Engaging the Public in Elections

2. Questions to the Counsel General – in the Senedd at on 21 May 2024.

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Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

3. What lessons does the Counsel General consider could be learned from the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections about how to better engage the public in elections? OQ61135

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 3:00, 21 May 2024

Thank you for your question. Not unexpectedly, turnout at the recent police and crime commissioner elections in Wales was low. Of the numerous reasons for this, poor public engagement around these elections is obvious. To strengthen public engagement in elections more broadly, I'm taking forward legislation to improve access to information and break down the barriers to participation.

Photo of Rhys ab Owen Rhys ab Owen Plaid Cymru

Diolch, Cwnsler Cyffredinol. I'm glad you mentioned breaking down barriers to participation, because that was going to be my supplementary question with regard to the introduction of voter ID. I think it's fair to say that the introduction has been done in a chaotic manner and without any real logic. You're able to vote with an older person's bus pass, but not a young person's bus pass. You can use some passports, such as UK, EU and Commonwealth passports, but not any others. There were some reports of those with Bangladeshi and Pakistani passports being incorrectly turned away at English local elections. Polling staff themselves might be unsure of the rules. And when it comes to a person's right to vote, it's essential that we get it right. Has the Welsh Government been gathering data on the impact of voter ID, and whether there has been a racial disparity with those turned away from the ballot box? Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 3:01, 21 May 2024

Well, thank you for this ongoing issue. Of course, there has been a lot of comment on the recent council elections, particularly in England. Of course, the police and crime commissioner elections in Wales had very low turnout, because they were the sole elections, where actually the candidates have no support in terms of putting out publicity and material and information to electors. So, any analysis of how things happened in Wales will obviously be something of interest. We may learn more lessons from what happened in England, where we know, last time, there were at least 14,000 who were turned away from elections; others who were turned away and came back; and others, I suspect, who didn't bother going out to vote at all on the presumption that they didn't have the necessary ID. I do remember the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, of course said, of ID cards, that he would tear it up and he would eat it with his cornflakes. Well, he must have done that, because he turned up to vote, didn't have an ID card, and they sent him home.

More troubling, of course, is concern over people like the veteran who turned up with his veteran ID and it wasn't accepted, and of course there are many students who have ID cards, but for some reason—we can only imagine why—student ID cards are not acceptable. So, there is very real concern about that and the ID card system and the impact that it has. As you know, Welsh Government's position is one that is oriented towards removing hurdles for participation in elections. And we know, from the comments that were made by the former Conservative Minister Rees-Mogg, that this was a measure that was introduced with the objective of actually restricting ability to participate in voting—an idea that has come from the voter suppression tactics of America. But what I can assure you is that when there is further analysis from the Electoral Commission—I do meet with them periodically—this will be one of the issues we will want to consider. But also we will want to consider in respect of how, in devolved Welsh elections when they take place, there isn't confusion for people as to their entitlement and ability to vote in Welsh elections without ID cards.

Photo of Mike Hedges Mike Hedges Labour 3:04, 21 May 2024

I disagree with the Counsel General. He said turnout was low; I'd say it was very low. There was a lack of interest in the election. People who vote in all other elections stayed at home. It was possibly the first ever election where people voting by post outnumbered those voting in person. There was confusion over what police and crime commissioners are responsible for. Does the Counsel General agree with me that the major cause of people not voting was the absence of party literature, especially when the police and crime commissioners cover such a large area, and it is very difficult to be well known in that very large area? Will the Counsel General press for freepost delivery for all candidates at the next election? That’s how democracy works.

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 3:05, 21 May 2024

You make an extremely important point. The fact that you have an election that’s been established for police and crime commissioners who have a particular function to carry out, and unlike any other election, where candidates have the right to a certain amount of literature, police and crime commissioners have none. It seems to me a fundamental reason for councillors and Senedd Members and MPs to have a certain number of freeposts, is because it’s important that people know who the candidates are, know what they are standing for, any manifesto issues they have, so it’s part of good democratic process. It can only be bad democratic process if you have candidates who people don’t actually know who they are, are not entitled to receive any facilitated literature or information about them, and it undermines the democratic process and confidence in it, so I agree with you entirely. Of course police and crime commissioners are not devolved; well, not yet devolved, and hopefully, if they were devolved, we would be able to resolve this. But I can assure you, taking on board what you say, we do have an inter-ministerial group on elections. I think one of those is due imminently and those are points that I will make at that particular meeting.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Question 4, Rhys ab Owen. [Interruption.]

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

No, no point of order; not at this point, we're in the middle of questions.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Question 4, Rhys ab Owen.