Response to the Welsh Government consultation on electoral administration and reform

Part 2


2. Should the Welsh Government commit resource to considering how electronic remote voting could operate for devolved elections?

As the white paper highlights, we published research in 2021 exploring public attitudes across the UK to different options for modernising voting in the future. Overall, online voting was the most popular of the alternative voting methods people were asked about, and younger people were surprised this was not already an option. People cited convenience and accessibility as the main reasons they would like to see online voting introduced, but concerns were expressed around security, coercion, and digital exclusion. Many respondents wanted remote options to be introduced slowly and alongside current options, giving people a choice instead of replacing existing voting methods.

We also conducted interviews with members of the electoral community across the UK, which helped to provide a wider perspective on the drivers for and benefits of potential modernisation options. 

Although online voting was perceived as an option for the future, responses from the public and electoral community as part of our research suggest there is no pressing demand for this. In addition, there is broad consensus among both the international elections and technology communities that there are still significant barriers to its implementation. There are also other areas, such as improving electoral registration processes or taking steps to modernise electoral law, where reform should be prioritised by the Welsh Government.

We are commencing further work to consider options for modernising voting in the UK. The initial focus is on modernisation options based on paper-based voting, such as advance or mobile voting (see our response to Question 39). In the longer term, we plan to look at online voting, including potential barriers to its implementation and whether the benefits would be likely to outweigh the potential risks. 

We will continue to update the Welsh Government on this work as it develops and will share any findings as they become available.

Part 3


3. What impacts, if any, do you think the proposed introduction of an all-Wales database of electoral registration data would have on the electoral process (such as registration and electoral services)?

The case for reforming electoral registration

There is an urgent need to reform electoral registration in the UK. Our 2019 report on the electoral registers in Great Britain indicated that the local government registers in Wales were 81% complete and 89% accurate, with the parliamentary registers 82% complete and 88% accurate. This leads to an estimate of between 410,000 and 560,000 people in Wales who were eligible to be on the local government registers but were not correctly registered. 

Levels of completeness in Great Britain have been falling for several decades, with a significant decline between 2001 and 2011. This has been associated with population change, increasing population mobility due to changing housing circumstances, a decrease in public engagement with electoral democracy, and a fall in form response rates. 

The data from 2019 suggests a continued correlation between certain demographics and lower or higher levels of completeness. Age and mobility were found to be the variables with the strongest impact, with the young and those more likely to move home less likely to be registered. It also found differences in levels of completeness by ethnicity, nationality, disability, and socio-economic grouping.

We have previously recommended that the UK’s governments explore reforms to electoral registration processes, including making them more joined up with other public services. This could mean giving EROs access to data from other public service providers, automatic or automated forms of registration, or the integration of electoral registration into other public service transactions. 

We therefore support the Welsh Government’s plans in relation to both a potential all-Wales database and wider proposals on the automatic registration of eligible electors.

An all-Wales database of electoral registration data

In 2019, we published a series of feasibility studies looking at modernising electoral registration in the UK. As part of this work, we considered whether a centralised register, or a system of joined-up electoral registers, would offer additional benefits for electoral registration or electoral reform more broadly. 

We concluded that a greater degree of centralisation could offer real benefits, particularly in terms of simplifying the infrastructure needed to support reform. In addition, the combination of unique identifiers and either an all-Wales register or some form of joined-up registers could reduce the risk of some people voting more than once. Such reforms could enable EROs to know how many people are registered twice (legally) and to identify and manage duplicate registration applications. They could also provide the potential basis for a move towards different ways of voting.

However, we also noted that these benefits would need to be balanced against the potential risks of further centralisation, including the loss of local knowledge about under-registered groups and security risks around the management of personal data. The introduction of an all-Wales register would also require considerable resource and would have a significant impact on electoral administration staff. Any changes would require sufficient time to introduce and could require two systems to operate in parallel for a period of time whilst any new system is established. 

Finally, consideration would also need to be given to how any centralisation of local government registers could work alongside existing locally maintained and held parliamentary registers, and how electoral management software systems would be able to accommodate this.

Part 4


4. What are your views on the application of Elections Act 2022 provisions on (a) digital imprints for digital campaign material, and (b)online nominations?

A) Digital imprints for digital campaign material

Digital campaigning accounts for an increasingly large proportion of election spending reported by campaigners. It offers significant opportunities to engage with voters, but it must also deliver the transparency and integrity that people are entitled to. We carried out research following the May 2022 local elections which found that:

  • Three in five adults in Wales (61%) said it is important for them to know who has produced the political information they see online.
  • Almost half of respondents (49%) said they would trust digital campaign material more if they knew who produced it.
  • 40% feel that they cannot currently trust the political information that is available online, whereas only 14% said that information online was trustworthy.

We have previously recommended that the Welsh Government ensures a digital imprints regime is in place before the next set of devolved elections, in order to help improve public trust and confidence in digital campaigns at future elections. We agree that maintaining consistency in the rules for devolved and reserved elections in Wales will reduce the risk of confusion for campaigners and agents. 

During the development of the Elections Act, we highlighted that transparency could be further improved by extending the imprint laws to cover all digital material from unregistered third-party campaigners, regardless of whether they had paid to promote it. We also highlighted that the imprints regime introduced by the Elections Act will allow campaigners, in cases where it is not reasonably practical to include an imprint on the campaign material, to include it in a location “directly accessible” from the material instead – for example on a social media profile or website. We noted that this could reduce transparency for voters. 

