by Charlotte King
They are old enough to join the army and they are old enough to pay taxes, now 16 and 17-year-olds in Wales are about to be given the right to vote in National Assembly for Wales elections.
Plans have been published outlining intentions to reform the National Assembly for Wales by 2021. A two-phase plan will see multiple changes being implemented.
Phase one of the proposed plan includes a lowering of the minimum voting age in Wales, with 16 and 17-year-olds due to be allowed to vote here for the first time.
In December 2017, Professor Laura McAllister CBE, chairman of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, recommended that 16 and 17-year-olds should be granted the right to vote in Assembly elections. The Expert Panel has since conducted a public consultation, wherein 59% of respondents agreed that the minimum voting age should be lowered to 16 years old.
Elin Jones AM, Llywydd, says that the Welsh Assembly will work with the Welsh Government and other partners, including our own Youth Parliament, to ensure this legislation is passed. This reform will also be accompanied by political and citizenship education, to raise public awareness and to ensure that young people are encouraged to ‘exercise their right to vote’.
Additionally, as part of phase one, the Welsh Assembly plans to change its name to to the ‘Welsh Parliament’, to better reflect its constitutional status.
Phase two of the reforms will see changes in the size of the Assembly, and to the voting system used to elect Assembly Members. The Expert Panel’s public consultation concluded that 56% of respondents believe there should be more Assembly Members, and 95% saw between 80 and 90 AMs as the ideal number. Regarding the voting system for electing Members, 54% of respondents were in favour of the Single Transferable Vote system.
Jones said: “The Assembly cannot continue as it is without risking its ability to deliver for the people and communities it serves”. Without these reforms “our Welsh parliament will face almost another decade of being underpowered”.
Alongside recommending lowering the minimum voting age to 16, the Expert Panel recommended other organisational reforms, such as changing the rules on disqualification from being an Assembly Member and letting people stand for election on the basis of job sharing.
However, 52% of respondents in the public consultation responded negatively towards job sharing, and there are doubts that the Assembly pertains the legislative competence to implement the policy.
Political parties will discuss this two-phase approach to reforming the Welsh Assembly over the coming months to decide whether it can be legislated before 2021.
Jones added: “these reforms provide an opportunity to forge the national parliament that the people of Wales deserve, to champion their interests and hold the Welsh Government to account.”