Next year's Senedd election could be delayed by 6 months if not deemed Covid-secure

The First Minister has laid out plans for next year's Senedd election, including a change in the law to allow them to be postponed if they are not deemed Covid-secure.

Mark Drakeford also unveiled changes to postal voting and polling stations, with the aim of ensuring both are safe.

The 2021 Senedd election is due to take place on Thursday 6 May.

It is already set to be historic - with 16 and 17-year-olds, as well as qualifying foreign citizens, able to vote for the first time.

Mr Drakeford said postponing the election would be a last resort, and ministers will use Christmas as an indicator as to whether a delay is likely.

The Welsh Government said it will ensure the safe operation of polling stations and count venues. Credit: PA Images

In June, an Elections Planning Group was set up to consider the impact of coronavirus and to decide the necessary measures.

They include:

  • Encouraging vulnerable voters and others to consider applying for a postal vote and to apply early if possible

  • Providing greater flexibility around the nomination of candidates, such as postal and proxy voting

  • Ensuring the safe operation of polling stations and count venues, including supporting returning officers

  • Ensuring coronavirus regulations do not inhibit voting

On Tuesday, Mr Drakeford told the Senedd a draft bill to enable the delay was being prepared to mirror one introduced in the Scottish Parliament the previous day.

The law change will enable the Llywydd, the Senedd’s Presiding Officer, to postpone the election for up to six months.

Elin Jones explained: "There will need to be a democratic vote here in the Senedd to give those powers to the Presiding Officer, and the right guidance and parameters for that decision, if it's needed.

"At this point, I don't think that there is a political will to see a delay in the election for the purpose of just delaying the election.

"I think we would need to be in a very serious coronavirus position to need to do that come May."

Early voting centres were also being considered to allow people to vote in civic buildings in the days before the election in order to reduce queueing at polling stations.

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government is determined to ensure "people can exercise their democratic right in the face of coronavirus".

He added: "Much communications activity is planned to encourage postal voting, and everything will be done to make polling stations Covid-secure.

"This has been a remarkable year and a remarkable fifth Senedd. Let us work together to ensure that the people of Wales, including those newly enfranchised, can exercise their democratic right safely."

The leader of the Welsh Conservatives said there was "no reason why the elections can't take place on 6 May".

Paul Davies said: "Spain, Poland, France and South Korea held some elections safely during this pandemic. In some of these areas that have held elections virus transmissions did not go up.

"But of course I accept here in Wales we need to put measures in place to ensure these elections are safe and secure."

Mr Davies also said while he welcomed some flexibility around voting, it was essential that "checks and balances" were put in place to voters had confidence in postal and proxy voting.

He also asked that Mr Drakeford address "valid concerns" about the security of storing ballot boxes and who would be allowed to observe their transfer from one location to another.