The 2017 local government elections in Wales
This is our report on the administration of the local government elections held in Wales on 4 May 2017.
This page is a summary version of our report.
On Thursday 4 May, 2017 elections took place across all of Wales’ 22 local authority areas. Our analysis and research with voters and campaigners shows high levels of satisfaction and confidence in the way in which these elections were run across the country.
The registered electorate for these elections was 2.28 million with turnout being 42%, higher than the 38.9% who cast their vote at the last set of local government elections.
We are very grateful to all those involved in the planning and management of these elections. These include Returning Officers, Electoral Registration Officers, Electoral Services Managers and all of their staff. The challenge in managing these elections was significant, and this intensified on the 18 April when the Prime Minister announced that there would be UK Parliamentary general election taking place on 8 June. The fact these local government elections were successfully held without any significant problems reflects the hard work undertaken by all those involved and we are grateful for their input.
We are also grateful to the newly established Wales Electoral Coordination Board for its work in helping to coordinate and manage this election. We believe that this group, formally established at the beginning of 2017 and led by senior Returning Officers in Wales, is critical in the future management of effective electoral events in Wales and we look forward to seeing how this group can improve working practices as well as continue to develop itself as the point of expertise for electoral management in Wales.
We make recommendations which are specific to future electoral events in Wales including:
- The development of the Wales Electoral Coordination Board
- Ensuring that the Welsh language is properly considered by law-makers and that all necessary resources and material are produced bilingually in a timely manner
- The compilation of national turnout data for the local elections in 2022
As well as considering these Wales-specific changes, we also want to see progress towards implementing more significant reform in two areas:
- Improving electoral registration, to make sure the process is more joined-up and integrated with other public services and better reflects the citizen’s expectation.
- Modernising and streamlining electoral law, in line with the UK’s Law Commissions’ 2016 recommendations.
Wales Electoral Coordination Board
In 2016 we recommended a permanent Wales Delivery Group be set up to improve and streamline planning for future electoral events and discuss key areas of common concern.
The group - now the Wales Electoral Coordination Board - first met in February 2017 to work on the local elections. The Board discussed issue suchs as project planning, risk management, nominations, timing of the count, public awareness and partnerships, electoral integrity and dealing with complaints.
The Board has an important role to play in bringing stakeholders together and offering coordinated views on electoral matters in Wales. This is especially important now, in light of recent proposals put forward by the Welsh Government and the more recent Electoral Reform in Local Government in Wales (PDF) consultation.
Recommendation 1: Welsh Government participation in the Wales Electoral Coordination Board
The Welsh Government should continue to participate in the Wales Electoral Coordination Board. It should also consider how the role of the Board could be developed in the medium to long term to support Welsh Government’s overarching electoral modernisation programme. This might include, for example, considering if the Board should become a statutory group, as is the case in Scotland.
Our public awareness campaign
We ran a campaign encouraging people to go online to register to vote by the 13 April deadline. Our aim was to reach both a general audience and under-registered groups, including students, home movers, 18-34 year olds and private renters.The campaign used TV, radio and online advertising as well as partnership and public relations activities.
Between 20 March when our campaign started, and the registration deadline on 13 April, there were 25,000 additions to the electoral registers in Wales.
Building on our successful partnership work from previous electoral events, we worked with existing partners and sought out new opportunities to promote our voter registration message.
We worked with the social media platforms Facebook and Nextdoor to ensure that a reminder to register to vote appeared in the newsfeed of users in Wales.
We produced and shared resources for partner organisations, including images and copy for social media, as well as poster templates and content for websites and newsletters.
We also worked with specific partners to produce joint resources. This included RNIB Cymru, with whom we worked to produce a factsheet detailing the help available to voters with sight loss, such as tactile voting devices in polling stations.
Legislation and the ballot paper
The law for local government elections in Wales is set out in a large number of separate pieces of legislation, some of which date back to the nineteenth century or earlier. It is no longer fit for purpose. The complexity of the legislation can make managing an election difficult for Returning Officers (ROs) and their staff, and participating in an election challenging for parties, candidates and their agents.
In 2016, the UK’s Law Commissions set out recommendations for consolidating, simplifying, updating and improving electoral law. Implementing these changes would make it much easier for ROs and their staff to administer elections, reducing the risk of errors and resulting in a better experience of elections for voters and those standing for election.
Recommendation 2: Welsh Government and the Assembly Commission to implement Law Commission recommendations
We recommend that the Welsh Government and The National Assembly for Wales Commission should implement the Law Commissions’’s recommendations, in so far as they apply to Welsh local government elections and National Assembly for Wales elections, when law-making powers for these elections are devolved in 2018.
Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group
Following our report on the National Assembly for Wales’s elections in 2016, a Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group was set up. The role of the group is to scrutinise Welsh language electoral legislation, note any discrepancies, and offer corrections and improvements.
