Welsh Government introduces bill to pave the way for automatic voter registration
A new bill which will pave the way for automatic voter registration in Wales has been introduced by the Welsh Government.
It is claimed that the new Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill will remove previous barriers faced by voters in Wales.
The Bill confirms the government’s intention to introduce automatic registration for local government and Senedd elections, once a piloting programme has been completed.
Local authorities will be invited to take part in a series of trials focusing on the best way to collect data, including using data that already exists, to support automatic registration.
Currently people must register in order to vote, but under the new proposals local government will be required to register people to the local government register without the need for an application.
The government says it will make voting simpler – especially for young people and for those who have moved to Wales from another country.
Automatic registration proposals have previously been backed by Plaid Cymru, but the Welsh Conservatives have warned it could cause “unnecessary confusion” for voters.
The new legislation will also require Ministers to establish a fund to help disabled people standing for Welsh elections in the future with additional costs such as mobility equipment and communication software.
It follows a previous pilot of a similar fund trialled in the May 2021 Senedd and May 2022 local government elections.
Another requirement contained in the bill is for an online platform to be set up by the Welsh Ministers containing information about Welsh elections for voters.
This will make sure information on elections and candidates is readily available for everyone.
Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, said: “The reforms in this bill continue the significant progress we have made in strengthening Welsh democracy in recent years, including extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds and qualifying foreign nationals.
“Our ambition is for changes to be in place in time for the next major devolved and local elections in 2026 and 2027, bringing us another step closer towards achieving our long-term vision for electoral reform.
“Ultimately this is about making it as easy as possible for people to vote and participate in democracy. Our actions to remove barriers are in direct contrast with the UK Government, which has denied some voters their democratic right by requiring photo ID in recent English local elections.”
Jess Blair, Director of Electoral Reform Society Cymru, said: “The legislation introduced by the Welsh Government today will bring democracy in Wales into the 21st century. It is welcome that Ministers are looking at how to make voting easier for people, removing barriers that we know many people face.
“The move to Automatic Voter Registration will remove a hurdle for newly enfranchised voters and we hope it will lead to more information sharing between services so voters no longer face the hassle of updating their details when they move house. This move brings Wales into line with leading democracies across the world who automatically register voters as a matter of course.
“We welcome provisions to establish a new voter information platform. Having a one stop shop where information on democracy in Wales will be available will make it easier for voters to access resources which currently sit in multiple places.”
Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price MS said: “Plaid Cymru is fully supportive of all measures that make it as easy as possible for people to vote, thereby strengthening our democracy.
“The automatic registration of voters would be an important first step in the work that is needed by Welsh Government to tackle voter disengagement and increase voter turnout – work that is needed to counterbalance the actions of Westminster, who have brought in Voter ID – a move that has been shown to disproportionately impact Welsh voters.”
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