Minutes: Wales Electoral Practitioners Working Group 28 March 2018

Minutes: Wales Electoral Practitioners Working Group 28 March 2018

Date: Wednesday 28 March 2018

Minutes: Wales Electoral Practitioners Working Group 28 March 2018

Adrian Crompton, Director of Assembly Business: Assembly Commission consultation - Creating a Parliament for Wales

AC was grateful for the opportunity to present. He explained that the Llywydd and Assembly Commission had launched a consultation on Creating a Parliament for Wales which looked at:

  • Assembly size
  • Electoral system
  • Who can vote
  • Electoral law
  • Disqualifications
  • Internal arrangements

The consultation was largely based on the recommendations made by the expert Panel on Assembly electoral reform in December 2017.

The Expert Panel concluded that the current Assembly was too small and needed between 80-90 Members to function effectively.

The panel assessed a number of different electoral systems and focused on three potential systems:

  • Single Transferable Vote (STV)
  • Flexible List Proportional Representation (FLPR)
  • Mixed Member Proportional (a variant of Additional Member System)

STV and FLPR would require new multimember constituencies following a  boundary review. There was no mechanism or time for a review before the 2021 elections. There were two proposals for using existing boundaries:

  • 20 new constituencies could be created based on the existing 40 constituencies, or
  • 17 constituencies could be created based on the existing 22 local authority areas with each returning between four and seven Members

The consultation asked:

  • who should be allowed to vote in Assembly elections and referred  to 16 and 17 year-olds, non-UK nationals resident in Wales and  prisoners
  • whether the franchise for Assembly elections should be the same for local government elections
  • who should be able to be an Assembly Member
  • whether disqualifications should apply at the time of nomination or when someone had been elected

The consultation had closed on 7 April. The Assembly Commission would decide on the scope and timing of legislation in July 2018 with the introduction of a Bill in autumn 2018 and possible Royal Assent in summer 2019. Any  changes would then be in place for the Assembly elections in May 2021.

In response to the presentation, RG said that if the proposed reforms for the Assembly elections and local government elections did not both go through, this would result in different franchises for local elections, Assembly elections, Police and Crime Commissioner elections and UK Parliamentary General elections. Local authorities would need to maintain four different registers and the complexity of this could result in errors and decrease the accuracy of the register. This could also be confusing to voters.

RT said that if there was a reduction in the minimum voting age the Electoral Commission would need to run a public awareness campaign to inform 16 and 17 year-olds of their right to vote in the Assembly elections in May 2021. If the franchise was not lowered for local elections, another campaign would be required the following year to inform this group that they were unable to vote in the local elections in May 2022.

AB said that this could cause young people to feel disenfranchised and  resentful.

RG explained that there would be considerable costs in creating a single electronic register and significant costs in transferring to such a system.
RG said that he would hope to see the Gould principles followed whereby legislative changes were in place six months before any scheduled elections. 12 months would be required for changes to the registration system to ensure that the canvass prior to the elections was fully completed. Two years notice was given in Scotland prior to significant legislative changes.

RT said the Electoral Commission had questions relating to job sharing for Ms but did not have a view on the policy itself. He questioned what would happen if one person elected under a job sharing arrangement stood down and whether there would need to be a by-election.

RG added that it would need to be clear and understandable for candidates standing on this basis and that it would need to be clear on the ballot paper for voters.

Action: Circulate slides from Adrian Crompton’s presentation

Minutes of the last meeting (12 December 2017), action points and terms of reference

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed as a correct record.

Matthew Redmond, Local Government Boundary Commission, had been due to attend the meeting to discuss the current boundary review but time constraints had meant that he would now attend a future meeting instead.

Action: Invite Matthew Redmond, Local Government Boundary Commission, to a future meeting

RT asked if anyone had ideas for other external guests that could be invited to these meetings. RG suggested inviting the Local Government Data Unit to give a round-up on the Local Government Candidate’s survey of 2017.

Action: Invite Jenny Murphy, Local Government Data Unit to June meeting

RG said the AEA survey had not been circulated, as a more comprehensive survey was due to be issued by the Wales Electoral Coordination Board (WECB) and would be sent to regional chairs for comment.

Action: Circulate WECB capacity survey to regional chairs

RG said there had not been much interest in observing the local elections in May 2018. GM said that he would be interested in observing the voter ID pilot areas.

Action: Ask AEA Wales branch if they would like to send a representative to observe a voter ID pilot area

Action: Circulate details of voter ID pilot areas

RT explained that the WECB recently amended their terms of reference to allow deputies to attend when necessary and suggested that WEPWG adopt this approach.

