16 and 17-year-olds will be able to vote for the first time in Wales, in the upcoming Senedd election, which has led to calls for more support and resources about voting.
The move comes after a new law was passed in 2019, which also gave foreign nationals the right to vote in Welsh elections.
The first time 16-year-olds could vote in the United Kingdom was the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum.
Prior to lowering the voting age, researchers were concerned that young voters in Wales do not have a wide understanding of Welsh politics.
Government, or Assembly?
In a study by Beaufort Research, it was found that some participants did not understand the difference between the Government and the Welsh Assembly (now the Senedd Cymru), as well as struggling to explain the duties of the government.
This has, however, been corrected by introducing educational resources in schools, and newer studies, especially post pandemic have found otherwise.
A new poll by YouGov and the ERS (Electoral Reform Society) found that 16 to 24-year-olds thought – more than any other age group, other than the over 65s – the Senedd elections were important.
77% of the 16 to 24-year-olds age group was found to have engaged in political activity in the last 12 months, as opposed to the approximately 50% of other age groups.
The peer leader of Llais Ifanc, part of Youth Cymru, Nirushan Sudarsan said: “As we see the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on communities, health and the economy, we need to ensure young people’s worries and concerns are heard by people in power”.
Director of ERS Cymru, Jess Blair added: “With so many new voters, parties must pull out all the stops to ensure they are reaching out to every community and help create voting habits that last a lifetime.
“The most important election since 1999”
This has the potential to build a new generation of active citizens. Parties must not miss this chance, and we all have a role to play in making the May elections the accessible, democratic success they can be.”
The importance and ‘crucial’ nature of the upcoming vote has led to an open letter, from 32 organisations and academics, asking party leaders to ‘ramp up’ their interaction with the first-time voters.
The letter urges parties to publish manifestos and policies that are easily understandable and targeted towards young people as an incentive to vote, as well as hosting events dedicated to this.
The signatories – including Mr. Sudarsan – consist of Youth Cymru, National Union of Students, Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Race Council Cymru and the Children’s Commissioner.
The Senedd has already taken action to ensure first-time voters are more involved and aware by holding a Vote 16 week, which kicks off a longer initiative to encourage eligible people to vote.
The responses from political parties have been vague, and other than resources on the Senedd website, there’s very little engagement with the younger votes.
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for the Future, Delyth Jewell said that “it’s crucial that young people take this rare opportunity they’ve been given to vote for radical change in May.”
Welsh Conservative Leader, Andrew RT Davies MS has called the decision “the most important Senedd election since 1999” and has re-stated how important it is to listen to “our next generation”.
The question remains whether Welsh political parties will try to actively engage with the first-time voters in the way the open letter requests.twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.