We will monitor the implementation of the new requirement to ensure voters can access meaningful information about who is paying for digital campaign material. We have also developed draft statutory guidance on digital imprints, which we consulted on between October and December 2022. The guidance will cover both devolved and reserved elections in Wales. 

B) Online nominations

We would welcome further modernisation of the nominations process to achieve a consistent approach to both paper and digital nominations. This could make it easier for candidates to complete and submit their nomination forms and reduce administrative burdens on ROs and their staff. 

At the local elections in May 2022, candidates were able to submit their nomination forms electronically for the first time. This process generally ran smoothly, but feedback from electoral administrators highlighted some issues including: 

  • Processing nomination forms that had been submitted electronically added to workloads at a point where time was already limited. Minor errors that could have been dealt with quickly in person took several days to resolve via email. 
  • Many candidates submitting their nomination forms electronically did so very close to the deadline, making it difficult for any issues to be addressed in time.
  • The forms were felt to be repetitive and not straightforward to complete. 

As the white paper notes, the Wales Electoral Coordination Board (WECB) has established a sub-group to identify improvements to the nominations process that could be introduced for future elections. 

The sub-group has suggested changes to existing nominations forms that could improve the process for both paper and online submission, and that can be made without any legislative amendments. It has also identified improvements that may require legislative change, looked at options for creating online nomination forms using existing digital platforms, and considered the potential benefits of an online candidate portal. The WECB recently wrote to the Welsh Government to outline its findings.

Part 5


5. Should principal and town and community councils revert to four-year terms?

We do not take a view on term lengths for elected representatives. However, we recognise the potential challenges for voters, campaigners and administrators if different elections were to take place on the same day – particularly if they had different rules.

Part 8


8. How can we best help people understand they have been automatically registered and feel confident that their data is protected, especially for people who may be vulnerable or wish to register anonymously?

General comments on automatic registration 

As we have set out in response to Question 3, there is an urgent need to reform electoral registration processes in the UK. We have previously called for reform to make the current system, which relies solely on people taking steps to register themselves, more joined up with public services and existing public data.

We published feasibility studies in 2019 which concluded that automatic or more automated forms of registration were possible within the current system. As the white paper highlights, automatic registration could also help to improve levels of completeness among under-registered groups. 

While such changes could have a significant positive impact, this would also represent a major change with practical implications for electoral administrators. In developing plans for automatic registration, consideration will need to be given to a range of issues including: 

  • The challenges involved in making these changes for the local government register without equivalent changes to the parliamentary register.
  • Whether the chosen dataset(s) would provide sufficient information to register a person automatically or if a combination of datasets might be necessary. Any data used as the basis for automatic voter registration would need to be trustworthy, current, and complete enough to verify a person’s eligibility to register. 
  • Knowing when someone is already on the register.
  • The technical infrastructure required to support the reforms.

Communication with voters and data protection considerations

Any notice of registration would need to be clear in explaining that the individual is only being added to the local government register and that they may also be eligible to apply to register for the parliamentary register. It should also clearly state what the individual should do if their details are incorrect, and when they will be added to the register.

For qualifying foreign nationals, care would need to be taken to explain their eligibility and, in some cases, information may be required in languages other than English and Welsh.

We agree that the Welsh Government would also need to carefully consider how it can protect vulnerable people. Any notice of registration would need to clearly communicate the options available to those who may want to register anonymously and provide assurance that they will not be added to the register against their wishes. 

Steps would also need to be taken to check people who have been automatically registered against existing anonymously registered individuals to prevent them also being added to the register as an ordinary elector and their details being made public. In addition, some people may consider themselves to be at risk but may not meet the criteria, or have the evidence or support available, to make an anonymous application. 

Part 9


9. To what extent do you agree with the removal of the open register in relation to devolved elections?

We agree with this proposal and have previously recommended that the open register should no longer be compiled or made available for sale. Our view is that the electoral register should be used only for electoral purposes and a limited range of statutory security and crime-prevention purposes.

The Welsh Government will need to carefully consider how it can ensure voters understand that the open register will still exist for the parliamentary register and that they may still need to take action in order to opt out of this.

Part 10


10. Should the Welsh Government place a duty on local authorities to have data sharing agreements within the authority itself, and where applicable, with other authorities or organisations?

We encourage the Welsh Government to explore options for improved data sharing between EROs. This could be particularly useful in identifying people who have recently moved from one local authority area to another.

The Welsh Government could also improve opportunities for EROs to access data from other public service providers – particularly where that data is held by national rather than local providers. Better use of public data would help EROs to identify potential electors and improve the accuracy and completeness of the register. Ensuring accurate and complete registers throughout the year could also alleviate pressure on elections teams immediately before elections by reducing the reliance on pre-election registration activity. 

As part of the 2019 feasibility studies (see our response to Question 3), we identified a number of public data sources that could help to maintain more accurate and complete electoral registers in the UK. These included the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, HM Passport Office, HM Revenue and Customs, and the Department for Work and Pensions. 

