move to a fairer voting system have the potential to be a gamechanger and local authorities should consider these reforms seriously.
“It is clear that the current voting system in local elections limits diversity, ensures wasted votes and encourages uncontested seats. STV, as is used for both Scottish and Northern Irish local elections, should be adopted across Wales as the voting system for local elections. This is a substantial first step.
“Plans to change the way electoral registration works, by developing automatic registration are very welcome.
“Integrating services and information so Electoral Registration Officers can easily identify people who should be on the register will not only simplify the registration process but ensure far more people across Wales are registered to vote.
“This is fundamental to making sure that more people have their say on local services that affect their lives.”