The group’s first act was to respond to the Cabinet Office on the Amendment Orders for the ballot papers for the May elections. The group agreed that the Welsh wording accurately reflected the English wording, but also raised other issues in their response:
- That the wording which refers to parish councils could be misleading to some ROs. The group wanted consideration given to not including ‘parish council’ on forms relating to elections in Wales, and to amend the use of the word “councillors / cynghorwyr”, to reflect accurately the position in single member wards, a point which had been raised previously by ROs and the Commission.
- That all relevant legislation should be in place at least six months before polling day so that ROs can properly prepare for the upcoming election, in keeping with our previous recommendations.
This group has created a forum to ensure that Welsh language legislation matters are discussed in a coherent manner. It has also ensured that a consistent response is given to consultations on Welsh language forms Orders and other such legislation.
Recommendation 3: Reviewing legislation for ballot papers and voter materials
We recommend that the Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group undertake a review of relevant legislation, to ensure ballot papers and any necessary accompanying materials are scrutinised and any improvements identified. This review should be completed in time to enable the Welsh Government and Assembly Commission to make any legislative amendments to deliver these improvements, and ensure they are in place at least six months ahead of the next scheduled elections.
The administration of the poll
The deadline for applications to register to vote in the local elections was midnight on Thursday 13 April, and 27,903 applications were submitted from 20 March until the deadline.
Electoral administrators reported that a significant number of the applications were duplicate applications, where voters had submitted new registrations, not realising that they were already registered to vote. This added substantial pressure during an already very busy period for elections staff.
Recommendation 4: Reducing the number and impact of duplicate applications
We want to work with the UK’s governments, including the Welsh Government, to consider how to incorporate more automatic checks into the online application service, for example to highlight if an applicant is already registered orsomeone has recentlyalready submitted an application.
Polling day and the count
No significant issues were raised on polling day. Any minor problems brought our attend where detail with effectively by ROs and their staff. Similarly, we are not aware of any significant issues relating to the verification and counting of the votes at these elections.
Since 2016, we have provided bilingual scripts for ROs to use in all elections in Wales. The scripts for this election were well received. Working with the Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group, we will continue to make this resources available and look to develop it and the use of the Welsh language at elections where relevant.
Recommendation 5: Resources to encourage bilingual elections in Wales
We recommend that the Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group and other related partners work to create resources which will encourage the continued development of bilingual elections in Wales.
There were some instances of local authorities not publishing turnout data. This made it difficult for the media, academics and voters to calculate a national turnout figure for Wales.
Having rapid and reliable data about turnout and results is legitimate demand and we believe further efforts should be made to achieve this objective at the next set of elections.
Recommendation 6: Collating turnout data for future elections
We recommend that the Wales Electoral Coordination Board considers how turnout data should be is properly collected and published at the 2022 local government elections.
Candidates and campaigners
Of the 1,254 seats available at the May elections, 1,161 were contested with 92 candidates returned unopposed. Elections were postponed in two wards due to the death of candidates and one seat in Powys had no candidates standing for election.
Candidates' home addresses
A number of candidates expressed concern about their home address being included on the ballot paper. The safety of candidates is of course important but so is transparency of information for voters.
In its recent consultation paper on electoral reform, the Welsh Government has suggested that it should no longer be necessary to publish a candidate’s home address in election literature. We support the Welsh Government’s decision to explore this requirement, and we will respond to the consultation in due course.
As at previous elections, questions were raised regarding the use of a commonly used name on the nomination forms, the statement of persons nominated, and on the ballot paper.
The law says that if a candidate commonly uses a name that is different from any of their actual names, they can ask for their commonly used name(s) to appear on the ballot paper.
It is our view that candidates should be able to use any name that they are commonly known by, providing that the name is neither confusing nor offensive to the electorate. A candidate known only by their first name should not have to use their middle name on the ballot paper, and likewise candidates known by their middle name should not have to include their first forename on the ballot paper.
Recommendation 7: The use of commonly used names
We continue to recommend that governments should amend the law, to enable candidates to use any of their given names, such as their middle name, as a commonly used name, not limiting commonly used names to only those which are different from any given forename or surname.
In February 2017 we held an Integrity seminar bringing together the dedicated SPOCs (Single Points of Contact) within each police force area, who act as the key contacts for all electoral integrity matters.
We also held a briefing session with the new North Wales Police Force SPOC lead, and a wash-up session with all force leads in Wales. SPOCs from Wales also attended a UK wide training seminar, held in Birmingham on 3 February 2017, which we organised with ACPO.
These seminars provided opportunities to share guidance, advice and good practice on preventing and dealing with malpractice ahead of the elections.
The majority of voters in Wales continue to believe that voting is safe from fraud and abuse, with 75% of respondents in our public opinion research stating that voting in general is safe, down from 79% who believed this to be the case in 2012.