Options for using this data included allowing EROs to access recent transactional data to identify potential electors, enabling EROs to use this data to target specific groups of under-represented electors, and using this data to facilitate more automatic or direct forms of electoral registration. 

Part 11


11. Are there any specific aspects of automatic registration that should be piloted before we move to an all Wales roll out?

It would be valuable to undertake some further work to identify the data sources that are most likely to be useful before looking to develop any pilot schemes. It may also be possible to test for voter confusion, and identify measures to mitigate this, through some user testing on the materials that people would receive before using them in a live pilot scheme. It will be important to ensure that any pilots are well developed and have clear objectives to ensure that meaningful evaluation is possible. 

Any pilots taken forward could gather information on:

  • The effectiveness of automatic registration in targeting specific under-registered groups (young people, qualifying foreign nationals, recent movers, private renters).
  • How many people maintain their automatic registration for the local register but choose not to register for the parliamentary register.
  • The quality and availability of different data sources, and the type of data infrastructure needed, in order to support automatic registration. 
  • How many people respond to a notice of registration in order to amend incorrect details, apply to register anonymously, or opt out from registration entirely.
  • General feedback from electoral administrators and voters on their experience with the pilots – particularly voters’ understanding of the process. 

We may be able to assist with the development of pilots, drawing on the analysis from the feasibility studies referenced in response to Question 8, and we would welcome the opportunity to input into proposals in due course. As was the case with the advance voting pilots, we may also be able to play a role in evaluating future pilot schemes.

Part 12


12.  To what extent do you agree or disagree that students should have the option to register to vote whilst enrolling at university?

12a. Should any data that is provided be subsequently shared, via a data sharing agreement, with the relevant Local Authority’s Electoral Services Team?

We agree that the Welsh Government should explore the potential for allowing students to register to vote when enrolling at university, and data sharing agreements between local authorities and universities should help to facilitate this.

Under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, higher education providers in England that are registered with the Office for Students (OfS) are required to comply with OfS guidance to facilitate the electoral registration of students. We would welcome equivalent provisions being introduced for Wales and have previously recommended that the Welsh Government take this forward. Both Ceredigion and Cardiff have successfully set up data sharing agreements with universities which may provide useful insights.

The Welsh Government should also consider how it can improve rates of registration and participation for all young people, including those not at university. It should consider whether there are other institutions that may be able to assist with the registration of young people, such as further education colleges or large apprenticeship employers. 

Part 14


14. If answered Strongly Agree or Agree to Question 13, what should its functions be?

We agree that the EMB should carry out the functions currently undertaken by the WECB, building on the strong foundations that have been laid since 2017. In terms of additional functions, the Welsh Government may wish to consider the 2019 review which looked at the work of the WECB and how this could evolve in the future. Potential areas of work identified included delivering certain areas of electoral activity in a more consistent and centralised way, such as the printing of relevant Wales-wide material or the delivery of poll cards or postal voting packs. 

The white paper suggests the EMB’s functions could include the provision of voter information, including on registering to vote, casting a vote, and relevant information on candidates standing for election. We have an important statutory role in providing information on registering to vote and voting, and the Welsh Government should carefully consider how it can avoid the risk of this role being duplicated through the EMB. 

We agree that the EMB could play a role in hosting relevant information about candidates who are standing for election, as this would not overlap with existing Commission functions. We have provided further information in response to Question 45. 

We also recommend that the EMB should develop a communications strategy to ensure effective dialogue and increased engagement with ROs across Wales. The development of a website would be valuable, as part of this, to allow for effective dissemination of information and resources. 

Part 15 and 16

15 and 16

15. Should the Electoral Management Board have powers to issue directions to Returning Officers and Electoral Registration Officers?

16. Should the Electoral Management Board have the power to issue advice to Returning Officers and Electoral Registration Officers on the carrying out of their functions?

Introducing these powers could help to ensure consistency in the delivery of all-Wales electoral events. As the white paper highlights, these proposals would bring Wales in line with Scotland, where the Convener of the EMB can issue directions to ROs and EROs in relation to their duties around local government and Scottish Parliament elections. This has helped to ensure consistency across Scotland, for instance, in dispatch dates for postal votes and poll cards.

It is natural that an EMB for Wales would occasionally need to issue practical advice and guidance in trying to deliver a consistent approach to Wales-wide elections. However, careful consideration will need to be given to the risk of this duplicating the Electoral Commission’s statutory responsibilities in this area. Any advice that is issued should complement and build on the existing guidance for ROs and EROs set out by the Commission.

Part 17


17. What are your views on who should be members of the Electoral Management Board and how they should be appointed?

We would anticipate that the membership of the EMB would be broadly in line with that of the WECB. Currently this includes senior Returning Officers from across Wales, the chair of the Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group (WLAG), and several representatives from the AEA. The Welsh Government should consider the criteria for appointment to ensure the EMB can discharge its functions effectively and include representatives from all parts of Wales. In particular, the chair will need to have significant electoral administration experience, at a senior level, to ensure they can lead the EMB effectively. 

Several stakeholders are invited to attend the WECB in an advisory capacity, including the Electoral Commission, Welsh Government, the UK Government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and the Senedd Commission. This approach has worked well to date, and we would recommend that these stakeholder organisations continue to attend meetings of the EMB in an advisory capacity.

