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16-year-olds could get vote as Wales prepares for major electoral shake-up

Credit: PA

Local elections in Wales could be due a major shake-up as the Welsh Government launches a consultation on electoral reform.

Extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds, electronic voting and proportional representation are just some of the proposals that have been announced.

Swimming pools, supermarkets and train stations could become alternative polling stations under the plans to modernise voting.

Foreign citizens who normally live in Wales could be given the right to vote in council polls. The Welsh Government also wants to know what people think of giving convicted prisoners the vote, if that becomes a practical possibility.

Councils could also be given the option of switching to elections by proportional representation under the proposals. There will now be a 12 week consultation period, ahead of a new Local Government Bill.

If enacted, it could amount to the biggest change in the Welsh electoral system since 1970 - when the voting age was lowered to 18.

The powers to make these changes have been transferred to the Welsh Assembly under the Wales Act, which was passed at Westminster earlier this year.

Today I'm announcing a Bill and a wholesale package of reforms that will change the way councils work and the way they are elected. We want to make it easier to vote and easier to be entitled to vote.

There's no reason why 16 and 17 year olds can marry, pay taxes and join the army but can't vote in our elections. There's no reason why, in the twenty-first century, we can carry out all sorts of daily transactions online but can't, as of yet, vote online. That's why we're setting out a number of different ideas to modernise the electoral system and putting out a call for the public to share their ideas with us too.

More broadly, if we're to achieve real and lasting change in our councils then we have to change the way they work. I have spoken to and consulted widely with councils on how best to do this and we now have a Local Government Bill that will strengthen services through systematic and mandatory regional working and build a new relationship between citizens and their councils. I look forward to working with local government on the Bill and I urge everyone to have their say on this bold and pioneering package of electoral reforms we're setting out today.

– Mark Drakeford AM, Cabinet Secretary for Local Government

The proposals are intended to make it easier for people to vote and modernise the voting system.

Changes could also be made to the voting system itself with councils being given the option of using First-Past-the-Post or a Single Transferable Vote system.

The National Union of Students in Wales has welcomed the proposals as an opportunity for young people in Wales to be 'active citizens in their communities'.

It is very exciting to see votes at 16 included in these new proposals to shake up the way Wales runs its local councils.

We want to see a Wales that values what its young people have to say, and allows them to be active citizens in their communities.

For too long, young people have felt disconnected and disenfranchised, so extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds would be a brilliant first step to righting that wrong.

It's also excellent to see some other ideas like electronic voting. I agree that what we need is a proper debate about how we make politics accessible to people. That could also include automatically registering students when they enrol on courses at college or university.

We want young people and students to be at the heart of the decisions about their own futures, and these proposals are a great start to that.

– Carmen Smith, NUS Wales Deputy President

The time is right to have this conversation on how we do things differently when it comes to voting and engaging people around politics.

This consultation on electoral reform is a welcome step forward and covers a huge amount of things that we believe could genuinely improve the way politics works in Wales.

The inclusion of votes at 16 in this debate is about what kind of democracy we want to be - one which engages our young people in their futures, and secures a fair franchise.

And we know it works. Sixteen and 17 year olds threw themselves wholeheartedly into the Scottish referendum, with 75% voting and 97% saying they would vote in future elections.

Last week we launched our project, Missing Voices, which is looking at the barriers to voting in Wales. Therefore, we are delighted this is happening and believe this is a significant opportunity to have a debate about how we create a healthier democracy.

– Jess Blair, Director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru

Plaid Cymru say they have long campaigned for lowering of the voting age in Wales to 16 years old.

Young people’s voices and contribution to the democratic process is vital. This is a welcome step to engage a new generation of voters across Wales.

Leanne Wood has met with hundreds of young people all over Wales over recent months in order to speak to listen to their views. Many of these young people tell us that often they feel disengaged with politics and that they feel voiceless.

By lowering the voting age to 16, we are opening up democracy to a new generation of voters during a period when consecutive Westminster and Welsh Governments have let this generation down.

Now that the voting age is to be lowered to 16 years old for local government elections, I hope that this will set a precedent for other elections. And I sincerely hope that young people will make the most of this opportunity and vote for the change they want to see.

– Sian Gwenllian AM, Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet members for Local Government