Posted: Mon 9th Nov 2020

Welsh Government announces ‘firm intention’ to hold Senedd elections next year

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Nov 9th, 2020

The Welsh Government has announced its “firm intention” for the Senedd elections to go ahead next year.

A cross party planning group has been looking at how the polls, which are due in six months’ time, could be held during a pandemic.

Scheduled for May 6, 2021, minister said the election should go ahead on that date, and work is continuing on that basis.

However, they added it is not possible to predict the exact public health position next May, and the impact of Covid-19 could impact aspects of the election arrangements and require some adjustments to be made.

The government established the Elections Planning Group – comprising representatives of a range of organisations, including political parties, other stakeholders and government officials – to consider the potential impact of coronavirus measures on the administration of the election.

A report from that group has been made public, and the First Minister has said it has now been considered and the contents were discussed at a cabinet meeting.

Mark Drakeford said: “The Elections Planning Group reached a consensus on a number of areas, which the Welsh Government will implement.

“Further consideration is being given to other issues covered in, and arising from, the group’s report.”

He added that a debate will take place on the November 17th to allow Members of the Senedd to share their views, and to enable the government to outline the next steps.’

On Friday we asked the Health Minister Vaughan Gething if there had been any further discussion on how elections may take place and if there is prospect of a postal vote only election.

The minister replied: “A conversation is taking place between each of the parties about what the elections might look like.

“We could have a different sort of election, I just think that speculating ahead of what that might mean isn’t helpful because there is work the parties are doing.

“Of course, there’s work that needs to involve the presiding officer because if there were to be changes in the way that things need to take place she needs to be engaged in that too.

“Also, we’re very serious about the impact on local authorities and the way that the canvass is done, the way the electoral register is put together and if there were changes to mechanics to give them enough time to run the election properly.

“So, it’s the interest of all parties to to try and agree about what we might need to do to make sure that as far as possible, that election goes ahead on the 6th of May.

“I don’t want to put off the election. I want to make sure people can cast their ballots after five years and decide who will have the responsibility of guiding Wales to the next phase of the response to coronavirus, because the healthcare response won’t be finished by the start of May, neither will the economic response.

“The impact of coronavirus will largely dominate the first part of the next Welsh Parliament term.

“I would much rather that people have that democratic say in who that will be on the 6th of May, and it will take something extraordinary for that not to happen.”

The report’s ‘areas of consensus’ are detailed in a long list:

  • The continuing aim should be for the Senedd elections to be held on 6 May as planned
  • In order to achieve this, consideration of ways to increase the flexibility and resilience of election operations should be built into the planning process, reflecting public health advice on how best to protect the safety and wellbeing of election voters, participants, and administrators
  • Voters who have previously been shielding or are in a vulnerable category should be encouraged, at an early stage, to consider applying for a postal vote (but made aware that whilst they could take their completed postal vote to the polling station in person, they could not then ask to vote in person)
  • More generally, there should be an early drive to encourage postal vote applications in order to avoid a late rush of postal vote applications, as this could prove very difficult to manage in the time available and in the circumstances which could be faced on the pandemic
  • Greater flexibility on who is permitted to present nomination papers should be provided and papers should be permitted to be presented electronically
  • Some degree of greater flexibilities in respect of postal and proxy votes were supported, but whilst still maintaining appropriate checks to protect against the risk of voting fraud. The following provide examples of areas for further detailed consideration:
    • Explore whether there can be an increase in certain circumstances in how many people one individual can be a proxy voter for, for example if a household with multiple voters is required to self-isolate
    • Amend the requirement for emergency proxy votes, so that medical attestation is not required in relation to coronavirus
    • Ensure the process for emergency proxy votes has the capacity to deal with higher demand (if for example, a significant number of individuals or households are required to self-isolate very close to the polling day)
    • Arrangements for the collection of postal votes should be made available and communicated, but with the responsibility remaining with the voter
  • Public health regulations enforcing a local lockdown should not inhibit the right to vote and voting should be considered a ‘reasonable excuse’ (to use the legal language from the relevant regulations) for leaving the house
  • The count could be conducted to an extended timeframe if more time would allow for greater protection of the health and safety of those involved (e.g. fewer count staff to allow social distancing) and / or enable candidates and counting agents to continue to exercise their right to satisfy themselves that votes are correctly allocated.

North.Wales raised the topic in today’s Welsh Government briefing, you can watch that and the full Q&A in the below video:

Top picture: A live stream image of a previous election count in Wrexham.

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