Y Pwyllgor Biliau Diwygio

Reform Bill Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

David Rees Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
James Evans Yn dirprwyo ar ran Darren Millar
Substitute for Darren Millar
Sarah Murphy

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Clare Sim Rheolwr Cymorth a Chyngor Aelodau, Cymdeithas y Gweinyddwyr Etholiadol
Member Support and Advice Manager, Association of Electoral Administrators
Colin Everett Cadeirydd, Bwrdd Cydlynu Etholiadol Cymru
Chair, Wales Electoral Coordination Board
Jane Dodds Aelod o’r Senedd dros Ganolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru
Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Aled Evans Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Catherine Roberts Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Georgina Owen Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Helen Finlayson Clerc
Josh Hayman Ymchwilydd

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniadau, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions, and declarations of interest

Good morning. Can I welcome Members and the public to this morning's meeting of the committee, where we continue our scrutiny of the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill? Before we start, just to do some housekeeping, we have had apologies from Darren Millar this morning, and we're pleased to welcome James Evans as a substitute. We've also had apologies from Heledd Fychan this morning.

Now, just a few points. The meeting is broadcast and it will be on Senedd.tv, and a transcript will be published in the normal way after the meeting. We operate a bilingual system here in the Senedd, and therefore, if you require simultaneous translation from Welsh to English, that's available in the room via the headsets, on channel 1. If you require amplification in the room, then that's available via channel 2 on the headsets. There is no scheduled fire alarm this morning, so if one does go off, please follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location.

2. Bil Senedd Cymru (Aelodau ac Etholiadau): Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda gweinyddwyr Etholiadol
2. Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) Bill: Evidence session with Electoral administrators

With that said, let's move on to item 2, which is our evidence session this morning with the electoral administrators. Can I welcome remotely Clare Sim, member support and advice manager for the Association of Electoral Administrators, and, in the room, Colin Everett, who is chair of the Wales Electoral Coordination Board? Welcome. Can I thank both for the written submissions we've received on this? I'm very pleased to be able to, perhaps, ask a few other questions to you. Perhaps I'll start out with a very simple one. The Counsel General has indicated that he has involved the Welsh Local Government Association, and the electoral returning officers and the electoral board in the process of developing the Bill. I suppose I'd just have you both to outline your roles in the development. How much have you been involved in this development, or are you simply looking at this afresh because it came to you as a surprise? So, I'll start with Clare and then I'll come back to Colin, okay?

So, just to outline, I work for the Association of Electoral Administrators, and we represent over 2,000 members across the UK in terms of the people who actually run elections, so electoral services managers and their teams, and we've been heavily involved with Welsh Government. We meet on a regular basis with the Counsel General; we're members of the Senedd delivery board, so we're very much aware of what the changes are and have been consulted throughout by your civil servants in terms of what the intended changes are likely to be. We agree, sometimes; sometimes, we think that we can see the interest in terms of what a voter would need, but it doesn't necessarily work as an administrative process in terms of what is being suggested. But, no, we've been heavily involved from the start in terms of that. We're also members of the Wales Electoral Coordination Board, which Colin chairs, so very much—. Definitely not a surprise getting that consultation; we were very much aware of what was coming, and very happy to be involved in any way that we can to inform decision making.

Thank you, Chair. Bore da, pawb. Just to say as well, Chair, I'm also speaking for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, called SOLACE, who are mainly chief executives, and, of course, returning officers from SOLACE are also on my board, so our evidence is joint. Just to echo Clare's comments, and I did reference it in our written evidence as a complementary point, the civil service team have been close to us throughout. Our job from day one is to advise, 'Will legislation be legal? Will it work? Is it practical? Can we resource it? Can we implement an election with manageable risk?' That's the sort of work that we do. It's not whether we agree or like the proposals, it's, 'Will it work, fundamentally?' Senior civil servants and colleagues have been involved in our board for many, many months. There is, you'll probably be aware, a civil service-led Senedd project reform board that I and others are a member of to give advice, and we have lots of informal offline discussions throughout. So, we didn't see the actual draft formal Bill, embargoed until just before it's published, but nothing in it was a surprise or an issue beyond the things we say in the evidence, because it's been such a co-productive process. And I would compliment it, as a long-standing public servant, as a way to work wherever possible, so you get legislation with the confidence that practitioners can deliver it.


Thank you, both, for that. We appreciate that you're very heavily involved in the implementation and practicalities of delivering the outcomes of the Bill. And whilst we will be exploring some of those points, we may also explore whether some of those aspects are the best way of doing things, shall we say. Before we go on to some of those questions, I'll just ask about the cost estimates, because, clearly, costs have always been a major question, and in the Bill, there are some cost estimates and savings also identified. Can I assume, from what you're saying, therefore, that you were involved in producing those estimates?

Perhaps, Chair, if I go first. Clare had an involvement as well. We worked together as close partners, and as Clare has said, she's an adviser to our board and gives us superb advice throughout. We've commented and helped on specific aspects of the regulatory impact assessment, where it relates to the delivery of the elections that we're responsible for. So, we haven't commented on the overall governance costs to the Senedd—that's not our responsibility. In the case of this and the other Bill that's running alongside, when civil servants needed to understand better how elections work on the ground, how they're costed, would they cost more, can we save money, they approached the Welsh Local Government Association, and I worked with the WLGA to bring together a small representative group of local authorities to do some task-and-finish work, rather than involve all 22 and create a big, bureaucratic process. And we've worked with the estimates. There are caveats within them, because there are still some unknowns, for example the pairing of the constituencies, what that might mean in practice, but we are content that the RIA is a good grasp of what we know, and we are confident in what you've been advised.

No, just to echo what Colin said. And I know our members, our Wales branch chair and other electoral administrators in local authorities have contributed to that impact assessment as well in terms of the costs. But just to echo what Colin has said.

If I can explain briefly the way our board works, we have regional lead returning officers—there are five—and then we have the chair and vice-chair, who are more practitioners at the election management level from Clare's network, and those seven, with myself, are the core membership of the board, so we've got a good reach of expertise and knowledge to pull these things together. I just thought I should explain that.

Okay. Before I move on to one of my colleagues, you mentioned one thing there—this and the other Bill. We are clearly interested in the links between the various Bills that come before us. We know there are three reform Bills, basically, on elections: two linked to the Senedd elections and one particularly to local government. In your position and your consideration, are those Bills so closely interlinked that one failing has a major impact upon the other ones—for yourselves, in particular?

Chair, if we're referring to the other published Bill that's running through the Local Government and Housing Committee—

Just to be clear. Thank you. I appreciate there's a third Bill in the offing—

Yes, of course, there are some links, because some of the proposals are generic to devolved elections. But, of course, there's a very specific set of proposals around the board I chair, which, if that was passed, would then transition into a statutory board—similar but different to the Scottish model. I'm conscious you've had some colleagues from Scotland in, and please feel free to ask Clare and I about that today, because although it's not in the Bill that you're scrutinising, you need confidence that the administrative arrangements for practitioners do work, and will work, come the 2026 election. So, we'd welcome the opportunity to answer questions, if that's in your gift today.

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you, both, for being here this morning. That brings me on quite nicely. I'm going to come to you first, Mr Everett. The Wales Electoral Coordination Board has said that the residency requirement for candidates, as set out in the Bill, is workable, which is good to hear. But it also notes that, at the moment, returning officers have no duty or power to check that the information that is provided is true and accurate; they have to take it at face value. You also say that you would be anxious if the role of a returning officer were extended to require them to do this check. So, can I ask you, first, for your views on the impact the requirement for candidates seeking election to the Senedd and Members of the Senedd to be resident in Wales will have on the returning officers and electoral registration officers, and any resources that you think will be needed in addition? That would be very helpful. Thank you.

Thanks, and please use first names, if that's okay. I'm more than comfortable. 

