This response sets out the Electoral Commission’s views on the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill. We have responded to the provisions in this Bill that are directly relevant to our work, and have also highlighted aspects of electoral law reform that we have previously recommended which do not appear in the Bill.
We have previously set out our views on many of the issues that have now been included in the Bill in our response to the Welsh Government consultation on Local Government Electoral Reform in October 2017.
We continue to recommend that all legislation should be clear at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with. This includes both this Bill and any secondary legislation that is subsequently required to specify the detail of how any provisions will work in practice. The timetable for this legislation will therefore need careful consideration given those provisions which are expected to be in place ahead of the local government elections in Wales in May 2022.
The introduction of this Bill takes place in the context of a wider electoral reform agenda in Wales with changes about to be enacted for the National Assembly for Wales/Senedd elections. We expect that Welsh Government will continue to work closely with the Assembly Commission to ensure that any reforms to electoral arrangements for local government elections in Wales are not made in isolation but take into account this wider context.
The provisions in this Bill address a number of concerns that we have highlighted in recent years about the delivery of elections. This is welcome. Nevertheless, electoral law remains fragmented and outdated. We strongly support the recommendations made by the UK’s Law Commissions which aim to consolidate, simplify and modernise the many existing sources of electoral law. Further to this Bill, we urge Welsh Government to take their recommendations forward and to consolidate and wherever possible simplify the rules for National Assembly and local government elections.
All primary and secondary legislation needed to change the franchise for the local government elections scheduled for May 2022 should be clear six months before Electoral Registration Officers are due to begin annual canvass activities in summer 2021 to enable all those who are newly eligible to vote to be able to register and participate in the elections.
Welsh Government should commit to providing adequate resources to Returning Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and local authorities to ensure that any changes to the electoral process as a result of the provisions in the Bill can be implemented in the best interests of voters.
Any divergence in the franchise for different sets of elections, using the Parliamentary register and the Local Government register will introduce the possibility of confusion for voters, candidates and campaigners, as well as administrative challenges.
Similarly, a potential divergence in the electoral system across Wales for local government elections could cause significant confusion among voters and any public awareness work to address this will be challenging.
The Wales Electoral Coordination Board should be consulted on any proposals relating to electoral matters included in the Bill and should play a full part in the effective implementation of any new changes.