Report on the May 2022 elections in Wales

Summary

This report looks at how the May 2022 elections in Wales were run, how voters and campaigners found taking part, and what lessons can be learned for the future. We have reported separately on elections held in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

On 5 May elections took place across the 22 local authority areas in Wales. Overall, people were confident that these elections were well-run and were highly satisfied with the process of registering to vote and voting.

Turnout at these elections was lower than at previous comparable elections, and was lowest for voters under 35 years of age. Further education and engagement is recommended to support newly enfranchised voters to understand and participate in Welsh elections.

Almost everyone who voted was able to use their preferred method and found it easy to fill in their ballot paper.

Campaigners engaged with voters in a range of ways ahead of the elections and felt able to get their views across effectively. Voters generally found it easy to access information about the elections, but this did not necessarily translate to them feeling well-informed about the elections and who they could vote for.

A notable proportion of candidates told us that they experienced some form of abuse or intimidation. While robust political debate is part of a healthy democracy, sometimes things go too far and cross the line into threats, abuse and intimidation. When this happens, it is vital that action is taken against those found guilty of these criminal offences. We will work with Welsh Government, the police and the wider electoral community to make sure we understand what is driving candidate abuse and intimidation, and to ensure this issue is addressed as a matter of urgency.

Finally, the late introduction of legislation making changes to the rules for running the elections brought significant additional challenges for Returning Officers and electoral administrators. All relevant Governments need to consider the impact of legislative changes on the administration of elections and commit to legislation being clear at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with.

Overview

On 5 May 2022, there were local government elections across all 22 authorities in Wales. This was the first time that 16 and 17 year olds and foreign nationals resident in Wales were able to vote in local elections.

Four local authorities trialled advanced voting at these elections. We evaluated the pilots, and our report - which was published in August - identified several specific areas to be addressed if a further roll out of advanced voting is considered for future elections.

Voters continue to have positive views about how elections are run

Most people were confident they knew how to cast their vote

Nearly all voters (97%) found the ballot paper easy to fill in, and three in four (74%) found it very easy. However, this figure was lower amongst voters with a disability or health issue (67%).

Almost everyone who voted by post said that they knew how to complete and return their postal vote and found the postal voting instructions useful:

  • 97% said it was easy to complete and return their postal vote, compared to 3% saying it was difficult

Data from electoral administrators shows that:

  • 3.3% of returned postal votes were rejected. The most common reason for postal votes being rejected was that the personal identifiers (signature and/or date of birth) that voters provided on the postal voting statement did not match those that they had provided previously
  • 0.6% of votes cast were rejected at the count. The most common reason for ballot papers to be rejected at the count was because they were unmarked, with this accounting for almost three-quarters (73%) of all rejected ballot papers

Further education and engagement is recommended to support new voters to understand and participate in Welsh elections

The Local Government and Elections Wales Act 2021 extended the voting franchise for Welsh local government elections to 16 and 17 year olds and qualifying foreign citizens.

To ensure new voters understood this change and knew how to register, we worked with the Welsh Government and partners across Wales to encourage registration and educate new voters about their vote.

Recommendation 1

Recommendation 1

Welsh Government should consider continuing to provide an additional resource to local authorities to increase registration rates and support participation amongst newly enfranchised and under-registered groups, building upon the work carried out by the Electoral Registration Support Officers.

Overview

Over 3000 candidates stood at the local elections in Wales, representing 24 political parties as well as 711 independent candidates. Of the 1,233 seats available, 74 candidates were elected without a contest.

Campaigners were able to engage with voters but some raised concerns about the continued impact of Covid

Campaigners engaged with voters in a range of ways ahead of the elections and the majority felt able to get their views across effectively.

People want to know who is responsible for producing campaign material

Our research confirmed that people continue to value transparency about who is responsible for political campaign activity online at elections.

Recommendation 2

Recommendation 2

We continue to recommend that Welsh Government ensures that a digital imprint regime is in place in advance of the next set of scheduled elections in Wales.

Late legislation caused confusion for some candidates standing for election

Two issues have been identified where late legislative changes made ahead of these elections affected candidates.

Recommendation 3

Recommendation 3

Welsh Government should review the legislation around joint descriptions ahead of the next scheduled local elections, to allow for registered joint descriptions to be used on the ballot paper, in line with the position for Senedd elections and other elections across the UK.

We provided support to candidates throughout the election process

We attended candidate sessions at party conferences and stand-alone virtual events, to provide candidates and agents with information on the rules for the elections from the nomination process through to the reporting of campaign spending. We also arranged a bespoke virtual session for independent candidates, and attended local authority briefing sessions to ensure that we were able to provide as much support as possible prior to the nomination period and through to polling day.

Threats, abuse and intimidation continue to be an issue during elections

3 in 5 candidates who responded to our survey (60%) said that they did not have a problem with threats, abuse or intimidation; however, 40% experienced some kind of problem and 8% experienced a serious problem. Our research found that:

  • of those that 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 2 in 5 (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 who experienced threats or abuse said that their experience would discourage them from standing in the future

We have received information from the four police Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) in Wales regarding issues experienced during the election period. In general, it was reported that some candidate behaviour was poor, particularly on social media. The police have said that:

"The behaviour shown by some candidates at the local elections in May was completely unacceptable.”