On the residency requirement, again, it's not our job to say whether it's right or not; it's a proposal. The residency requirement is very, very straightforward. To make it clear and workable for everybody involved, most particularly the candidates and their parties, it requiring pre-registration as an elector is a really safe way to go about it—it can be checked by anybody who chose to challenge or to check. One of the principles we've always discussed with civil servants is we would really find it challenging if any substantive change to the role of a returning officer was different in law for UK reserved elections and devolved elections. It will get confusing, and it will create different levels of challenge. Therefore, the principle that returning officers accept nomination papers on the face of them should remain for these elections.

There is a 'but', though. And if I could just say, and give you an assurance as a very experienced—retired from this two years ago—returning officer, over 14 years, in every election, including being the count officer for the Brexit referendum for Wales, for example, we always give candidates and parties and agents the best informal advice that we could. Clare I'm sure will agree: if we were working together in local authority x, receiving a set of papers from a party agent, a new list, we would say, 'Do you understand all the rules? Are you confident that you've complied? This is the new residency rule—are you confident?', and so on. We can't instruct or direct, and whatever they choose to finally put forward, as long as it's complete and it's compliant, they have a Welsh address registered, that's the end of our role. But we will do our best always. And of course, prior to the election, ourselves, the Electoral Commission and others give advice, briefing and training to parties. None of us want this to fail through error. So, there's the official answer, and then there's the underlying answer.

And if I may, Chair, just an observation: it will be a party and a candidate responsibility, but I would hope that parties and candidates were really careful about the residency requirement, and it being a true and fair address. The reason I say that, as a former police area returning officer, is we had a challenge some years ago about whether a residency quoted for a candidate that did require to be in Wales was actually a true address or was it an address for a family member. I just say that as an aside, because there could be all sorts of challenges here. But to go back to the fundamental point, we would give informal advice, but, ultimately, it's not the job of the RO to check. And of course, you have seen in other people's evidence, including the Electoral Commission's, how do we ensure that that residency remains valid throughout the term, is that a check that somebody has to pick up a responsibility for as well. 


Absolutely. Clare, did you have anything you wanted to add to that?

Yes. I think just building on what Colin has said, 'face value' is a key term that is used throughout elections, and we wouldn't want there to be any change to that. There's been case law previously that suggested that a returning officer would have to accept a nomination paper on face value, that they're not to go beyond the facts of what is presented on that nomination, even if they've got personal awareness that something is different. And I think, while Colin mentioned the potential for divergence between UK polls and polls that the Welsh Government have the powers to legislate for, it already exists to a certain degree within local elections, whereby people need to have a connection to that address, either as an elector or as their principal place of work, that goes on that nomination paper. And again, that is very much taken at face value, so the precedent already exists—that when they have got a connection to an address, when they have to say if they're a registered elector there, they've lived in that area for 12 months, they own a property in that area, that is already taken at face value. So to actually then suggest that they'd need to check that would put it in conflict with what already exists for one election at a local level compared to Senedd level.

I think there are issues already at local elections, where, if they only qualify under one criteria—. So, if they say that they're a registered elector, that is meant to be a maintained qualification while they're a candidate, and, then, when they're elected as well. And I think, again, to put an expectation on electoral registration officers to check or inform or provide that information isn't something that's currently in place for those types of elections. So, again, there would be that disparity if that was to be introduced for Senedd elections. But it just comes back to that fact that the nomination period is a very short window of time to expect returning officers to check every single nomination, and then it would question whether other things would need to be checked as well. That isn't necessarily helpful. And I think we're very much keen to protect that it needs to be accepted at face value, and putting that onus back on the parties and candidates to ensure that they've done those checks. And, as Colin said, that informal check process is there to highlight anything that could possibly be an issue. But, again, very much supportive of the 'face value' principle.  


That's very helpful. Thank you both for that insight. 

If I could just add as well, candidates and agents are keen to ask you if you think their papers are in order, because they want to get it right. They're more nervous than we are. So, I hope the informal support will support whatever the requirement is. 

Absolutely. And we've all been there. I had an excellent returning officer myself, who was very much, as you said, like that. I'm just going to circle back around to what you mentioned at the end there as well, Colin. In terms of checks that may need to be conducted whilst you have a Member of the Senedd sitting, do you have any views on who you think should conduct these checks and how that could be facilitated? 

That's a very good question. I don't mean this in a defensive way, but I would say it's not the role of the returning officer, because once we've discharged the election, that's the end of our role, unless—I appreciate we might talk about this later—there were a by-election provision and we had to call one. That would need to be something within Senedd governance internally. 

That's fair enough. Thank you very much. And Clare, did you have a view on this as well? 

If there were to be those checks, again, I don't think it should be an expectation that the—. It'll be the electoral registration officer at that point, instead of the returning officer, who's responsible for the registration functions. There would need to be something within the Senedd itself for doing those checks and dealing with the outcomes, if someone was found to no longer be resident in Wales. 

The onus should be on the candidate. It's very likely that some candidates would move address within that period, but they've got a consistency of eligible address. 

Absolutely. Thank you both very much, and thank you, Chair. 

Yes, just really quickly. It's something I've raised in the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee, and it's the issue of second homes. Because somebody could have a second home in Wales, be very lucky to afford one, and put that down as the address they register to vote at. They could live all their time in London or another part of the UK, but theoretically they'd been on the electoral roll in Wales, so they'd actually be eligible to stand here for the Senedd election. I'm just interested in your thoughts on that and how you think that could be mitigated, in a way, because it is a way of somebody basically finding a loophole in the system, if they could afford a second home here in Wales—or a family member; you could register at their address.  

Do you want me to go first?

Thank you, James, for the question. Provided that the registration of the second home as well as the first was within the law for registration, then legally that wouldn't be improper. That might not be the spirit of what's being looked for in the legislation, but I can imagine if somebody were absent for long periods or local knowledge led people to believe that it was an address—and if I were to say the term 'used for electoral purposes', please don't read into that the wrong way—but primarily using the second home to qualify but it not being their principal home, then that, of course, could lead the elector to lose trust and confidence in the legitimacy or the commitment of the candidate. That isn't something for us that we can be concerned about. On the face of the Bill, if somebody's registered at that address, it's within Wales, it's current and it's legal, then they qualify. So, I think that would be more about a spirit, and I would suggest that's more for about how parties think about how they advise their candidates about public confidence in them. Of course, we'll have professional and personal views about this, but it isn't something we can advise you on—we'd be stepping outside our remit. But I'm hinting at some things that parties might need to consider. 

You could imagine, halfway through a Senedd term, someone could say, 'I'm going to go and move to somewhere in England', for example, 'But I'll register at my mother's or friend's address and I'll say that I'm actually staying there'. 

As I referenced earlier, Chair, without going into any detail, some time ago, in a previous police and crime commissioner election in Wales, somebody did use a family member's address but was a co-resident there, and it led to public challenge. We had to consider legally whether it was valid, and it was, and there wasn't an election petition. But that echoed, really, the way public sentiment can feel, even if somebody's qualified legitimately under the law. 

I understand your position on this as to the rules and the spirit, but in this sense, it's therefore possible—. You talk about the local voting for that person, and how they consider that candidate, but if it's a closed list—. I know it's not your position, but bear with me a little bit. In a closed list system, those local issues of that particular candidate may be lost, because that candidate may be No. 2 or No. 3 on the list, and people don't realise who they're voting for, because you're voting for a party, not necessarily an individual. So, it's possible, in the current system, where the spirit is being broken, that that is not one of the considerations of the voters. The voters may not be aware of those situations.


That's a very good point, Chair, and, of course, if candidates have the protection where they don't need to publish their address—they need to provide it in their nominations paperwork to the returning officer and electoral administrator, for us to check that they qualify—if that’s not disclosed, the public might not be aware. But local knowledge is local knowledge, isn’t it? And local knowledge can lead to misinformation, true.

Can I just check, if I may, Chair? Clare, have got anything further to add?

I think, just to add to that, in terms—. I appreciate what everyone is saying, but I think, in terms of the wider registration context, it has been, since the 1970s, the principle that someone can be temporarily at an address, and away from an address, but still be able to register, and the implications of looking any further into that—obviously it impacts student registration, where they are eligible to vote at both their home and term-time addresses; people who work in two jobs. I think it's a long, 50-year sort of precedent that people are allowed to have more than one address, provided that they can show some degree of permanence at that address. It has always been a difficult thing for an administrator, when they get people who want to register at an address, if they say it's a second home, as to what tests do you apply to that. But, while I can understand what the concerns are, and how people could potentially use that as a loophole, which has been addressed, in the wider registration context, it's actually an established principle that you can register at two addresses if you have a degree of permanence at them. It would be a challenging thing to almost work backwards through, particularly when you look at the wider registration picture as well. 

Okay. And I'm going to throw a curveball on the residency question. We also know that this Bill is focused on parties, clearly, because that's, you know—. But we do agree that there are opportunities for independents to come forward, and smaller parties, and I'm sure we all know that there are members who register last minute as well. So, in the situation of a candidate, are we talking about a candidate—in practicalities now—are we talking about a candidate who registers last minute and then puts their nominations in at the same time? Is that, under this Bill, possible?

I'll ask Clare for some help with the technical side. I agree with you, Chair, in your observation about independents, because you'll know better than me that, the way party selection systems work, people are selected very well in advance, and, if they needed to have advice around qualifying and registration, they would get that early. Independents, by definition, don't have the same structure, and one of the things we've queried throughout as professionals is trying to protect the space and opportunity for independents to stand and how they would be supported. You may wish to discuss by-election provision, or the lack of, later.

I thought so. But could I, just on the technicals, around qualification—? From my reading of the Bill—and correct me if I'm wrong—legally, if somebody's registered at the point that they put their nomination papers in, I'm not sure there's any other further requirement over a backdate or a period for that to qualify. For local elections we know the provision, but this is for Senedd elections. Clare.

I think, generally speaking, in other election types, where you've got subscribers who need to support that nomination paper, they need to be on the register from the point that the notice of election is published, which would mean—. The register is updated on a monthly basis. So, if your—. Traditionally speaking, your notice of election is published towards the end of March; you'd need to be on the register by 1 March in order to be qualifying to subscribe a nomination paper. So, I'd assume that the same logic would be applied. So, it would prevent people registering literally the day before and then being added to the register. Because the way the register is set up, you can only be added to the register on a rolling basis. There is an update done on the last day that nominations can be brought in, but, in all other election types, when you're dealing with subscribers, you have to be on the register at the point that the notice of election is published. So, it would prevent people, from the notice of election being published, then trying to register—they wouldn't actually qualify under those criteria. But they can be added to the register as late as the first of the month in which that notice of election is published. 

So, in practical terms, Chair, slightly earlier, when we know we have the republished register. And, of course, the notice of election is 25 working days before polling day, and the nomination closure date comes quite quickly afterwards.

Yes, the notice on the nominations is—. But, as I say, we often come across in campaigning, 'Oh, we're not registered', and you've still got time to register to vote, for example. 

Yes, of course.


So, I just wanted to make sure that if someone—it could be a smaller party as well—hasn't got themselves on the list what type of timescales they would need to be on that list prior to a candidature being submitted. So, I think that that's something that we need to perhaps look at.

Thank you. It's a very practical thing that we can look at and help your civil servants with, about, whatever the law says, what, logistically, is the last point that somebody could safely register, and, before the nominations closed, they would produce that evidence as required. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd. Dwi am ofyn cwestiynau yng Nghymraeg, os yw hynny'n iawn. Felly, dwi am ganolbwyntio ar y system bleidleisio a'r effaith ar swyddogion canlyniadau a gweinyddwyr etholiadol, a jest cael eich barn am y systemau sydd gennym ni, ac efallai'r rhai rydym yn edrych arnyn nhw hefyd.

Yn eich tystiolaeth, rydych chi wedi siarad am y ffaith bod gennym ni restr gaeedig a system D'Hondt rŵan mewn rhanbarthau, pan ydym ni'n ethol pobl yn y rhanbarthau, ac rydych chi wedi dweud eich bod chi'n gwybod am y system yna. Allech chi jest sôn tipyn bach yn fwy am hynny? Achos mae hynny'n cael ei gynnig yn y Bil, fel y mae o rŵan, ond efallai bydd yn newid. Ydych chi jest yn gallu siarad tipyn bach am sut mae'r system yn gweithio rŵan ac a oes effaith ar y bobl rydych chi'n eu cynrychioli? 

Thank you very much, Chair. I want to ask my questions in Welsh, if that's okay. So, I want to focus on the electoral system and the impact on returning officers and electoral administrators, and I just want to hear your views on the systems that we currently have, and the ones that we are considering too.

In your evidence, you have mentioned the fact that we have a closed list and D'Hondt system at present in the regions, when we elect regional Members, and you've said that you are aware of that system and are familiar with it. So, could you just tell us a little bit more about that? Because that is proposed in the current Bill too, but that might change. So, could you just tell us a little bit more about how the system currently operates and whether there is an impact on the people you represent?  

Diolch yn fawr, Jane. Just to clarify, specifically, the closed list and the D'Hondt system, you'd like to—. Could I just invite Clare to go first, just so that we can rotate?

In terms of that system, obviously, it has been used, I think, since the Senedd came into existence. So, there's familiarity in terms of what that process is. And, as a form of proportional representation, it's probably one of the easiest things for people to understand, probably—from an elector point of view, they're just putting a cross on the ballot paper still—in terms of getting that communications message out.

From an administrator perspective, it's the fact that, in terms of your count processes, there are no major changes to have to adapt to that: again, it's just counting crosses, sorting into piles. The only difference then is for the constituency returning officer, as the case will be going forward, or the regional returning officer, as the case is now, to be able to work out that formula, where, obviously, the party that has the most number of votes would have that first seat, going forward, and then applying the formula that we're all familiar with in terms of the number of seats that they've already been allocated and the number of seats available, and then awarding the seats accordingly.

So, it's a straightforward system, given how complex some forms of proportional representation can be to get people's heads around, the time frame that we have, and the other complexities that are coming in as well. So, having something that's familiar and understandable I think is a really helpful thing for the 2026 Senedd elections, mainly because of that familiarity. We are all used to that system, we know how it works and it shouldn't cause any additional burden in any respect because it's a tried and tested system in Wales.

I would add, Chair, that if you look at the closed system—. If we look at that it's parallel with the regional list as is now, it is very easy to administrate, provided that the political parties are organised. I don't say that in any accusatory way. We know that there can be last-minute blips with paperwork, or possibly changes of candidate. So, it is quite different for them, obviously, not to be fielding constituency candidates in the traditional way. So, providing that they are organised, pre-check their papers in good time, as administrators that's not a challenge and it doesn't take much more time and effort and doesn't have a cost attached, and that's reflected in the RIA. Whether the voters see it in the same way is a different debate.

The D'Hondt system—. It was interesting, the evidence that you've had from previous colleagues and some of the written academic evidence about an alternative system and whether one generates a more precise outcome than another. I suppose that's an academic point. I didn't think that the difference was huge, although we have only ever operated D'Hondt. D'Hondt, when you're tired the next day—and, in the current situation, you are doing a regional count when you've done constituencies overnight—isn't the simplest thing to operate, and you recheck and recheck. But it is a very well administered and safe system that parties understand and we are familiar with it. I appreciate that the voting public might not be, but why would they be? It's a technical system for us to operate. So, on both questions, we're quite comfortable with the workability of the proposals. 


Diolch yn fawr iawn. Felly, jest i symud hynny ymlaen, os gwelwch yn dda, mae yna gyfle efallai i gael system hollol wahanol, hynny yw, efallai edrych ar flexible lists neu rywbeth fel yna, open list—dŷn ni ddim yn hollol siŵr. Allwch chi jest roi eich barn chi ar yr effaith fydd hynny'n ei chael ar y bobl rydych chi'n eu cynrychioli, os gwelwch yn dda? 

Thank you very much. So, just to move that forward, there is an opportunity perhaps to have an entirely different system, so, perhaps we might be looking at flexible lists or something similar, an open list—we're not entirely sure. So, could you just give us your views on the impact that that change might have on the people you represent, please? 

