Automatic voter registration in Wales

Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill will introduce trial programme for best ways to collect data and make voting simpler. 

This week, the Welsh government introduced a bill that includes proposals to automatically register voters for future elections to the Senedd and local government.

a sign on the side of a brick building

Photo by Jonny Gios

At the moment, people must register themselves before they can vote. Concerns have been raised that this means some people miss their chance to take part in the democratic process. People who move house, young people eligible to vote for the first time, and those from particular demographic groups seem especially at risk of being left out. 

The proposed change would require local government to register people to the local government register automatically, without the need for such an application. How best to do this will be explored in a series of trials with local authorities, focused on the best way to collect data – including data which already exists.  

The bill also proposes the government set up an online platform for voters providing information about Welsh elections and candidates, to better ensure that such material is readily available to everyone. 

In addition, the bill would have the government establish a fund to aid disabled people standing in future elections in Wales given the additional costs of supportive tech such as mobility equipment and communications software. This initiative follows a successful pilot of a scheme run in both the Senedd elections of May 2021 and local government elections of May 2022. 

Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, says: ‘The reforms in this bill continue the significant progress we have made in strengthening Welsh democracy in recent years, including extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds and qualifying foreign nationals. Our ambition is for changes to be in place in time for the next major devolved and local elections in 2026 and 2027, bringing us another step closer towards achieving our long-term vision for electoral reform. 

‘Ultimately this is about making it as easy as possible for people to vote and participate in democracy. Our actions to remove barriers are in direct contrast with the UK Government, which has denied some voters their democratic right by requiring photo ID in recent English local elections.’ 

Jess Blair, Director of Electoral Reform Society Cymru, adds: ‘The legislation introduced by the Welsh Government today will bring democracy in Wales into the 21st century. It is welcome that ministers are looking at how to make voting easier for people, removing barriers that we know many people face. 

‘The move to automatic voter registration will remove a hurdle for newly enfranchised voters and we hope it will lead to more information sharing between services so voters no longer face the hassle of updating their details when they move house. This move brings Wales into line with leading democracies across the world who automatically register voters as a matter of course. 

‘We welcome provisions to establish a new voter information platform. Having a one stop shop where information on democracy in Wales will be available will make it easier for voters to access resources which currently sit in multiple places.’

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