Lord Roger Roberts writes: Join #TheAmendment campaign to make Welsh voter registration accessible & engaging

bite the ballotMuch of the current spotlight on Parliament is focussed on the Scottish devolution proposals, which were debated fiercely in the Commons yesterday. This has spearheaded a much needed public discussion about devolution and I welcome these new opportunities. However, as well as being an important issue for Scotland, these debates are equally vital for Wales.

Today’s second Committee Stage debate of the Wales Bill signifies an important step towards easier, engaging and more accessible voter registration in Wales. Today, the Lords will be debate amendments 19 and 20 that have the potential to spark youth engagement with politics in never seen before in Wales. Lord (Paul) Tyler will be I will speaking to these amendments, and Baroness (Jenny) Randerson will reply on behalf of HM Government.

For as proven by the intense and informed youth participation witnessed during the Scottish Independence Referendum, young Britons are a powerful and enthusiastic voter-base – that have so far been neglected. As put forward by my Voter Registration Bill earlier this year, we need to ensure that young people in the UK are both informed and inspired. Never again should they be the group least likely to appear on the Electoral Register (49% of 16-17 year olds are missing) and never again should they be least likely demographic to want to participate in our democracy (a mere half of all young people plan to vote at the next General Election).

These problems are particularly severe in Wales. Only 35% of registered 18-24 year olds voted in the last Welsh Assembly elections – the lowest of all age groups. The Assembly have been doing some excellent work in this area, but as electoral powers are not devolved, it’s left to Westminster to pass meaningful legislation if we’re set on revitalising Welsh democracy.

What I am proposing is two-fold, and represented by amendments 19 and 20: first, data-sharing to facilitate the creation of ‘tick-box’ registration – similar to the Organ Donor register on an ‘opt-in’ basis, and inspired by the US ‘Motor Voter’ Act (i.e. registering to vote when filling in a driver’s licence application). Second, I propose a duty on Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to increase the number of ethnic minorities, disabled people and young people on the register. These groups have been specifically identified by The Electoral Commission as under-registered. As a key part of this, the amendments require EROs to organise voter engagement sessions in local schools and colleges to engage young people in the importance of making every voice heard and being a ‘vote worth winning’ (ending with an all-important invitation to register to vote).

These changes haven’t been plucked from thin air. They are built on almost five years’ worth of ‘lessons learnt’ by youth democracy organisation, Bite The Ballot. Amendment 20 draws heavily on the much-heralded ‘Schools Initiative’ in Northern Ireland, responsible for adding 50% of this age group to the register in four years. Indeed, when I met with the Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland, he called it a ‘no-brainer’: I’m rather inclined to agree.

Yesterday, the Western Mail published a letter co-signed by Carwyn Jones AM, Andrew R. T. Davis AM, Leanne Wood AM and Kirsty Williams AM expressing all-party support for both these amendments. Wales’ leaders have also written to UK Government Ministers. Furthermore, on 24 September the Welsh Assembly (by an overwhelming majority) voted in favour of these principles during a Welsh Lib Dem-led debate.

It is evident that Wales undoubtedly wants these amendments to be passed. I’m also proud to say that Lib Dems want the same – it’s Party policy and is set for inclusion in the 2015 manifesto.

Now is the time to ensure that we make Welsh voter registration as straightforward, accessible – and crucially – engaging, as possible. I strongly urge you to join #TheAmendment (here) so that together, we can improve Welsh democracy for generations to come. ​

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

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2 Comments

  • Tsar Nicolas 15th Oct '14 - 11:50pm

    I would imagine that young people’s engagement with politics at the next election will be lower than in 2010 because they were lied to by a major party about tuition fees.

    No amount of ‘voter engagement’ activity is going to cover up that betrayal.

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