I think any new system that was given to us we would make work. There is always the initial view that we've not done it before, therefore it's a high risk. Equally, if you've done it before, you can be complacent, I suppose. So, if there were any new system that was given to us, we would operate it. I know this is a different election, but we've got the next known major election, the police and crime commissioner elections, and, of course, we've gone from a single transferable vote system back to first-past-the-post. We made the one work; we'll make the other one work. We've had referendums thrown at us, like the Brexit one, which was a one-off, that we've managed to work. And this all goes back to the principle that everything is decided early—the legislation is early, we can train people early, the guidance is early. So, I don't think anything would quite phase us, but we can only give you advice on what's before us at the moment or what we've done before, and Wales does have a very strong track record of delivering well, on time and without errors. So, we do show that we are adaptable, despite all the challenges that we have. 

Can I take that question a bit further? Because STV, for example, has been approved for local authorities, if they decide to operate it, therefore, have you gone through any development as to how that would impact upon an authority that decides to do that? Because this is something that is actually live and could happen in a next council election, for example. 

Thank you, Chair. I think, Clare, I'm right that the AEA, who are our main training partner—we have done that groundwork on should a council pass that decision and move to an STV vote, and therefore we would then have training and systems in place. I think, as the AEA, you have done some background work already. 

Yes. We attended the counts in Northern Ireland in May to understand a bit better in terms of the scale and complexity that STV, for the administrative side of things, introduces. If an authority was to elect—I think they've got until November next year to decide whether they wish to switch for 2027 to STV—there would be huge impacts on that local authority in terms of costs, training, because it is a completely different system, which, just speaking from an administrative perspective, would bring challenge for any local authority to actually run an STV count, particularly on a manual basis, which Northern Ireland do, but have got years of experience and that expertise in how you deliver an STV count, which currently we don't have in Wales. As Colin said, we can provide training, we can use that expertise from Northern Ireland to help those authorities, if they were to elect to go down that particular route, but it would be a huge undertaking. The length of the counts would be much longer, and just getting that understanding of how the various stages, where you have surpluses—. It is a completely different way of counting. For candidates and agents as well to understand that, for the general public to understand what is happening as well—. But it's all about timing. We don't have a view necessarily as to what the best system is. But all we'd ask for is that, whatever system is decided upon, there is sufficient time to provide that training to administrators to be able to deliver those elections safely, but also to make sure that the public are aware of what those changes are, what the implications are on them in terms of those changes to voting systems, as well as what they need to do with their ballot papers, to prevent any high levels of disenfranchisement from ballot papers being rejected at counts due to a lack of understanding of how that process works as well.

So, the costs in the RIA would be different as a consequence of a change of system then? 

Yes, probably more the extended counts, more complex counts, Chair. Our two pinch-points would be, 'Are the nomination processes simple, workable for everybody?' but then the counts and the complexity, and the length of time and the transparency maybe for candidates present. Others, I'm sure, have and will advise—maybe the Electoral Commission—is it sufficiently clear to the public. Our job is to make electoral registration and elections clear, and publicise and enable people to take part and exercise their rights. But then the Electoral Commission will probably talk more openly about is this going to cause more voter confusion; if it's a new system and it's different to the known, will people make more mistakes as a result and invalidate their ballot papers. So, there are two levels of risk—there's the electoral engagement and then whether we can administrate. The counts will be longer and more expensive, but, in the scheme of things, that wouldn't be a huge cost.


Gaf fi fynd yn ôl, os gwelwch yn dda, i'r system bleidleisio? Dwi eisiau jest deall hyn yn hollol, os gwelwch yn dda. Dŷch chi'n iawn i ddweud ein bod ni, yn y gorffennol, efo etholiadau ar gyfer comisiynwyr yr heddlu, wedi defnyddio STV, ac felly mae'r system wedi bod yna ar draws Gymru yn y gorffennol; dwi'n gwybod ei bod hi'n newid ar gyfer y flwyddyn nesaf. Felly, yn eich barn chi, os dŷn ni'n cael hynny dros Gymru yn yr etholiadau i'r Senedd nesaf, faint o hyfforddiant fydd angen ar y bobl dŷch chi'n eu cynrychioli, neu ymwybyddiaeth, i sicrhau bod y system yn gweithio? Oes gennych chi rywfaint o fesur ar hynny, os gwelwch yn dda?

May I return to the voting system, please? I just want to understand this in full, please. You are right to say that, in the past, with elections for police and crime commissioners, we've used STV, and so that system has been operated across Wales in the past; I know that it's changing for next year. So, in your view, if we do adopt that across Wales for the next Senedd elections, how much training will be required for the people you represent, or awareness raising, to ensure that the system works? Do you have an idea of how much training would be required, please?

Clare is more expert on training. I would say that it's not a huge amount because we're talking about training a relatively small group of people, but it's training and then practising. So, in terms of preparation or cost, in the scheme of things, it's not significant, but our concern would be that we'd need to probably do some trials for it so that people don't just get cold and challenged on the day of the count because they've not done it before. But everything is workable with good planning. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Gwnaf i symud ymlaen, os gwelwch yn dda, at jest un cwestiwn, os gwelwch yn dda, ar seddi gwag. Efallai—dŷn ni ddim yn siŵr—fydd yna ddigwyddiadau pan fydd seddi'n wag—hynny yw, efallai fydd pobl yn gadael, yn enwedig os ydyn nhw'n annibynnol, neu am ryw reswm arall. Dŷn ni ddim yn siŵr. Oes gennych chi ryw farn ar hynny a beth dŷn ni'n gwneud ar gyfer hynny? Oes gennych chi ryw brofiad o etholiadau sydd wedi digwydd, pan fo hynny wedi digwydd? Efallai fydd yna blaid, er enghraifft, sydd wedi rhedeg allan o bobl ar y rhestr ac felly does yna neb arall i lenwi'r sedd. Dŷn ni ddim yn siŵr beth fydd yn digwydd, ond oes gennych chi ryw fath o farn ar y sefyllfa os yw hynny'n digwydd?

Thank you very much. I'll move on, if I may, to just one question on vacant seats. We don't know, but perhaps there will be occasions when seats will be vacant—that is, individuals might leave, give up their seats, especially if they're independent members, or there might be some other reason behind that. Do you have any views on those events and what we'd do in those instances? Do you have experience that you might want to share of elections that have already take place, where that has happened? There might be a party, for example, that has exhausted their list, so they don't have another candidate to fill the vacancy. We don't know what would happen in those circumstances, but do you have a view on that particular situation if it were to arise?

I think, Chair, if I may—and I'm sure that Clare will have a view—in the background, when the Bill was coming together, before we saw the final language and content, the two things that we often discussed as a co-ordination board, were what provision there would be, if any, with vacant seats and recall. On vacant seats, which Jane has asked about, as the former regional returning officer for the Senedd for north Wales, I've had occasion when somebody off the regional list resigned and it moved to the next eligible candidate to accept it, and I've had the occasion with the sad passing of a Minister in Flintshire, where we had a by-election. In both cases, the system and the way of going about it was clear. In one it was a system rather like that being proposed now for the regional list in this Bill, and then we had the standard by-election.

The proposals, as in here, are workable. I think we've given evidence, and others have, that, if parties provide sufficient lists, the likelihood of that list being run out because of one or two resignations or the sad deaths of people in office are very, very slim, provided that the remaining candidates on the list remain eligible and willing to stand. I think we all think that it's a low risk that there would be a degree of disenfranchisement because we ran out of candidates, and I know one of the arguments put forward is that, because it's a whole list and it completes democratic representation beyond parties, there should be a sufficient number to represent the interests of that constituency. It would give us less work. I appreciate that one of the arguments is that it's less cost, because there wouldn't be a by-election. How we'd work a by-election when we've got a list system is really hard to envisage. My one concern throughout, as the Chair's already mentioned, is where would independent candidates stand, and, of course, that might not be a feature so much of the Senedd, but it's a very strong feature of local government, which we are versed in. And it is—if I can use a clumsy term—a slightly odd one out that, if an independent resigned or passed away, then it just remains vacant until the next election. That could be within a month, theoretically, of the new Senedd being formed. That does seem a slight oddity, but I'm not sure we could suggest a system that could work with by-elections with regional lists that wouldn't be cumbersome or out of sync. But I think that is one area to reflect on, and you may want to discuss recall as well. Clare, would you have any other view? This is how we see it, rather than how the electorate see it.


I agree with Colin. From one perspective, it does seem unfair that there would be vacancies, potentially, for most of the length of the Senedd if someone was to pass away or the lists were exhausted very quickly. I suppose there is precedent with the regional list system currently, where that is very much the case now, and it's never presented as a particular issue. I used to work as an electoral services manager, and we've had vacancies in our region in the past, and that has just been filled by the next person on the list, and I'm not aware of any issues in terms of that. But because of that list system, it's a very difficult thing, as Colin said, to come up with an alternative through a by-election system and how that would work in practice across the board.

One thing I wanted to come back to, very quickly, on the previous point, just to be clear, it's the supplementary vote that was used for police and crime commissioner elections previously, which is quite different to the single transferable vote. I'd put in a slightly different opinion that if we were to introduce the single transferable vote, that would be a completely new system. There's no precedent for that in Wales, and the training aspects of that would be quite extensive, because there are very few people with expertise, even within Northern Ireland itself, or within Scotland, where it operates as well. That expertise that would need to come in, I think, would come at quite a cost, and the level of training that would be needed for administrators, plus council staff, plus people that would be responsible for individual counts within that aspect would be quite a significant cost, going forward, as well.

If it's helpful, Chair, an STV for a list is a very different thing to an STV where, if we come to the PCC elections, as before, you then eliminate it to two final candidates.

Sori, gaf i jest ddilyn i fyny beth mae Clare wedi dweud, achos mae hynny'n bwysig iawn? Dŷch chi wedi sôn y bydd o'n costio arian i sicrhau bod pobl yn cael eu hyfforddi mewn system newydd ar draws Cymru. Jest i sicrhau fy mod i'n deall hyn, bydd yr arian yn dod wrth y Llywodraeth yng Nghymru. Nhw sy'n gyfrifol am dalu am system newydd, ie? Roeddwn i jest eisiau cadarnhau hynny.

May I just return to the point that Clare raised there, as that's very important? You've mentioned that it would cost a great deal to ensure that people are trained in a new system across Wales. So, just to ensure that I understand this, the funding would come from the Government in Wales, as they would be responsible for paying for the new system. Is that the case? I just wanted to confirm that.

We wouldn't be assured that's the case. We'd make that case, because our view is, rather like the UK Government with the Elections Act 2022 and what's changing for the system now, if a Government is introducing change, we would expect them to pay for the implementation, software, training, consequences. Training costs in the scheme, of your total RIA, are very, very small, so it might be a big increase in training, but it will still be a very small cost.

Yes, it's just on this point of vacancies. You wouldn't think there would ever be a point where we couldn't backfill a seat, but, with independents standing, there could be an opportunity. I know it's the Government's view that they'd rather the seat remain empty, and I've raised this again as a problem, as it could paralyse the Senedd, in a way, as well. You don't know the numbers of people here. You could, in a way, have a Government that couldn't pass any legislation and an opposition that couldn't come together to form a Government, so it could actually paralyse the work of this Parliament and increase the democratic deficit here in Wales.

I'd be interested in your views on a bit of a backstop in the legislation. I know it's probably not ideal in the spirit of the Bill, but, say, if a vacancy became available and it could not be filled by the list system, whether we do have a default first-past-the-post by-election to fill that seat to make sure we can actually get somebody in, it could be to break the deadlock here, shall we say, if it did become a situation where the Government couldn't pass any legislation. There has to be some mechanism for doing that, because you could have a Senedd term where nothing happens.

I would assume from that—and we're asking about the practicalities here—that would become a standard by-election, as you said now. Ignore the consequences of how that changes the proportional representation agenda originally set, but it is possible, therefore, to actually organise a by-election, I would have thought, if that was a backstop option.

If there were a backstop in the legislation put in.

Chair, I think James's point is a really fundamental one. There isn't a provision, as I see it, in the Bill. The scenario that you described, the risk of that occurring is very, very low, but everything is possible. What would happen if we had that scenario emerging? Would that mean the Senedd would have to think about some emergency legislation for it—


—which would be very, very difficult for us too? So, I think, if I was trying to look at the Bill in its entirety—is everything is covered—that scenario isn't covered, as far as I understand it, and it would be a useful discussion to think, 'Should there be some exceptional case?'

If I can push a little bit, do you think, from your view, from an electoral point of view, that there should be a bit of backstop in the Bill? I don't know how it works and what system it's done on, but do you think there should be?

Given the way you've put it, I think it needs proper consideration, because if—I'm not thinking of the functioning of the Senedd—we ended up with a constituency where electors are no longer represented properly, that's a failure of democracy.

I'll give another possible scenario—it happened in the last Senedd, in a sense—where you have a party where perhaps nearly everybody on that list leaves that party, and, therefore, you don't have a list to actually go back to. So, that's also a possibility, which we saw an awful lot last time.

Yes, and I'm not in any way dodging the question; I'm just trying to get back to the fundamental point. If constituencies should always be represented and we think there's a gap in the Bill, that gap needs to be filled with some provision. And that was another angle we were, until we saw the final draft of the Bill, just challenging, Chair—what was the presumption? So, if a candidate had stood for party x but had crossed to party y at mid term and then resigned, was the Bill robust enough to make it clear that the list that we'd be working off was the one on which they'd stood, not the party they're now part of? I'm not a lawyer, but my legal reading is that the Bill does cover that, but we try to cover all these eventualities, not because we're trying to be political, but because if our job is to administer elections, we don't want to think you've got this impasse, and then we are struggling too and public sentiment changes.

Can I ask you, as you mentioned—? We've talked a bit about vacancies, but obviously, one of the causes of a vacancy could be a recall.

And recall exists in Westminster, clearly. This is going to be a slightly different picture. There's no mention of recall in the Bill. Should there be a recall and, if there was one, would that be easily managed?

Thank you, Chair. We weren't clear whether to raise recall in evidence. I think some of the other evidence givers that we know well and we've spoken to privately just to make sure we were consistent, and we shared our views in advance—. The Electoral Commission might well be encouraged to speak on this as well. Obviously, it's a decision for you, but if we go back to the principle that we have, that this is all about democracy and we should as far as possible, on principle, be avoiding divergence between UK and Wales devolved elections, recalls have only happened a handful of times—one in Wales, of course, on a parliamentary level. But it's become quite a significant feature of democracy, where it's not a disqualification, but—and you'll know the rules as well as I do—where there is still some cause for doubt about the suitability of a candidate to remain in office. I think it's something that should be considered on the principle of consistency between UK and Wales if we want the rigour of Senedd elections to have the same level of public confidence. How we would make it work would be something we'd need to return to. We haven't discussed it at all, because it would have seemed perhaps premature, but we'd be very interested to see what your view is, given other evidence givers have already raised it and what the Electoral Commission say too, because it might well be that you'd want to come back with some supplementary evidence to say, 'If we were going to suggest that that needs to be considered, what might be the options for us to make that work in practice?'

I think we'd just add that, on the recall petition used for Westminster elections—obviously, there's a recall petition happening at the moment in north Northamptonshire—and the feedback, I think, of the Electoral Commission's reports on the Brecon and Radnorshire petition in 2019 as well as the one in Peterborough 2019, there are limits, and they suggest improvements on how that process could work. So, I think if you were looking at recall, it would be to be able to take those recommendations over the length of time that a recall petition happens, looking at whether the implications of what is currently in the Recall of MPs Act are fit for purpose for Wales, or how this could be adapted to take on board the feedback that's been learned from that, to have a more effective system of recall, going forward, if that's something that you're going to consider.

They're very complex logistical processes to run the petitioning side particularly. And we've only had the one, of course, in Powys previously, and we were all giving support to the then returning officer, and, of course, none of us had ever done it before, but it was a very, very complex, time-consuming process. But, repeating the point, it is a gap in the Bill that does suggest an inconsistency with the UK level at the moment.


Yes. I'll ask in English. Just so that I understand that, so the recall system is complex—is that what you said? Yes. Can I just understand a little bit more about why that is? Sorry, I'm just not aware—.

I think, from memory, it was particularly that first stage of giving, in such a large area, easy access to electors to be able to access and sign a petition to get to the required 10 per cent threshold. Possibly, in a smaller constituency, it might have been logistically easier, but that whole process, once it’s triggered, the by-election, we go back to something we know well.

So, it's the first part of that, the recall, to get to the 10 per cent.

And also as an RO, you can imagine it's quite a contested election with a lot of politics around it, so it just means you are working in a goldfish bowl for that particular election more than any other.

Yes, diolch, Gadeirydd. I want to talk about the new Senedd constituencies and boundaries and the challenges that we're going to face as we have 16 super constituencies, as I'm going to call them when they're paired up. So, how do you think the new constituency boundaries will affect returning officers and our electoral administrators?

If I give a first response, Chair, to James, and then I know Clare will have some very thoughtful views on this. I think it's fair to say that any returning officer who has got to manage boundaries that cover more than one local authority finds it quite challenging. However, we work really well and co-operatively across the piste, but inevitably, you’re working with two or more different electoral registration teams and colleagues, and we do have experience.

I think the Association of Electoral Administrators in their evidence referred to the fact that we can have some really big multiple combinations, where the constituency returning officer, as appointed, could be working with electoral administrators and deputies in three, four, five other authorities. So, it’s not about our inability to work together well, it’s just more complex, because all of those people aren’t in the command of that single authority—there’ll be boundaries that we’re not so familiar with.

So, the organisation of the registration and the processes for election are challenging and we’re already doing work behind the scenes with some presumptions about how they might be matched. The counts, though, particularly will be challenging, because if we’re going to have a centralised count—and we’ve now got a big geographical area with ballot boxes coming from many places and a far bigger count—then logistically, that will take more time and complexity to run. And I know this will be an unpopular comment, but I need to put it on the table now: that will mean there’ll be an even more serious discussion about next-day counts, not overnight counts, and we’re probably likely, as a board, to recommend that anyway on past experience. We’ve done constituency overnight and regional the next day. Candidate feedback has generally been good. We make fewer mistakes, people’s well-being is greater and we can recycle staff—

No. And we can recycle staff. We struggle with staffing sometimes. Currently, you can't, for well-being purposes, use somebody who's been out since 6.00 a.m. and then put them on a count at 10.30 p.m. And I only raise that, Chair, because, quite rightly, we're expected to count overnight, wherever possible. But I would say, one of the consequences—so that we can do it well and not make mistakes and so that you can have trust and confidence in the outcome—is that we'll probably recommend next-day counts because of the new logistics.

Clare will have more to say, but the point that we would all make is that the sooner the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales can complete the review and we know, the better we can plan. And that's not a criticism of them—it's quite a complex task. We need to have this done, we would suggest, earlier than the suggested timetable to give us more time and for you to know what constituencies you're fighting over. Clare, I know you'll have a detailed view, but have I broadly painted the picture okay?

Yes, you have, and I think cross-boundaries are a challenge and I think we've found that planning is already under way on how to deal with those cross-boundaries for whenever the next UK parliamentary election is held. And then the volume of cross-boundaries, as a result of the UK parliamentary boundary changes, have led to more authorities giving to others or taking in areas from other authorities, and that's only going to be compounded when you're pairing up the UK parliamentary constituencies to form your 16 Senedd constituencies. And while we believe that that is the only way that you can change constituencies in time for 2026, as Colin outlined, the fact that you could have five local authorities working together to form one constituency, but that one local authority could be in up to four different Senedd constituencies—that's a burden administratively on the local authority if the expectation is that they're accountable to all of the different returning officers. As Colin said, it's manageable, but it needs a lot of co-ordination centrally to be able to make sure that every single returning officer follows a similar process, which isn't always the case necessarily.

You've got local circumstances that will dictate what is possible and what is not. There are challenges in terms of postal votes, in terms of who issues postal votes. If you're issuing them from a central location, what does that mean for electors? Have they got a two-hour round trip if they need to collect a postal vote, if it has got lost or has been spoiled? There are lots of different challenges that need to be addressed as to what are the expectations of how those elections will run and what, practically, can you expect local authorities to do. Is it better that they have one central co-ordinator who is responsible for everything, or do you end up with the system that you've currently got, where local authorities are responsible for the bits that they've got? But is the scale of that change and the number of bits that they've now got to factor in too complex to administer that as well? And as Colin said, that's where we would encourage, where possible, for those pairings to be made sooner rather than later so that we know exactly what we're dealing with, that returning officers can understand what that complication is going to be for them and that we can begin to put into process the plans that need to be there. 

As I said, the plans for parliamentary elections are currently under way for cross-boundaries; they need at least a year lead-in time to be able to put in place all of those measures to work out all of the administrative complexities that cross-boundaries bring. And it will be a challenge, I have no doubt, in 2026 as to how that operates, but we just need clarity as to what those boundaries are going to be to be able to start putting plans in place. 


And then also Chair, a slightly humorous but true risk as well is that, when people are travelling further to places they don't know, and the sat nav lets them down, however much we try, we end up with ballot boxes circling Wales trying to find their new home on the night of a count. [Interruption.] It has happened. 

You talked about the timescales there as well, and that is a big risk, the timescale, to give the public confidence that elections can be held safely and accurately as well, to make sure everything is done properly. What would you like to see as the timescale? How quickly would you like to see those boundaries being announced? I'm sure as politicians we'd love to see them come out tomorrow, but just from your point of view, when would you like to see that come out? We now know what the Westminster boundaries are, so you would think that it shouldn't take that long, really, to do the pairings, because we are going to have a full review, obviously, in the Senedd election after the next one. So, I'm just interested in your view on what—

I would agree, Chair. I don't want to speak for or corner colleagues from the democracy and boundary commission, but the parliamentary constituencies have been known for some time. There are some where you'll have views, but probably most of us, if we spent 10 minutes together, would work out the pairings closely with a degree of consensus. I know we're trying to make sure that the average number of electors has a degree of consistency, but we know that community ties and coherence, and making sense to the public and to you as parties is as important. And we know Anglesey has got a particularly bespoke—Ynys Môn—position. I don't think it's a particularly long, complex process to have a draft proposal soon, and I think we would welcome you encouraging urgency so that we all know what map we're working off. 

It's important as well, not just for yourselves but for political parties as well, because they also need to get their ducks in a line with sorting out lists and—

And then you don't want to be leaving things to the last minute—

For all of us, less so the electorate at this point, because we're some way off, but I think for you to organise yourselves and for us—we're equally important in that planning process. 

You've given such comprehensive answers to some of the questions on the boundaries, I don't think I've got many more questions. But one I do want to ask is about the voter. We've talked a bit today about voter confusion and people getting a bit disillusioned with politics because, with the current system, you know what the regional system is, you know what your constituency system is, but this is going to be different again. Do you think there could be some issues for voters here and voter apathy with elections, with the consistent changes all the time? Do you think that's a risk to the elections with the changes to the boundaries? I know that some people would have liked it along local authority boundaries, perhaps, which would give people a more defined area of where they live, but do you think there is a risk?

I don't think the boundaries themselves will cause a voter to be unclear what they're voting for. The change to a list system will be far more different and confusing. Do they understand it; do they agree with it? They're two different questions. 'Well, I wanted to vote for candidate A, as opposed to a group', and it might have been on a personal basis, regardless of their party affiliation. So, I don't think it's the constituency itself, it will be that switch to the regional list that will be more of the voter issue. 'Why has it changed, how do I do it and what am I voting for?' That would be my answer.


