An emergency bill to ensure the next Senedd election can happen safely, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, has been introduced before the Senedd by the Welsh Government.
The Welsh Elections (Coronavirus) Bill introduces a range of measures to make it easier for those affected by the pandemic to vote.
It would also prevent an extended hiatus where the Senedd would not be able to meet to consider legislation related to the spread of the Coronavirus.
While it is the policy of the Welsh Government to hold the election on 6th May 2021 as intended, if the public heath situation allows, it also makes it possible to delay polling day should the pandemic present such a serious threat to public health and the conduct of the election, that it is not safe to hold the election at that time. Electoral administrators have been asked to continue preparing for the election to take place on 6th May.
Provisions in the Bill include:
- An ability for a voter to apply for an emergency proxy vote where, in the period ahead of the poll, a voter or their already nominated proxy becomes unable to participate in person on the day of the poll because of a reason relating to coronavirus, such as the need to self-isolate;
- Allowing the Senedd to keep sitting for up to seven calendar days before the election (instead of it being dissolved 21 working days before the election as is usually the case). This will allow the Welsh Government and Members of the Senedd to continue to deal with legislation related to the covid pandemic and enable a postponement of the election should that prove necessary during the final month before the poll is held;
- Allowing for the postponing of the Senedd election for up to 6 months, to a date no later than 5th November 2021, if this is needed due to public health reasons. The postponement and the fixing of a new date for the election would be proposed by the Presiding Officer and would require the agreement of two-thirds of Members.
The Bill will apply only to the 2021 Senedd ordinary general election and not to any subsequent Senedd elections.
The Bill also enables local government by-elections to be postponed beyond 6 May 2021 if required, to a date no later than 5 November 2021.
Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said:
“The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on every aspect of our lives over the last year. Families across Wales have lost loved ones to the virus, while many more have and still suffer from it. Given the unpredictable nature of the virus, there is significant uncertainty about what the public health situation will be like in May. That’s why we need to act now to respond to the potential risks to the election arising from the pandemic.
“Our priority is on ensuring the election can proceed and be conducted as safely a possible. The Bill we are introducing today will help ensure people can exercise their democratic right to vote in the election, but to do so in a safe and secure way. The Welsh Government appreciates the huge efforts being made by the staff who run our elections to ensure it can be held safely.
“While the Welsh Government remains committed to the Senedd elections taking place on 6th May as planned, under normal procedures, there would be no Members of the Senedd with legal powers to take decisions, for example in relation to legislation related to the covid pandemic, for nearly a month before polling day. Given the unprecedented circumstances, the Bill allows the Senedd to continue to be constituted until seven working days before the poll.
“The Bill also provides a contingency power for the election to be postponed for up to 6 months, if the prevalence of the virus closer to the time means the election could not be conducted safely and securely. Such a decision could only be taken with the agreement of two-thirds of Members of the Senedd, which means all Members would have a role in the final decision.”