Part 18 and 19

18 and 19

18. To what extent do you agree or disagree with our proposals to provide for greater electoral certainty by extending the statutory time during which no final electoral review reports can be published and no electoral review orders may be made? 

19a. At which point in the electoral cycle should the Commission be prevented from publishing electoral review reports?

19b. Do you agree the Commission should, as far as possible, be required to schedule electoral reviews within two years of a community review being completed?

We would support an extension to the time period in which no final electoral review reports can be published and no electoral review orders can be made by Welsh Ministers. This would provide greater certainty for electoral administrators and campaigners ahead of scheduled local government elections. 

The exact length of the period before an ordinary election where the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales may not publish electoral review reports is a matter for others to decide, but we would urge the Welsh Government to consider the views of Returning Officers ahead of any changes. 

The remaining questions relating to the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission do not fall within our remit, and we have not provided a response. 

Part 37 and 38

37 and 38

37. Do you agree with our proposal for Wales to maintain a single regulatory framework on political finance for reserved and devolved elections in Wales, where appropriate?

38. Please provide any further comments on the specific measures under consideration regarding political finance.

We agree with the Welsh Government’s assessment that differences in political finance rules between devolved and reserved elections could risk creating confusion for campaigners and complexity for the wider electoral community. 

Campaigners would have to plan and account for their spending differently for devolved and reserved elections, even if they had undertaken the same kind of activity across both. Differences in the law could also affect how voters and the media could access information about spending by campaigners during elections, because it would mean that a similar item of spending could be reported in a slightly different way in a candidate spending return depending on the rules for that election. 

Whatever approach is taken, we will continue to provide guidance to help the regulated community understand and comply with the law.

Part 39


39. What types of innovation in electoral administration would you like to see piloted in the future?

As outlined in response to Question 2, we published research in 2021 exploring public attitudes to different options for modernising voting. It found that, on the whole, people are content with the current options they have for voting and found them straightforward. When reflecting on potential modernisation options, innovations that made voting quick, convenient, and physically accessible were most attractive to people.

We also conducted interviews with members of the electoral community. Although there were a range of views expressed about options for modernising the voting process, we found there was a clear, shared understanding of the drivers for reform: the need to increase participation and the need to improve the resilience of the system. One of the most frequently raised ideas was giving voters more choice and flexibility by offering other options of how to cast a vote – such as choice of location and/or time, online voting, and different options for overseas electors.

Following this research, we have commenced work to consider options for modernising voting in greater detail. This is initially focusing on flexible voting options including advance voting, mobile voting, ‘vote anywhere’ polling stations and voting hubs. We will share our findings with the Welsh Government, and they may be useful in informing the development of future pilots. 

Part 40 and 41

40 and 41

40. How could we facilitate a more varied mix of local authorities participating in future pilots?

41. What are your views on a power of direction for Welsh Ministers which would enable them to compel a local authority to pilot electoral innovations?

Any pilots that are taken forward by the Welsh Government should be carefully designed, in consultation with the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders, to ensure they can provide robust evidence to support future policy decisions.

We do not take a view on whether Welsh Ministers should have the power to direct a local authority to participate in an electoral pilot. We agree it would be beneficial for future pilots to include a more varied mix of local authorities, particularly covering more rural communities, but the Welsh Government would also need to consider the adverse effect that directing a local authority to hold a pilot could have on the capacity of its electoral services teams. 

Early planning and communication with local authorities about the Welsh Government’s plans, as well as assurances that they will be provided with adequate resources to run the pilots, may help to increase take up.

Part 42, 43 and 44

42, 43 and 44

42. Should Returning Officers be subject to specific Welsh language requirements when elections take place?

43. Are there any types of services you would like to see Returning Officers providing in Welsh?

44. Have you ever experienced any issue related to the Welsh language during elections?

We are supportive of the commitment to ensuring Welsh is not treated any less favourably than English in relation to elections held in Wales.

We agree that Returning Officers (ROs) generally comply with the spirit of the Welsh Language Standards, despite not having a legal duty to do so. As the white paper highlights, Electoral Commission guidance also explains to ROs in Wales that they must have regard to the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 in carrying out their duties. 

Our new performance standards for ROs, published and laid before the Senedd in December 2022, also address the importance of the equal provision of information in English and Welsh. 

However, there are valid questions around whether the lack of more specific legal duties on ROs could lead to Welsh speakers in some areas having a different experience of registering to vote and voting than others. Issues that have been raised previously include the standard of translation on election documents and difficulties in recruiting Welsh speakers to work at polling stations.

Following the 2016 Senedd election, we set up the Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group (WLAG), which aims to ensure that the Welsh and English languages are treated equally in matters relating to electoral legislation and guidance. It could provide a useful forum for the Welsh Government to discuss ideas and proposals relating to the Welsh language and its use in elections.

Part 47


47. What should be done to encourage political parties to produce accessible materials?

In our ‘Elections for Everyone’ report, published in 2017, we made a range of recommendations on how the UK’s governments, electoral administrators, parties, and candidates could improve the experience of disabled people taking part in elections. We made several specific recommendations for how political parties and campaigners should communicate with voters, including:

  • Making sure the information they produce is easy to read. 
  • Publishing easy read manifestos at the same time so disabled people have the same time as everyone else to understand what the parties stand for and make an informed decision.
  • Sending information in good time so that people have time to read it.

