A minimum voting age of 16 and 17 for Welsh Assembly elections and a ‘Senedd’ rebrand could soon be introduced.
The proposals feature as part of the ‘Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill’ published by the National Assembly for Wales Commission today.
Part of the legislation includes giving 16 and 17 year olds the chance to vote for the first time in the Assembly elections – with the next scheduled to take place in May 2021.
Historically voter turnout in Welsh Assembly elections is comparably lower than that of a general election.
In May 2016 Alyn and Deeside saw a voter turnout of 35 per cent – which was down on the 37 per cent way back in 2011. The Alyn and Deeside by-election in 2017 triggered by the tragic death of AM Carl Sargeant saw a turnout of 29.1 per cent.
It is hoped that lowering the voting age will help “engage young people in particular in the democratic process”.
Recognising the need for political education that will enable young people to understand their political rights and to increase participation in elections, the Commission is already working with Welsh Government and other stakeholders to ensure this happens.
The Bill also proposes to change the Assembly’s name to Senedd to “reflect the institution’s constitutional status and to improve public understanding of the legislature’s role and responsibilities.”
It also contains a clause noting that the Senedd may also be referred to as ‘Welsh Parliament’ and the intention is that the change of name will come into force legally in May 2020 ahead of the Assembly election in 2021.
If the name change is given the go-ahead, Members of the Assembly for Wales would be known as ‘Members of the Senedd or Aelodau’r Senedd’, or MS / AS for short.
This is alongside changes to the law on disqualification from being an Assembly Member and change some electoral and internal arrangements.
There had been recommendations that the size of the Assembly should be increased by 2021. However it is noted that there is “there is not yet consensus on the voting system that should be used to elect that larger institution, or on measures which could encourage the election of a more diverse legislature.” (More can be found in the FAQs here)
In introducing the Bill on behalf of the Commission as the ‘member in charge’, the Llywydd, Elin Jones AM said: “I hope that the Bill will spark interesting and meaningful debate about our democracy and political engagement in Wales.
“The aim is to encourage Members, stakeholders and the wider public to participate in discussions on the future shape of our national parliament.
“The provision to lower the voting age to 16 will, I hope, engage young people in particular in the democratic process. The proposal to change the Assembly’s name to Senedd will better reflect the institution’s status as a parliament.
“After twenty years, this is a golden opportunity to renew our democracy and ensure that Wales’s national parliament enables us to do our best for our constituents today and for future generations.”
Elin Jones AM will make a full statement during Plenary tomorrow. The Bill will undergo ‘extensive scrutiny’ in the Assembly’s committee sessions as well as by all Assembly members in Plenary. The Bill requires at least 40 members to vote in its favour to become law.