Action: Regional chairs to appoint deputy to attend on their behalf when necessary

Action: Amend terms of reference to allow regional chairs to designate an appointed deputy to attend on their behalf when necessary

RT said that there had been no Welsh representation at recent Elections, Referendums and Registration Working Group (ERRWG) meetings. He suggested that WEPWG appoint an individual to attend the quarterly meetings.

Action: Circulate details of next ERRWG meeting

Action: Regional chairs to appoint representative to attend next ERRWG meeting

Proposed response to Assembly Commission consultation (AEA/EC)

RG said he would be drafting a response on behalf of AEA Wales to the Assembly Commission consultation and that individual local authorities should also be encouraged to respond.

Action: Regional chairs to encourage local authorities to submit responses to the Assembly Commission consultation on Creating a Parliament for Wales.

GM said that there was a risk involved in removing the independent role of the Returning Officer.

RG added that it may be difficult to appoint Regional Returning Officers.

RT said that the Electoral Commission would circulate a draft copy of its response to the consultation.

Action: Circulate Electoral Commission’s draft response to the Assembly Commission’s consultation on Creating a Parliament for Wales GC said colleagues in north Wales felt disengaged from the electoral reform process and added that colleagues in south Wales had been able to attend the Electoral Commission’s seminar in Cardiff in February.

RT said that the Cardiff seminar was available to view on the Electoral Commission YouTube page and that the Commission was committed to
holding seminars in West Wales and North Wales.

Action: GC to facilitate discussion with North Wales colleagues regarding preferred content of future Electoral Commission seminar

RG said that members were disappointed at the lack of engagement between Welsh Government and electoral administrators in Wales over recent months, despite the offer having been made to Welsh Government several times. He was aware that an adhoc meeting had taken place with administrators in Monmouthshire, but felt that a more coordinated approach was necessary.

He referred to the Cabinet Office IER transformation programme and the way that Cabinet Office had engaged with elections teams regularly. He suggested that Welsh Government could establish a similar forum for electoral reform with discussions or workshops with elections staff.

Alternatively, Welsh Government would be welcome to attend an AEA branch meeting or a WEPWG meeting. It was agreed that the Group should write to Welsh Government and propose a meeting to discuss an engagement programme and the more technical and practical challenges of electoral reform.

Action: WEPWG to write to WG and express disappointment in current approach. Urge WG to work closely with the AEA Wales Branch in a similar
manner to that adopted by the CO for IER transition

Carol Sweetenham, Electoral Commission: Modernising Guidance Project update

CSw explained that the Commission had been producing an increasingly large amount of guidance which had become difficult to maintain and navigate.

Testing indicated that users wanted the guidance to remain comprehensive but presented as clearly as possible with no duplication. It had therefore been decided to move to a web based system which would consider who the user was, where they were based and what election they needed guidance for.

There would be a slim-line, easier to navigate version with a spine of guidance that would be tweaked for each election type. Resources and good practice examples would remain the same but would be linked from the guidance and an index of all resources. There would also be the ability to toggle between English and Welsh.

Voluntary user accounts would be available to provide alerts, mark favourites and be a source of feedback on the guidance. The new guidance would hopefully be available for the May 2019 elections.

Updates from AEA

RG said that AEA Wales was keen to engage with Welsh Government over the reform agenda (as noted in para 4.7 and resulting action).

AEA Wales would respond to the Assembly Commission’s consultation on electoral reform and this would be circulated before the deadline.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2018 would come into effect on 24 May 2018. AEA Wales was considering training for Electoral Registration Officers and Electoral Services Managers. The Electoral Commission had recently published guidance on this which was published
in Bulletin 208.

GC said that the Commission provided template project plans for elections and that something similar for GDPR would be helpful.

Action: Electoral Commission to check whether training could be provided on the introduction of GDPR

Action: RG to determine whether AEA training was available on the introduction of GDPR

The Local Government Data Unit had indicated that the online candidate survey for the local elections in 2016 did not return as good a response as
previous paper based surveys, although it had been easier to administer.

RG said that there had been a good update from Cabinet Office this quarter highlighting the pressures on annual canvass budgets.

An email had been received from Peter Stanyon (Chief Executive, AEA) asking for suggestions on better ways to engage with branches. Two representatives from AEA Wales had been invited to attend a meeting in Camden on 14 May 2018.

Updates from the Electoral Commission

Guidance

CU explained that Bulletin 207 included information on voter ID pilots and behavioural insights. Bulletin 210 would include the update of Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) guidance to cover GDPR which would come into force in May.

There would be a further update of the ERO guidance and some forms in July on maximising registration changes.

Changes to anonymous registration

The Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 had made changes to the provisions for anonymous registration. It was now easier for vulnerable people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to register to vote without compromising their safety, by registering anonymously.

The Commission had produced guidance for refuge managers in collaboration with Women’s Aid and for local authority EROs.

ERO performance monitoring

All EROs in Wales reported that they had completed the canvass and that the statutory requirements were met. The Commission would be writing to those EROs included in the performance monitoring sample to let them know that they had met the standards.

Events

In February the Commission had held the first in a series of seminars designed to provide a platform for partners to discuss democracy in Wales. The Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services, Alun Davies, AM had spoken about his vision for local government electoral reform.

Welsh Government briefing

On 27 February representatives from the Commission’s legal, guidance and Wales teams had provided training to Welsh Government lawyers and policy officials on the Commission’s work and electoral law. This was in connection with the proposed changes being made to local government elections in Wales, so that those officials relatively new to this field of work could gain a better understanding and become more aware of the Commission’s role.

Electoral Commission reports

On 2 March the Commission published its report on the Analysis of cases of alleged electoral fraud in the UK in 2017. UK police had recorded a total of 336 cases of alleged electoral fraud relating to offences under the Representation of the People Act in 2017.

Update from Wales Electoral Coordination Board

LW provided an update from the Wales Electoral Coordination Board (WECB) meeting on 5 March 2018. The meeting was attended by the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services, Alun Davies, AM, who had spoken about the priorities for local government electoral reform in Wales.

Welsh Government was hoping to publish a Bill in late autumn with possible Royal Assent in November 2019.

The priority was to look at the franchise, including lowering the minimum voting age, prisoner voting rights, and non-UK nationals resident in Wales. Other issues that would then be considered included voting on different days or at weekends, electronic counting, and the creation of a single electronic register.

The WECB was also briefed by Anna Daniel from the Assembly Commission, who spoke about the Commission’s consultation on creating a Parliament for Wales.

The Assembly Commission had launched a consultation on 12 February which focussed on the recommendations made by the Expert Panel on electoral reform in December 2017. The WECB would respond to the consultation, including a timeline of when legislation would need to be in place ahead of the 2021 National Assembly for Wales elections.

WECB had identified the need to support new Returning Officers (ROs) and Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and had launched an induction
and mentoring scheme in response.

Each new RO would be contacted by the WECB and the Electoral Commission and issued with a guide highlighting the main roles and responsibilities, key contacts and opportunities for training and support.

The RO would be assigned a mentor who would be an experienced RO in Wales and offered a meeting with Rhydian Thomas from the Electoral
Commission and Mark James, RO for Carmarthenshire.

The Board had amended its terms of reference to differentiate between members and advisors. Regional Returning Officers (RROs) and AEA representatives would be members of the Board whilst Electoral Commission, Welsh Government, UK Government and National Assembly for Wales representatives would be advisors.

The terms of reference had also been amended to require RROs to designate a deputy to attend in their place when necessary and to add mentoring and support of new ROs and Electoral Services Managers to the objectives of the Board.

The Board had agreed its forward work programme for 2018 which included:

  • managing the coordination of any scheduled electoral events
  • work associated with the National Assembly for Wales and local government electoral reform
  • mentoring and training of Returning Officers
  • Welsh language issues
  • capacity and succession planning
  • performance standards for Returning Officers and Electoral
  • Registration Officers
  • guidance on social media
  • election accounting

RT added that the Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group was trying to ensure consistency of Welsh wording across Wales and was producing a single glossary of electoral terms in Welsh and English.

Action: Circulate glossary of terms created by the Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group

RT felt that these updates were useful for WEPWG meetings and that it would also be beneficial to include an update from WEPWG at WECB meetings.

Action: Include feedback from WEPWG meetings as a standing item on WECB agenda

Extension of Returning Officer mentoring scheme to Electoral Administrators

RT said that the Returning Officer mentoring scheme was to be extended to Electoral Services Managers and elections staff. The Electoral Commission would make a start on the guidance with an aim to implement the scheme in January 2019.

CSi suggested that when appointing mentors, it would be useful to consider someone who used the same elections management software system.

GC suggested that it would also be useful to consider appointing someone in the same geographic region and added that an informal version of this scheme already existed in north Wales.

RG said that the AEA foundation course also provided a basic introduction.

Action: Develop a sub-group including the Electoral Commission and regional chairs to produce a framework for the Electoral Services Manager mentoring and induction scheme

National Democracy Week 2-6 July 2018

RG said that he planned to hold an event with the Mayor in Neath PortTalbot covering the suffrage centenary and votes at 16.

CU said that this was a Cabinet Office initiative and the Commission were involved. There would be 10 videos on different parts of the democratic
process for local authorities to share.

Action: Check whether Cabinet Office resources are available bilingually

Dates of forthcoming meetings

Action: Invite Welsh Government to attend June meeting

Action: Include polling station reviews on agenda for June meeting

Last updated: 20 December 2019
Next review: 27 November 2020