I agree with Colin. I think it's getting that message across, but I think it's something that they're just becoming used to as well. Obviously, the scale of the cross-boundaries for UK parliamentary constituencies almost sort of is the precursor to the fact that you belong to x local authority, but you have a vote in x constituency at the UK parliamentary election, and you then have a different Senedd constituency, and then you've got a police and crime commissioner regional area as well. I think it's just part and parcel of the sort of changes to bring some equity to those constituencies that leads to people belonging to that, and I think as long as that's clear to electors, that's fine. I think it's more about how returning officers co-ordinate, and electoral registration officers co-ordinate, in terms of making sure that the elector is treated consistently across those areas—how people deal with processing postal votes, how people issue those, how they deal with various votes, those sort of things, and trying to bring consistency where possible, while taking into account local circumstances, so it doesn't feel different when they end up in a different area for different elections as well, I think. That's kind of a key point that needs to be brought and considered by those running elections going forward as well.

Yes. In the future, it will be a less of an issue for the elector, but I think for all those who want to engage appropriately in representation and lobbying with the Senedd's Members, as charities and third sector organisations, the new boundaries will take some working through. And if I could just say as an aside, a very experienced chief executive working between a group of sub-regional MSs as opposed to perhaps two constituency and several regionals—how that settles as democratic working after the election will be, I think, more of an issue. And I'm trying not to digress into an area that's not mine today—because my care and interest, like yours, is in democracy—but I can see that that could be quite confusing after the event. It's a very, very different model that we're working to.

On this point—. On the wider point now about resourcing, there's obviously going to need a lot more resources and training given to local authority staff on what they're going to have to do. How much do you anticipate extra resources are going to need to be put into local authorities to enable them to manage the scale of change?

Do you mean the election specifically, James, or afterwards?

On the boundaries and changes to that and how it's all going to work.

Well, I think, as we've covered, there's a considerable amount of co-ordination amongst returning officers. There's a lot of—. It's the classic iceberg analogy—I was saying to one of the clerks on the way in, at elections, you probably see 10 per cent of what happens, the public see 2 per cent. Much of the organisation, which is mundane and administrative, sits out of sight. It's getting all that training, that preparation, that co-ordination across different councils right, where they have to work together across the boundaries in a way they're not used to, and then making sure we train people while we have the systems in place so that we don't make an error in administration of ballot papers and nominations and then, specifically, in the count. So, again, it is all doable, but it is, particularly for the councils that will have the most multiples, quite a challenge that we're really looking to get our heads around, hence repeating the point—the earlier we know what footings we're working on, the better, because then we can plan that.

Lovely. I just want to move on to the frequency of Senedd elections, and I know from evidence that it's probably not something you'd like to comment on—it's a matter for the Senedd here. But I'm just interested, you know, what impact it could have on returning officers and electoral administrators, moving from the five to four—. I know we lost four-year terms when they were removed in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, but I'm just interested in your views on it, really.

Yes. Again, from a public point of view, you could say it's a slight oddity, with theoretically a five-year cycle for the UK and a five-year cycle for councils, why is it different? And I know it's one of the—

One of the defences for vacancies—

It could be a shorter term if there were a vacancy. It doesn't make any difference to us, it's just we'd do it every four years rather than every five. But arguably, if the Bill was enacted as presented, we have other—. Although we do this more often, we'd have other work taken away from us, like normal by-elections, which do occur. So, in resources terms, it's not a major challenge. Our concern's more about how the Senedd elections might fall alongside. Our biggest nightmare is a combined election of any sort, because logistically it's so difficult. Our biggest, biggest nightmare is we end up with a reserved and a non-reserved election falling, where the franchise is different, the system is different, and we know there's been a really strong commitment from Ministers of both Governments to avoid that, but there is still a legislative loophole, and we are terrified by it.

I don't disagree with you. With the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the UK Government could announce a general election any time they want, really, and that's—.

Could we work it? Could you work it? And going back to the fundamental part—. I know the Electoral Commission should be—. Our first principle is that people feel that democracy, whether it's registration or participation in voting, is simple and accessible. A combined election of reserved and non-reserved would be just undoable and would cause mass voter confusion.


On that point, the Government of Wales Act 2006 does give provision for varying the date of an election, and perhaps even extraordinary elections as a possibility. Would your preference in that situation be to encourage that provision to be enacted, or does this Bill actually allow that provision to be maintained, first of all? And would your—

As far as I'm aware, Chair, it does, yes.

And therefore would your recommendation be to actually enact that provision to avoid the situation you just said, where it's going to be, basically, a nightmare?

Yes, Chair. We would have to advise everybody strongly—and this isn't a political comment—that from a voter point of view there would be confusion and huge scope for error that you have to produce ID for one and not the other, you can vote at 16 for one and not the other, it's a different voting system; one's first-past-the-post, potentially, depending on which election it is. But the administrative complexity for us would create a high, deep-red risk that we would make mistakes. That's not because we're incompetent. It's just too complex and it's incoherent. I'm putting it quite strongly, because all my colleagues that I represent would say that, if they were here.

I wouldn't disagree. I was a councillor at the same time as we had a police and crime commissioner and something else and it was utter chaos, because people don't know what they're voting—. It sounds terrible, but you get three different ballot papers at one Senedd election—one for your constituency, one for your regional, one for the PCC—and they've got so many papers, they don't know what to do with them. I do agree with you on that point.

We do have voter reaction as well. I've had situations with combined elections where they only want to vote for the one, and the other one becomes—. It feels, unfortunately, a junior relative to the main election. And then when that—. Without boring you with detail, when that comes to accounting for the number of votes that you've issued and they're different figures, it is just administratively very, very complex.

Other than what the Chair said around the Government of Wales Act, what other things do you think we can do to mitigate that?

I suppose at the moment we've got some legislative protection, and the Electoral Commission have referenced that, about which elections can't fall. And we've got some ministerial agreements—and this isn't in any way to show disrespect to the Ministers involved, but we know circumstances can be extreme and can change. I think we'd prefer to see more tidying up, if I can put it that way, of legislation, with provisions to stop reserved and non-reserved elections being able to be on the same day, but I think the Chair's point is fundamental, should there be a risk, at the moment, the backstop is the emergency provision. But that should be enacted if necessary.

Okay. Any other questions from Members? I've got something, then.

It's feeling like a job interview now, Chair. [Laughter.] These are the hard ones, aren't they?

No, it's not these. Obviously, the Bill proposes the electoral management board model, and I just wondered how the electoral co-ordination board would fit in with all that.

That's the role I'm in here today, Chair. When I was the north Wales regional returning officer and the lead for elections in Wales, I helped set this up nearly seven years ago, and I've chaired it since, and since retiring as an RO. We've put a little introduction in our evidence, and it's not to talk ourselves up, but as a voluntary arrangement it has worked really, really well, and the proof is in the pudding. That's because—. It's a really good example of how Wales can network well because of scale and working culture amongst professionals, and that's where, going back to the very first question, we've had the senior civil servants in early, sharing intention for us to do those tests, and we worked with Clare and others. So, it's a good arrangement, and our job until—. If the other Bill is enacted, we stand down in probably the first quarter of 2025, because we would then transition to the new EMB—different but similar to the model you've heard about from your Scottish colleagues very, very recently. So, the arrangement has worked. Everything we've had thrown at us, we've made work, including running the Senedd elections during COVID, which was quite a challenge on safety. So, the EMB, going forward, can only strengthen what we do, with perhaps some more statutory powers. So, one of the things, for example—. I won't go into too much detail, but, if we look at the PCC elections for May, we have four what we call PAROs, police area returning officers. By agreement, consensually, we're agreeing directions that we then issue to everybody across Wales to do things consistently. So, some of the things that you've asked about how you would make the Senedd elections consistent—for example, timing of counts, certain processes, roles—we would agree things together to make sure everybody does it consistently, so it works well and you've got confidence, and you don't say, 'Well, why is that happening in constituency A and this in constituency B?'

So, the EMB proposal we're entirely comfortable with. I know there's been some discussion about should it sit in the democracy and boundary commission. We're quite relaxed about that, and we'll be giving evidence to the other committee next week. Provided it's got expertise, integrity and it's given a degree of independence and it's supported to do what it does well, it will do just as well as this board, so we don't have a difficulty with the proposal. But, hopefully, with the complexity of what we've talked about today, you'll see why there's a need for—it's not surprising that the third word is 'co-ordination' in our title—you can see there's a need for this to be on a firmer footing going forward.