We welcome the Welsh Government’s plans to work with parties, the Commission and other relevant organisations to produce good practice guidelines and accessibility standards for accessible election materials, and we look forward to supporting this work.  

Part 48


48. To what extent do you agree or disagree that that the returning officer at devolved elections should be under a duty to provide such equipment as it is reasonable to provide for the purposes of making it easier for disabled people to vote?

Everyone should be able to register and cast their vote without facing barriers. While there have been significant improvements, we know there is still more to be done to improve the voting experience for disabled people. At the 2022 local elections, our research found that nearly all voters (97%) found the ballot paper easy to fill in, and three in four (74%) found it very easy, but this figure was lower amongst voters with a disability or health issue (67%). 

We welcomed the provisions within the Elections Act 2022 to replace the specific requirement to provide a tactile voting device in polling stations with a broader duty on ROs. This duty requires ROs to provide such equipment as is reasonable to enable, or make it easier, for disabled people to vote independently and in secret at the polling station. Our view is that this will improve the range and quality of support available, as well as speeding up the process of providing additional support when opportunities or gaps are identified – for instance in response to developments in assistive technology. 

We would also welcome the Welsh Government making legislative changes to make it easier for disabled people to vote independently and in secret, and support a similar approach to the provisions contained in the Elections Act. Introducing similar rules for devolved and reserved elections would make it easier for people to understand the support they can expect when voting and less complex for electoral administrators to deliver. 

Where changes are made to the law, we would play an important role, alongside partner organisations, in communicating these changes to voters. We would also produce guidance to support ROs in meeting their duties (see further detail in response to Question 49). 

Part 49


49. What support should be put in place to ensure the returning officer is able to effectively discharge that role?

It is important that ROs are clear on how to meet their responsibilities in relation to supporting disabled voters. If the Welsh Government were to introduce a requirement for ROs to provide reasonable equipment at polling stations for devolved elections, we would provide guidance and examples of good practice to support them in discharging this duty.

Under the Elections Act 2022, we have a duty to provide guidance to support ROs in this regard and to consult on this guidance. Our statutory consultation on this guidance is currently open and will run until 16 January 2023. To help inform and develop the guidance, we engaged with a range of bodies across the whole of the UK representing people with disabilities, and with a range of representatives from the electoral administration sector. 

We then ran an initial six-week public consultation asking for feedback on the draft guidance. This work allowed us to understand and identify the barriers faced by disabled people, possible solutions to make voting more accessible, and how the changes introduced by the Elections Act could be used to improve the accessibility of elections. 

While this guidance applies only to reserved elections, we anticipate that any Commission guidance that would be required for devolved elections in Wales would cover similar considerations. There will also be opportunities to learn from the first year of the new duty on ROs at reserved elections, and we would be happy to provide any insight on this to the Welsh Government.

We also provide wider guidance to ROs on how to support disabled voters at polling stations, including through our polling station staff handbooks. The accessibility checklist within this guidance highlights practical accessibility considerations, such as displaying clear signage outside polling stations and ensuring adequate lighting inside. We have also worked with the RNIB and Mencap to create videos for use during polling station staff training, to help staff better understand the challenges disabled voters may face.

If the Welsh Government were to introduce this duty on ROs, it would need to set out what funding would be available for the additional support required as a result of any legislative change, as there is a risk that any new duty for ROs will not be effective if it is not funded appropriately.

Part 50


50. Do you think the Welsh Government should specify in regulations the type of assistance which must be offered to disabled voters in polling stations?

As discussed in our response to Question 48, one of the advantages of a broad duty on ROs is that it allows for greater flexibility and can speed up the process of making changes when gaps in support are identified. Having a prescribed list set out in law might mean that making changes becomes a complex and lengthy legislative process, making it more difficult to keep up with developments in assistive technology or changes in our understanding of people’s needs. 

If the Welsh Government were to take this approach, any legislation should reflect the minimum standard required for all polling stations, whilst also allowing for additional equipment to be provided where needed.

Part 51


51. What sort of assistance do you think should be offered to disabled voters in polling stations?

As highlighted above, we are currently consulting on draft statutory guidance for ROs on assistance with voting for disabled people. This guidance has been developed as part of the implementation of the Elections Act and only covers reserved elections, but it specifies the equipment that should be made available as a minimum at the polling station, and what other equipment or support it may also be helpful to provide.

In addition, there are wider steps that the Welsh Government could take to help disabled people confidently participate in elections. As noted above, our ‘Elections for Everyone’ report set out a number of recommendations to improve the experience of disabled people, including:

  • Changing some of the wording on election forms to make them easier to understand.
  • Allowing disabled people to have more choice about who they can take to the polling station with them.
  • Looking at more flexible voting methods, such as advance voting or a choice of polling stations, in order to give disabled people greater choice.

Part 52


52. In addition to provisions in the Curriculum for Wales, are there any other measures that the Welsh Government should put in place through the education system to ensure that learners in Wales can confidently take part in Welsh elections?

Our report on the 2022 local government elections found that further education and engagement is needed to support newly enfranchised young voters to understand and participate in Welsh elections. Key findings showed: 

  • Only approximately one in five newly enfranchised 16-17-year-olds were registered to vote ahead of the elections.
  • A clear difference in turnout amongst those under the age of 35 compared to all other older age groups.
  • A lack of understanding amongst young people as to how to participate.
  • A lack of motivation amongst young people to engage in elections due to insufficient knowledge about candidates, parties, and the process in general.
  • Most parents surveyed (77%) think it is important that children learn the basics about politics, voting and democracy at school.
  • 31% of parents think the information their children currently get around politics, voting and democracy at school is insufficient. 
  • Parents in lower socio-economic households are less likely to discuss politics at home.

The Curriculum for Wales presents an opportunity to address some of these challenges by ensuring democratic awareness is woven consistently through a young person’s education. If delivered effectively, it will support the Welsh Government’s ambition for all young people in Wales to have the same opportunities to participate in elections and democracy.

There will be several important considerations for the Welsh Government as it takes this work forward. Feedback from our education work has found that some teachers are apprehensive about teaching democracy due to a lack of knowledge on the subject and concerns about displaying bias. It can also be difficult to discuss democracy and elections in a classroom setting in a way that is engaging and relevant for young people, and finding space in the timetable to teach such lessons can be difficult for teachers. These challenges are likely to be amplified for teachers and schools that struggle to meet the requirements of the new curriculum. 

The white paper indicates that the Welsh Government will look to develop a framework for supporting schools to ensure learners progress in this area. Any framework should include clear guidance on how democratic education should be delivered effectively and how schools will be assessed on the mandatory aspects of the curriculum that relate to democratic education. We would welcome further detail on these plans and the opportunity to support this work where appropriate. 

We have produced a range of free and impartial education resources, designed to help young people understand how to get involved in democracy and support educators to teach political literacy. We are also currently developing new resources to support the implementation of the new Curriculum for Wales. 

Any work to engage young people should be informed by young people, and so we have sought feedback and input on our education work from them via our youth voice partner for Wales, The Democracy Box. The Welsh Government should adopt this co-production approach as it develops further proposals, to ensure resources and plans are designed in a way that is engaging and interesting to young people.

Part 53


53. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the definition of the electoral offence of Undue Influence provided by section 114A of the Representation of the People Act 1983 be used for devolved elections?

We support the Welsh Government’s intention to update the definition of the undue influence electoral offence in line with the changes set out in the Elections Act. 

We have consistently called for the offence of undue influence to be clarified, as it is a complex offence that is not easily understood by voters, and we welcomed the provisions within the Elections Act to deliver this change. This would provide voters with more meaningful protection against exploitation and make clear what is and is not acceptable behaviour. It would also make it simpler for the police to act when allegations of undue influence are made. 

It is important that legitimate campaigning is not inadvertently prevented by changes to the way this offence is defined. We recommended that the UK Government should introduce a clear, workable definition of what activity should and should not be allowed around polling stations for reserved elections, and we would also urge the Welsh Government to consider this for devolved elections. 

We will support the electoral community by updating our guidance for electoral administrators and polling station staff, setting out what is and what is not allowed at polling stations. We will update our Code of Conduct for campaigners on what they should consider when campaigning outside polling stations. We will also continue to run public awareness campaigns so that voters understand how to protect their vote from undue influence.

Part 54


54. Do you think some or all of these proposed actions described in the White Paper will help to contribute to reducing instances of abuse of candidates?

We spoke to candidates as part of our reporting on the 2022 local elections in Wales, and a notable proportion told us that they had experienced some form of abuse or intimidation. Three in five candidates who responded to our survey (60%) said that they did not have a problem with threats, abuse or intimidation, but 40% did experience some kind of problem (rating this as a 2 or above on a scale from 1 to 5) and 8% experienced a serious problem (rated 4 or 5 out of 5). Our research found that:1  

  • Of those who said they experienced some kind of abuse, the most common sources were verbal (69%) and online (46%).
  • Over two thirds (69%) said the abuse they experienced came from members of the public. Almost two in five (39%) said they received abuse from other candidates, while 15% received threats or abuse from campaigners or volunteers.
  • 16% witnessed threats or intimidation towards those campaigning on their behalf.
  • Of those who experienced or witnessed abuse, 15% said they reported it to the police, and almost a fifth (17%) who experienced threats or abuse said that their experience would discourage them from standing in the future.

We also received information from the four police Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) in Wales regarding issues experienced during the election period. It was reported that some candidate behaviour was poor, particularly on social media. The SPOCs have proposed that they, on behalf of the police forces in Wales, create some guidance for candidates and campaigners on expectations around behaviour during an election period, and that this should be provided to all candidates as part of the nomination process. This new guidance would sit alongside the resources already available on the College of Policing website relating to candidates, and the Code of Conduct for campaigners. We will work with the relevant police forces and SPOCs in the development and support of this material.

We agree with the proposed actions set out in the White Paper, particularly around the need to collect more information from candidates following elections and the potential for future communications work on reducing candidate abuse. We stand ready to work with the Welsh Government, the police and the wider electoral community on these issues.

Part 55


55. If an exemption from candidates spending limits for security related spending is sought, what activities should be included in that exemption?

We would support an exemption from candidates’ spending limits for security-related spending. This would help to facilitate accessibility and inclusion in the democratic process, particularly given the notable proportion of candidates who told us they experienced some form of abuse or intimidation at the 2022 local elections. 