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 will work with Welsh Government and the wider electoral community to make sure we understand what is driving candidate abuse and intimidation and to develop effective responses to protect candidates and campaigners at future elections.

Overview

Local authority elections teams were responsible for managing electoral registration, candidate nominations, absent voting, polling stations and the counting of votes. Our evidence shows that the May 2022 polls were well-run, and voters and campaigners reported high levels of satisfaction and confidence.

For Returning Officers and electoral administrators, however, these elections presented significant challenges, with one notable issue being the lack of time available to plan as a result of the late introduction of new legislation.

There also remain underlying issues relating to the capacity and resilience of election teams. These challenges were felt most strongly in local authorities where capacity was more limited, or in some cases where there had been a recent change of Returning Officer or Electoral Services Manager.

However, with considerable diligence and effort, together with support from the Wales Electoral Coordination Board, local authorities were able to deliver the polls successfully, albeit under pressurised circumstances.

The timing of legislative changes meant Returning Officers lacked the certainty they needed to plan

The Welsh Government undertook a review during the summer of 2021, which resulted in the introduction of legislation providing a new set of rules for the local government elections in May 2022. The Local Elections (Principal Areas) (Wales) Rules 2021 and The Local Elections (Communities) (Wales) Rules 2022 came into force on 14 December 2021.

The changes in the rules meant, that for the first time, candidates:

  • did not require the signatures of supporters (apart from one witness)
  • could choose not to have their home address shown on the ballot paper
  • had to disclose previous party membership (within the last 12 months)
  • could submit their nomination electronically

Changes were also made to the disqualification criteria which meant that you could stand as a candidate at a local authority election if you were a paid officer or employee of that local authority, but had to resign your post if elected.

In March 2022 the new rules were amended by The Local Elections (Miscellaneous and Consequential Amendments) (Wales) Regulations 2022.

These amendments were made partially in response to comments received during the short period of consultation on the substantive rules, but also to add provisions that were necessary to support the advance voting pilots in four local authority areas.4

The late introduction of the new rules created challenges for administrators in preparing for the elections, as well as for us in producing guidance and resources to support them. The key impact was on the nomination forms, which we could not make available until 18 February when the amending legislation had been laid.

Electoral administrators who responded to our survey said they found that the introduction of legislation so close to the elections made it difficult for them to plan effectively. Specifically, they reported that the lateness of nomination forms impacted on the availability of guidance and the briefings they could offer for candidates.

"Legislation was too late for the local elections. Our candidate briefings started in January and legislation came through late December. How are we supposed to encourage candidates to come forward and stand for election when we don't know the rules and processes well enough in advance particularly given the potential scale of changes that were being proposed?” - Electoral Administrator

Returning Officers need early clarity to be able to deliver significant changes introduced by new legislation

Recommendation 4

Recommendation 4

We once again urge Welsh Government to ensure that all legislation relating to electoral events is clear (either by Royal Assent to primary legislation, or by laying secondary legislation for approval by the Senedd) at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with.

We also call on the UK Government to ensure the legislation is clear at least six months before any changes in the Elections Act 2022 are going to be implemented so that Returning Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and electoral administrators have enough time to prepare.

Failure to do this creates significant risks to the delivery of well-run polls and public confidence in elections. It means that electoral administrators are put under intense pressure, with the successful delivery of elections then relying on their goodwill to work additional hours during the pre-election period, which is not sustainable. It also impacts directly on candidates and agents, who have less time to familiarise themselves with the process.

Resilience and capacity in election teams remains a significant challenge

In previous reports we have highlighted our concerns about the resilience and capacity of electoral administration structures in Wales. The high turnover of Returning Officers continues and increases the risks to the delivery of well-run polls.

The support provided by the Wales Electoral Coordination Board through its events and mentorship scheme was appreciated by new Returning Officers.

"The personal support I received from my mentor and other experienced Returning Officers in my region was extremely useful. I also found the support from the Wales Electoral Coordination Board very useful, particularly for making me aware of the critical issues across Wales, and offering solutions."

Returning Officers and electoral administrators who responded to our survey said the resilience of electoral services was still an issue, but that these elections were more straightforward to manage compared with the challenge of delivering the Senedd election in 2021.

There was an issue in Denbighshire where a printing error was made in the instructions on how to vote, which were sent out to 16,000 postal voters. When the problem was identified, action was taken to contact those voters affected to provide them with the correct instructions. While the number of voters who received incorrect instructions was significant, the number of postal ballot papers re-issued because of the error was small (15). 

We recognise the pressures faced by Returning Officers and their teams, particularly where officers are new and inexperienced. It is important, however, that voters, candidates and political parties can have confidence in the election process and that the election material they receive is accurate.

Following the polls, the Returning Officer in Denbighshire and his team have reviewed how the error had occurred and their processes for dealing with it, and have made a commitment to improving processes in the future. We have also provided advice to the Returning Officer and his staff to support them in improving their proofing processes for future elections.

Effective planning and support helped Returning Officers to deliver the elections

Recommendation 5

Recommendation 5

Welsh Government should strengthen the Wales Electoral Coordination Board and place it on a statutory footing, which will enable it to play an enhanced role in the delivery of future elections and electoral reforms in Wales.

New nomination forms and electronic submission processes made the process easier for candidates but created administrative challenges

New legislation changed the nomination forms for the local elections, and candidates were also able to submit them to Returning Officers electronically for the first time.

Page history

First published:

Last updated: