Reform of electoral law and practice

Elections were devolved to Wales through the Government of Wales Act 2017. Since then, Welsh Ministers have embarked on a programme of electoral reform most noted by the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds and qualifying foreign citizens for Senedd and local government elections. The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act also provided the legislative framework for future electoral reform, particularly around automatic registration and the optional use of Single Transferable Voting at local government elections.

The WCPP was asked to research how changes in electoral administration have affected turnout internationally, to inform Welsh Government decisions in this area and suggest possible areas of improvement. There were four areas of focus:

  • Candidate and agent safety
  • Innovative electoral practice
  • Campaign finances and spending
  • Early voting

The role of electoral management bodies was also analysed.

Findings and recommendations

Candidate and agent safety

Almost all research into candidate and agent safety is focused on gender and politics. The evidence shows that violence experienced by political actors is gendered and racialised which should be considered when undertaking prevention measures. There is some evidence indicating that the possibility of violence is factored into the decision of women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds to go through with a candidacy, but the importance of this factor is unclear.

It is recommended that Welsh Government begin mapping the extent of the problem, considering a periodic safety survey with national and local politicians. Actions with institutions and societal actors to increase understanding, mitigate violent acts, and train law enforcement are also suggested.

Innovative electoral practice

Innovative practices, also known as special voting arrangements (such as flexible voting, mobile voting, and improvements in registration practices), have shown minor effects on voter turnout, although the research in this field is not clear. Postal voting is the type of innovative practice that has demonstrated the strongest impact on increasing participation.

The report recommends further research into which of these measures would best increase turnout amongst Welsh voters. Additionally, measures to reduce rejection of postal voting ballots are suggested.

Early voting

Early voting has potential to modestly increase turnout if combined with other measures, such as same-day registration. People in older age groups, and those with higher levels of political interest, education, and income are most likely to use early voting.

It is recommended that early voting periods include weekdays and weekends, that same-day registration be allowed, and that polling sites are placed cognisant of people’s needs regarding distance, access to transportation, and potential to combine activities.

Campaign finances and transparency

There is ample opportunity for the Welsh Government to improve its provision of election data and transparency. This would require changes in how campaign finance data is collected and submitted by political parties. It is recommended that results of Welsh elections and campaign finances be officially reported with an online tool that is user-friendly with an open data system that includes all relevant data.

Electoral management bodies

It was found that electoral management bodies can help ensure effective practice in all the areas listed above. They should be proactive throughout the year administering data collection, conducting education campaigns, and working with political parties to improve transparency of data.