The law would need to make very clear what types of security-related spending or activity would be exempt from candidate spending limits, and consideration would need to be given to ensuring that candidates clearly understand this. The Welsh Government would also need to ensure that any exemptions are sufficient to protect candidates’ safety but that actual campaigning costs would not be able to be exempted.

This exemption has already been introduced for devolved elections in Scotland, and this could be a useful starting point for the Welsh Government as it looks to develop these proposals further. 

Part 56


56. Will the proposed addition to the standard wording included in the Statement of Persons Nominated form have the desired effect of reducing occurrences of abuse or would different measures be more effective?

We do not have a view on whether including a standard description of the geographical qualifications for standing as a candidate on the Statement of Persons Nominated form would have an impact on reducing occurrences of abuse. It would be useful to see further detail from the Welsh Government on the rationale behind this change.

Part 57


57. What other actions would contribute to reducing instances of abuse of candidates?

We do not have any further recommendations beyond what has already been set out in response to previous questions.

However, we strongly welcome the Welsh Government’s commitment to monitoring and addressing this issue. Any actions that the Welsh Government does take should be centred around the principles of equity and participation that are set out in its Welsh Government’s framework for electoral reform.

We stand ready to work with the Welsh Government, police and the wider electoral community to build an understanding of what is driving candidate abuse and intimidation and develop effective responses to protect candidates and campaigners at future elections. 

Part 58, 59, and 60

58, 59, 60

58. Should Welsh Ministers legislate to require the establishment and maintenance of an ‘Access to Elected Office Fund’?

59. Should this Fund be available to support candidates from under-represented groups for all devolved Welsh ordinary and by-elections?

60. If you agree the Fund should be a requirement set out in primary legislation, what should be the parameters within which the Fund should operate?

We welcomed the decision to pilot the Access to Elected Office Fund for the 2021 and 2022 elections and we support the intention to establish the fund on a permanent basis. 

We are supportive, in principle, of plans to extend the remit of the fund to include wider underrepresented groups. However, it would be useful to hear further detail from the Welsh Government about what this might look like and how it would ensure the fund is resourced adequately to support a potentially larger number of applicants. 

In addition to the above considerations, our survey of candidates following the 2022 local elections suggests that more can be done to raise awareness of the Access to Elected Office Fund, with less than a third of respondents (29%) suggesting they knew about it. We recommend that the Welsh Government takes appropriate steps to increase public awareness of the fund ahead of the next scheduled elections in 2026 and 2027.

Part 61, 62, 63, 64

61, 62, 63, 64

61. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the requirement to set out the Local Government Candidates’ Survey questions in regulations should be removed?

61a. If Strongly Agree or Agree, should the survey be updated through a formal review process involving key partners?

62. Do you agree there should be flexibility for local authorities to ask questions about local widening participation measures?

63. Do you agree questions should be included in the survey about candidates’ experiences of abuse and harassment (see the section on “other measures we are taking to ensure candidates safety”)?

64. Do you think Welsh Ministers should approve the full set of questions or only the core all-Wales questions?

We do not have a view on the detail of how the Local Government Candidates’ Survey should be developed. However, we agree that including questions about candidates’ experiences of abuse and harassment could help to build an improved understanding of issues relating to candidate safety in Wales, and we would welcome this. 

Part 66


66. Would you like to see advance voting and/or voting in a range of venues offered for devolved elections across Wales?

As the white paper highlights, we carried out an evaluation of the four advance voting pilot schemes that took place during the 2022 local elections in Wales. We found that the pilots were well run by ROs and that the option to vote in advance was welcomed by those that used it. 

The white paper notes that we were unable to judge, from the evidence of the pilots, what impact advance voting would have on turnout over time. Our report also set out several considerations that would need to be addressed if the Welsh Government were to introduce advance voting on a wider scale. 

As we have set out in response to earlier questions, we will be undertaking several feasibility studies in 2023 on a range of different flexible voting options. The findings of these, once available, may help to support and inform the Welsh Government’s programme of electoral reform. 

Part 67, 68

67, 68

67. Do you support the introduction of an online absent voting application system in Wales? If yes, what would you like to see in place?

68a. Do you think that such a system would help to reduce the number of postal votes rejected due to errors on PVS’ and help raise public confidence in the postal voting system? 

68b. Could a manual system be used to do this?

During the passage of the Elections Act, we set out our view that an online absent voting application system would improve accessibility by making it easier for people to apply to vote by post. We also highlighted that it would likely result in improvements in efficiency for administrators – for example, by reducing the time taken to process applications.

We stand ready to provide advice to the Welsh Government as it considers potential next steps in this area. There may be useful lessons for the Welsh Government from the development of the online application system being developed for reserved elections, which we understand is expected to go live in 2023. 

However, the implementation of any online absent voting application system would need to be well-planned, phased, and resourced. Careful consideration would need to be given to the digital infrastructure required; the processes electoral administrators will need to develop and follow; ensuring voters understand how to use the system; and ensuring there is the capacity in the system for postal votes to be despatched in time for all those who have applied for one to be able to receive, complete and return it in time for it to be counted.

Part 69, 70

69, 70

69. Would the introduction of a postal ballot tracking system, such as that described above, create a significant administrative burden on local authority electoral teams?

70. Do you support the introduction of a postal vote e-tracking system in Wales?

Without seeing detailed proposals, it is not possible to assess the likely impact that such a system would have on electoral administrators in Wales. Any changes must always be realistically deliverable and maintain the security and integrity of the system. Careful consideration would need to be given to ensuring sufficient time for a postal ballot tracking system to be implemented effectively, without risking electoral administrators’ ability to deliver well-run elections. 

Part 71, 72

71, 72

71. Do you support the wider introduction and use of Digital Registers for non-reserved elections in Wales?  What are the benefits or detriments of doing so?

72. Are there any potential barriers to a wider introduction of Digital Registers?

We believe that centralised and/or digital registers will be required to support further modernisation of the electoral system, and that there could be benefits in increasing their use for devolved elections in Wales. 

As the white paper notes, digital registers were used successfully in polling stations as part of the advance voting pilots in May 2022. They were also used in certain local authorities during the 2021 Senedd election and the 2022 local elections more generally. Our evaluation of the advance voting pilots highlighted that the use of digital registers allowed for people to be marked as having voted, and for registers for any area within the local authority to be accessed by a single device. For those pilots with a single, centralised advance voting centre, the use of digital registers avoided the need for large paper-based copies of the full register to be held in each centre, and allowed for voters to be quickly found on the register when they came to collect a ballot paper.

Potential barriers that the Welsh Government will need to consider include connectivity issues in rural areas, risks relating to cyber-security, and likely costs. The scalability of the system used in the pilots to wider use across Wales and the capacity and capability of the supplier market to support a wider roll-out will also need to be considered.

In addition, feedback from ROs and their teams following the advance voting pilots suggested they could potentially have been delivered without the use of digital registers. The Welsh Government will need to consider the reasons behind this.

As part of its forward work programme, the WECB intends to establish a sub-group to look at issues relating to the digitisation of electoral processes. This may be of use to the Welsh Government as it considers the wider use of digital registers across Wales.  

Part 87, 88

87, 88

87. We would like to know your views on the effects that our proposals for electoral reform would have on the Welsh language, specifically on opportunities for people to use Welsh, and on treating the Welsh language no less favourably than English. What effects do you think there would be? How could positive effects be increased, or negative effects be mitigated? 

88. Please also explain how you believe the proposed policy could be formulated or changed so as to have positive effects or increased positive effects on opportunities for people to use the Welsh language and on treating the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language, and no adverse effects on opportunities for people to use the Welsh language and on treating the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language.

We agree with the Welsh Government’s assessment, set out in the draft IIA, that the proposals to introduce Welsh language requirements for ROs would likely have a positive impact on Welsh speakers engaging in elections.

There are several proposals that would not necessarily have a positive impact on the Welsh language, but could have a negative impact if not developed carefully. The proposed online absent voting application system, postal ballot tracking system and online voter information platform are all examples of public-facing services and systems that would need to be available bilingually. 

Particular consideration will need to be given to the online voter information platform that has been proposed. If this platform is used to host candidate statements during elections, the Welsh Government will need to consider how candidates could be encouraged to provide their statement in both Welsh and English. For the four police areas in Wales at the 2021 Police and Crime Commissioner elections, only some of the candidate statements were available in both Welsh and English on the website.

The Welsh Government should also consider the work of the Welsh Language Advisory Group (WLAG) to date and how any new Electoral Management Board will facilitate important discussions on electoral matters relating to the Welsh language. 

Part 89


89. We have asked a number of specific questions. If you have any comments on any related issues which we have not specifically addressed, please tell us below.

Use of joint descriptions on the ballot paper at local government elections

At the 2022 local government elections, new legislation permitted two parties to use a joint description on the ballot paper. This had to include the full registered names of both parties involved. The law for Senedd elections and other elections across the UK is different, and allows for the use of joint descriptions that are registered with the Electoral Commission and which identify the parties involved, but do not necessarily include the full registered party names. 

We have called for the Welsh Government to review this in advance of the 2027 local elections in order to bring the rules for local government elections in line with the current position for the Senedd and other elections in the UK. 

Extending the secrecy requirement to postal voters

The Elections Act 2022 extends the requirement to maintain the secrecy of voting to postal and proxy voting at reserved elections. We said during the passage of the Elections Act that this change could help to deter undue influence or intimidation of postal voters and would assist in the prosecution of cases where it does occur. It was widely supported by campaigners, electoral administrators and the police, and was recommended by the UK’s Law Commissions and also by Lord Pickles in his 2016 review of electoral fraud. 

We recommend that the Welsh Government considers introducing similar provisions, and would welcome an opportunity to discuss this further. 

Banning campaigners from handling postal votes

For reserved elections, the Elections Act introduces a ban on parties and campaigners handling completed postal voters and postal vote envelopes. This change could improve voter trust and address concerns around the potential for inappropriate activity taking place when postal ballot packs are handled. 

This formalises a key part of the ‘best practice’ approach that has been set out in our guidance and our voluntary Code of Conduct for campaigners for more than 15 years. The Code was developed and agreed with political parties, but not all campaigners are aware of or actively comply with it. 

We would welcome a discussion with the Welsh Government on whether similar provisions could be introduced for devolved elections. 

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