Just before I bring James in, I think we had the evidence last week, on it sitting within the democracy and boundary commission board, that your Scottish counterparts felt that it should be separate from it. 

I did watch that session. I think they were careful, Chair, to say, 'Well, that's how it works for us.' I don't think they were in any way saying how it should be; I thought they were just giving you helpful advice. If it was separate, it would be a new body, with a new budget. There's those things to consider. I know one of the desires in Wales has been to reduce the complexity of the number of NGOs, as it were—national government organisations—of different types. We're having quite detailed discussions with the chair and the chief exec of the commission about how to make it work. If I honestly thought, having set this up and run it for seven years, that that proposal would in any way curtail our ability to operate properly, I would tell you. I don't, provided the commission adopt it in the way that we're recommending in practice. 

I'll come back to Clare in a minute on that last question, but James had a quick question. 

Yes, it's just on the review mechanism, and the Llywydd setting up a committee after the election to see what went well, what didn't go well. I'm just interested in the work that you'll be doing after the elections to prepare for that committee review and look back at the legislation to see how it can go better and what resources you'll need to put into that to make sure we do get the best elections possible here in Wales, because what we wouldn't want to see is that review committee come forward and then people scrabbling around trying to go back. So, I'm just interested in what preparation work you're doing. 

Yes, and, generally, on all elections, the Electoral Commission has a consistent role in producing a proper and challenging post-election evaluation. That's for all elections in Wales—reserved and non-reserved. Clearly, when it comes to your own elections—Senedd or local government—the Senedd might have its own reviews. Clare and I, and others, do our own behind-the-scenes practical reviews about how well we did administratively, and we discuss that with parties. So, I often meet the political party secretaries on election planning too. So, there are all sorts of ways of going about reviewing elections. And it'd be interesting to see how the Senedd might propose pulling all that together. Because we wouldn't want an Electoral Commission review over here, and a Senedd review over there. But, clearly, I think, for 2026, quite a lot of surveying of voter experience, understanding of the lists and the new system, will be as important as how well we've done in pulling it off with yourselves as parties. 

Okay. Clare, did you want to add anything to that?

I think, just to say, in terms of the EMB, we do have concerns. Obviously, the reason the Scottish EMB is as successful as it is is because it can rely heavily on the expertise of highly knowledgeable and long-term electoral administrators. The secretary of the EMB in Scotland is very much integral to that. And it's making sure that the boundary commission going forward have that level of expertise that understands the complexity of electoral registration, not only in the Senedd and local government elections in Wales, but the bigger picture of the sort of increase in divergence issues that are becoming one of the biggest issues for administrators in Wales at the moment, and having that awareness to be able to plan that programme of work, to be able to review things effectively and carry on in the direction that the Wales Electoral Coordination Board have. But it's making sure that that resource is provided to them to be able to do that effectively and mirror what Scotland are able to do in terms of utilising their knowledge and expertise to the level that they do as well. 

Chair, this time next week, myself, Clare, and the Electoral Commission together, are giving evidence to the Local Government and Housing Committee on that specific point. And if you do get five minutes to look at our evidence, you'll see—. 'Conditions' sounds like the wrong word, but there are certain ways of working and principles, including retaining expertise, that we're saying, 'For this to work in that commission, it has to be like this.' And provided that's followed through, we've got confidence it will work. 

Okay, thank you. Anyone else want to add anything? Well, in that case, I think we've gone through all our questions. But thank you very much for your time this morning.

Pleasure, Chair.

It's been very interesting to have your position on the practicalities, in particular, of how we can deliver these elections if these changes are proposed, and the timescales you require, because, as you will be aware, I think the proposal is to have this, if it goes well—it might not, who knows—through the Senedd by the summer, which will give you, basically, 20 months to know what's coming in 2026, but you've still got to sort out which constituencies would be paired and who you'll be working with and so on. So, is your expectation, on that final point, that you'd need—? What's the minimum you would need to make sure everything is sorted out?


I know you've had the Gould principle thrown at you—

—and quoted all the time and we quote it a lot, but I think we would go further back, because, in practical terms, having legislation passed six months or more in advance sounds sufficient, but we've then got the conduct Orders, which we would regard as being part of the legislation. But then, Clare, we've got all the practical—. The Electoral Commission then turn all that into practical guidance for you as parties and candidates, for us as administrators, the voters. So, the six-month rule can be misread. We would obviously say that this being passed as soon as possible so the conduct Order can follow and the Electoral Commission, particularly, can enable us with guidance—so, the maximum time possible. That's a very general answer, but it's the reality.

So, we would want to see the pairing of constituencies in particular as soon as possible.

Yes. And I appreciate that the Bill has its process, but I don't see why a provisional set of pairings, which then rely on the Bill being enacted, just don't converge. This doesn't have to be sequential, I don’t think, Chair, if that makes sense as an explanation.

On that final point, perhaps I shouldn't raise this, but, as you are aware, there is a third Bill coming down the line, which—

I have referenced it, I think, in the evidence.

You have, but what complexity would that add to your roles? Because it's mainly focused on candidate lists and very much focused on parties. But what complexity would that add to your roles in actually being able to develop and deliver the elections?

Well, although it might be the highest profile Bill around debating terms at some point, it's actually the simplest potential Bill for us in practical terms. It's the one of the three—this might sound odd—I've personally probably spent most time on, working with civil servants, again, on how to make it work behind the scenes.

Within the election timetable as set, we have worked on a way of making it work where it won't delay or extend the timetable and will be very workable for us as practitioners, because, of course, the challenge that we have, and I'm sure you'll understand this in simple terms—. The first principle is that the RO treats things at face value—whatever gender disclosure is made, we will not challenge it. That is an issue for parties and candidates in the way that they would disclose and whatever the requirements are. Then, of course, a constituency returning officer just has to make sure the vertical will work. And then there will have to be some checks, I presume—. I'm digressing slightly. There will have to be some—

Can I just remind you that there's certain information that might not be in the public domain at this point, because the Bill hasn't been published?

Of course, yes. I don't think I'm disclosing anything to say—

—to say that the—. 'Can the election timetable work? Can we fit it in?', I think that's a valid thing for you to say. Yes, we could. And the only issues will be, because I think it's been quite known—it will be the vertical, horizontal. So, if I could just explain, the constituency returning officer would take things at face value—I'm not going to talk about gender descriptions or disclosures—at face value that the gender as presented were true. But, of course, there'll have to be some check at a national level, because, as a constituency returning offer, you only look at your own patch. How does that read across Wales? Without going into detail and divulging anything that's confidential, we've been advised on how could we make that work, that we could administrate well in the time available to us. And as and when that Bill is published, we would give more evidence to give surety that we could put it into practice.

And we will welcome you back on that evidence, because, clearly, that Bill is likely to come to us.

But our job has been to talk about workability in the timescale, not to talk about the efficacy of the proposal.

Thank you. Well, to both of you, thank you very much. You will receive a copy of the transcript. If you see any factual inaccuracies, can you please let the clerking teams know as soon as possible so we can get them corrected?

Thanks, Chair, for the welcome received. I was saying to the clerk on the way in, I can see the sequence you've gone through—the proposers, through the analysists, and now you're down to the doers. So, hopefully, we've brought it to life in a way that's been interesting and not too practical and administrative for you.


And the doers are the most important, because it doesn't work without you.

Pleasure, Chair. Thank you.

3. Papurau i'w nodi
3. Papers to Note

For Members, we move on to the next item, which is papers to note. There is a paper, which is the letter from the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution that responds to our follow-up questions to him after our first evidence session with the Counsel General and Minister in charge. Are Members content to note that paper? It gives us quite some detailed things we may wish to consider in further evidence.  

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 4, therefore, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to exclude the public from the remainder of today's meeting. Are Members content to do so? You are. Therefore, we will now move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:50.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:50.