Later today, the Welsh Government will introduce some new draft legislation (pdf) to the Senedd that makes some potentially huge changes to the way Welsh elections work.
The highest profile of these will likely be ‘auto-enrolment’ or adding people to the electoral register without them having to manually register. Getting it right will be tricky, but it would remove one huge barrier to voting for a lot of people. Joe wrote about these issues in his report Who’s missing, and why?
Although these are important changes, they’re not the ones that we’re most excited about. There are a bunch of other, less headline grabbing, but in many ways more impactful in the long term:
Electoral Management Board
First off the bill gives more duties to the existing Democracy and Boundary Commission Cymru:
20A Electoral administration functions
(1) The Commission has the general function of co-ordinating the
administration of Welsh elections and referendums.
(2) The general function in subsection (1) includes—
(a) assisting returning officers, local authorities and other persons in carrying out their functions in relation to Welsh elections and referendums;
(b) promoting best practice in the administration of Welsh elections and referendums by providing information, advice or training (or otherwise).
There is also a requirement for the Commission to establish a new ‘Electoral Management Board’ (EMB) as a way to fulfill the newly established duties:
20E Electoral Management Board
(1) The Commission must establish a board to be known as the Electoral
Management Board (“the Board”).
(2) The functions of the Commission under the provisions specified in subsection (3) are delegated to the Board and must only be exercised by
In short, this means that there will be an official duty to help manage and coordinate elections in Wales. This duty will be delivered by a board made up of current and former electoral administrators. The EMB model is already established in Scotland and in our experience (from the outside) has done a good job at helping Scottish councils deliver elections.
We supported the creation of this board in our consultation response last year:
Over the last few years, The Welsh Government has shown how much room for improvement and innovation there is in managing Welsh elections. From Advance Voting to candidates statements, there are a host of exciting plans and ideas in the works.
These plans need the backing of a dedicated team of experts who can take a long term strategic view. The Government team has done excellent work, but a dedicated board would, we hope, have a longer term mandate for improvements and review. It should build on existing work to foster networks across local authorities and further out to civic and community groups in Wales.
A huge amount of potential is expressed in a very small clause:
A direction under subsection (1) may require an electoral registration
officer to provide the Commission with information
We read this as a legal mandate to establish a mechanism of collecting information from each local authority. We’ve written before about this problem and a possible solution to it and we hope that, in time, this might lead to the ability to automate some of the manual PDF discovery and parsing our community does.
Welsh elections information platform
Maybe the most exciting part of the bill is that it establishes a new online information platform:
Welsh elections information platform
(1) The Welsh Ministers must by regulations provide for the establishment and operation of a Welsh elections information platform.
(2) A Welsh elections information platform is an electronic facility (such as a website, part of a website or a software application) to provide electors with up-to-date information, or access to up-to-date information from other electronic sources, about specified elections.
Sensibly for primary legislation, a lot of the detail is left to subsequent statutory instruments. This means the intent of having information about elections online is always there, but the details of exactly what information, or how it’s presented, are left until later and can be updated quickly to adapt to changing circumstances.
This sort of legislation pattern is how we avoid a duty to publish a high quality election information Myspace page.
There are two details that are worth mentioning though: information about candidates (including statements) is included (albeit as a suggestion, but the intent is clear).
Publishing candidate statements is a tricky thing to do for all sorts of reasons, not least the fact that candidates might say things that the EMB wouldn’t want to publish. This is why the second detail is key:
conferring exemption from civil and criminal liability in connection with the
publication of candidate statements and other candidate information;
Hopefully this will allow the platform to host, let’s say lively political debate without having to moderate it out of fear of litigation.
How this might help Democracy Club’s services
We have established the need for basic information about elections, and we are delighted that the Welsh Government is thinking about implementing some parts of our work systematically.
In calling for an online platform they have outlined their intent, and in setting up an EMB with the powers to request information form councils they have established the mechanism to deliver the platform.
A large part of our work is focused on the mechanism for collecting information, and we hope that this is implemented in a way that is open. This is important for a couple of reasons:
First, Transparency in processes is important to make them trustworthy and accurate. We made this case in our report Registers and collaboration: making lists we can trust
Second, the information platform will be an important resource, but the information on it should be reusable by 3rd parties. This is because, for example, community groups might have much better access to people who need information about elections than a website can ever get.
Section 27(4)(d) already talks about making this information available via other methods:
making the information on the platform available other than by electronic means
Ideally, the EMB would do the work of collecting all the data we need (election notices, statements of persons nominated, polling station data, election results) and would create APIs or at least open data for it all.
This would allow us, and others, to import the data for use on our own websites and services.
You can see more about this bill as it passes through the Senedd here: https://business.senedd.wales/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=41986
We’ll be watching on Senedd.tv as it’s debated today
Photo credit Richard Szwejkowski