"The arms that you wield now are not such as your forefathers wielded; but they are infinitely more effective, and infinitely more irresistable" ~ Cymru Fydd leaflet, 1890

Monday, 4 April 2016

Guide to the Welsh Election - 2016

On the 5th May 2016 the people of Wales will once again vote for who they want to become their Assembly Members for the next term. This then helps decided who will form the next Welsh government. I thought I'd put together a guide to explain how the Welsh elections work for the benefit of the first time voters. I'll update the page up until the election.

1. You need to be on the electoral register in order to vote.
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If you are not on the electoral register then you can register online in English or in Welsh. The deadline to register for the Welsh elections is the 18th April. By registering now you will also be able to vote in the European referendum in June. You can also register to vote by post, you can download the forms here. If you are in the armed forces there is a separate form you can use here.

2. Am I eligible to vote?

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The next most important thing you need to know ahead of the Welsh elections is if you are able to vote at all. The criteria are as follows.

  • A UK or EU or qualifying Commonwealth citizen that is resident in Wales.
  • On the electoral register (see point 1).
  • At least 18 years old.
It's not a definitive list but it'll cover the vast majority of people.

3. What am I voting for?

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One big difference between Westminster and Welsh elections is that it is much harder for a party to win a majority in the Welsh elections. This is partly due to the much smaller number of seats plus the proportional voting system used to 'top up' the Assembly Members. I'll cover this later, but it means that even if your votes do not decide who governs Wales, they can go a long way to helping decide who forms the opposition or coalition partner.

There are 60 seats up for grabs, this means that a party needs 31 seats to form a majority. So far no party has ever won a majority. Labour have always won the most seats. In 1999 they had 28, In 2003 they had 30, in 2007 they had 26 and in 2011 they had 30. After all of those elections they have also had either a Presiding Officer or Deputy. Since neither are allowed to vote it means they effectively lose a seat for the sake of voting.

What this means for voters is that as no party can force legislation through on their own, they have to compromise in order to either win votes from other parties or be allowed to vote unopposed.

After the referendum in 2011 the Senedd received direct law making powers over some very important day to day areas. The main areas are health and education but the full list is as follows.
  • Agriculture, Forestry, Animals, Plants and Rural Development
  • Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings
  • Culture
  • Economic Development
  • Education and Training
  • Environment
  • Fire and Rescue Services and Fire Safety
  • Food
  • Health and Health Services
  • Highways and Transport
  • Housing
  • Local Government
  • National Assembly for Wales
  • Public Administration
  • Social Welfare
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Tourism
  • Devolved Taxes
  • Town and Country Planning
  • Water and Flood Defence
  • Welsh Language
4. How does voting work?

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There are 60 Assembly Members that will be elected and everyone has two votes. The first vote is a straight vote for your constituency AM. There are 40 constituencies in Wales and, just like in Westminster elections, this is decided with FPTP (First Past The Post), this means the person with the highest number of votes is elected.

The second vote is a regional vote, there are five regions made up of neighbouring constituencies. This vote uses a proportional voting method (Additional Member System) whereby the more constituency seats a party wins (within that region), the more the regional vote is handicapped. There are four AMs elected from each of the five regions making twenty in total. 

The second vote is not a second preference, you can vote for the same party in both or two different parties. If there is an independent candidate standing you can vote for them, it is entirely up to you.

The one thing you may want to consider is that if one party dominates the seats within a region then it'll be almost impossible for them to win a list seat. In this case you may wish to use the second vote as a second preference unless you aren't bothered about who the opposition are. In the next post I'll expand on the calculations used for the second vote and the dangers of 'tactical voting'.

5. Can you waste a vote?

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Without the aid of a crystal ball no one can ever know since we have no way of knowing how people have voted until after it’s too late to do anything about it. What we can do though, is look at historical data and recent poll projections and try to make a calculated guess.

I've compiled a table of results from the 1999 to 2011 elections. I haven’t drilled it down to named constituencies as I just wanted to highlight how the total number of constituencies won in each region will affect the number of list seats. One thing we do have to consider is the Ukips who will benefit greatly from the proportional representation of the list vote.

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Looking at the chart we can see that Labour dominate every region except for Mid and West Wales which just so happens to be the only region where they have ever won list seats. This isn’t a coincidence, if you look at South Wales Central then you’ll see that Labour won all eight constituencies in 2011. I mentioned earlier that this gives parties a handicap in the list vote. The handicap works out as number of list votes / (seats + 1). So however many votes they receive in the list vote is, in this case, divided by nine to give them the starting figure for deciding the first list seat.

Thankfully, Prof Roger Scully has produced a brilliantly geeky post explaining the maths behind the Additional Member System. Up in Scotland both SCOT goes POP! and Wings over Scotland have regularly blogged on this issue as Scotland uses the same voting system.

Since there are only four list seats per region, and the handicap also kicks in after you win a list seat, it should help to explain why Labour have never won a list seat outside of Mid and West Wales, and also why no party has won every list seat in a region.

What this means is that if you take the historical figures at face value then a list vote for Labour in any region apart from Mid and West Wales will be a wasted vote. This is why key figures from different parties are calling on Labour voters to cast their second vote for Plaid in order to mitigate against the Ukips who look set to win at least one list seat in every region.

Looking again at Mid and West Wales, Prof Roger Scully has analysed some recent polling data and has suggested that Plaid Cymru look set to take Llanelli from Labour, and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire from the Tories. If they retain their other seats this puts them on five for the region which starts to make it very difficult to retain their one list seat. This would still give them five seats in Mid and West Wales, a net gain of one seat.

In this situation we might say that Plaid voters in Mid and West Wales should use their second vote for another party, perhaps the Lib Dems or the Englandandwales Green Party. Now suppose we wake up on May 6th and realise that Plaid didn’t win in Llanelli nor in Carmarthen West and South Pemrokeshire. Then we realise that all their second votes went to someone else! Plaid will have not made any gains in the constituencies and lost their list seat giving them a net deficit of one seat in what is historically their best region.

Imagine instead that people give both votes to Plaid, they fail to win the two constituency seats, but crucially, retain their list seat. The problem with tactical voting is that essentially it is gambling and when you are gambling you have to weigh up the outcomes and decide if losing is worth the risk. The same is true for all regions in Wales.

There are also parties standing who have absolutely zero chance of winning a seat. You could say that voting for these is your democratic right and shows they do have support and maybe give them an incentive to continue. But in the grand scheme of things they are a wasted vote which could have instead gone to a party that aren't that far apart policy wise, or at the very least one which you dislike the least.

I'll add more throughout the run up to the elections of May 5th. If you would like anything covered then feel free to ask.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to be so off-topic, but I have just read this on the Cneifiwr Blog. Can this be true?
    "In 1997 the Welsh Tories went down all hands on deck. William Hague, that prototypical Tory Boy, shut down the Young Conservatives.

    But it is claimed that there was one small corner of Cymru fach where the blue flame flickered defiantly against the gathering gloom before finally being extinguished. And of all places, dear reader, that was in Ammanford where, according to former school friends, Lee Waters enthusiastically embraced the Conservative and Unionist cause in a town reeling from the effects of Thatcherism."