Wales has put effective legislation in place to make the Senedd polls COVID-safe

For the sixth time since devolution in 1999, voters in Wales have the opportunity to participate in a Wales-wide election, with all 60 seats of the Welsh Parliament in play. Elections across the UK were postponed last May due to COVID-19, but the ones set for this spring look like they will go ahead. Toby James and Alistair Clark argue that Wales has taken significant steps to ensure that voters are able to participate in a safe and fair election.

To postpone or not to postpone? That has been the question facing elections scheduled for May across the UK. All of these contests are important, but those being held in Wales have a special importance for Welsh citizens. They will have the opportunity to elect all 60 members to the Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament). It will be the sixth general election since devolution in 1999 – but the first time that 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to take part.

The pandemic, however, has led to arguments about whether elections should be postponed. There is a health argument for postponement. Restrictions have been put on many aspects of life in order to prevent the spread of the virus. But the quality of the election can also be compromised by the pandemic. Restrictions on campaigning might be in place, such as bans on leafleting, which smaller parties have complained are unfair on them. So what should be done?

The evidence from around the world

As part of an ESRC-funded research project, we have been tracking how elections have been run around the world since the pandemic began, in collaboration with International IDEA and the Electoral Integrity Project. We have published case studies that have described the experience on the ground, alongside data on the measures put in place to make elections COVID-safe.

Many countries did postpone for a while. Elections have been postponed in at least 75 countries since last February. But at the same time, over 100 eventually held their contests. Proposals to postpone elections are at first glance associated with undermining the democratic process and denying citizens their right to vote. Postponements, as was shown in a recent article in Election Law Journal, are not all just power grabs by would-be dictators or incumbent governments. They can be for multiple different reasons, and there is a humanitarian case for postponement where there is a threat to human life. 

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18 days to the 2015 UK general election: Expect the unexpected

Peter-Wardle

Chief Executive of The Electoral Commission Peter Wardle reflects on the practicalities of running a national election, and how this general election differs from 2010.

The huge task of delivering the range of different polls taking place on 7 May – parts of England will see the highest level of combination of polls since 1979 – is well under way and some key milestones have been passed with the publication of the notices of election at the end of March and the close of nominations on 9 April. Returning Officers and electoral administrators came into this year’s election cycle with a solid foundation. Nearly nine in ten voters we talked to said the elections in May last year were well run. This shows that the hard work of elections teams across the country is continuing to inspire public confidence. It’s a great start, but it doesn’t mean any of us is tempted to be complacent.

What can we expect from next month’s elections? UK general elections bring their own unique challenges – and this one is already different from May 2010.

The level of interest is, of course, likely to be greater than at any other UK-wide elections since 2010, so we’re expecting a higher turnout. The Scottish Independence Referendum showed all the challenges that come with high turnout – but also how those challenges can be successfully managed. For example, higher turnout means more voters at polling stations. After the experience of 2010, where long queues at 10pm resulted is some voters being turned away, we worked with the UK Government and Parliament to ensure that the law was changed. This May, voters can be issued with a ballot paper if they are in a queue at their polling station at close of poll.

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