Wales’ party leaders must do more to engage with 16 and 17-year-olds who will be able to vote for the first time in May’s Senedd elections.
An open letter from 32 organisations and academics urges them to “ramp up” engagement with the 100,000 new voters.
The Senedd election on 6 May will be the first time 16 and 17-year-olds can vote in Wales.
The new law, passed in 2019, also means qualifying foreign nationals can vote for the first time.
Scotland gave 16-year-olds the vote in 2013 for the 2014 independence referendum and they can now take part in Scottish parliament and local elections.
The open letter’s signatories include the children’s commissioner, Race Council Cymru, the National Union of Students (NUS), Urdd Gobaith Cymru and Youth Cymru.
It calls on parties to publish easily-accessible and engaging manifestos targeted at young people, consider new voters when creating policies and participate in hustings and other events for newly-enfranchised voters.
The Senedd is holding a Vote 16 Week from Monday to raise awareness among young first-time voters.
It marks the start of its wider campaign to encourage everyone eligible to vote to Use Your Voice.
People who want to take part in the Senedd election need to register to vote by 19 April.
First vote ‘crucial’
New polling by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) and YouGov found that 69% of 16 to 24-year-olds thought the Senedd elections were important – a higher proportion than in any other age group, except the over-65s.
The polling also suggests the youngest age group are much more likely to have engaged in political activity in the past 12 months – 77% compared with about half of people in all other age groups.
Jess Blair, director of ERS Cymru said: “We know that the first vote is crucial to building democratic habits that last for a lifetime but this election is unlike others in Wales’ history.
“With so many new voters, parties must pull out all the stops to ensure they are reaching out to every community, and help create voting habits that last a lifetime.
“This has the potential to build a new generation of active citizens. Parties must not miss this chance, and we all have a role to play in making the May elections the accessible, democratic success they can be.”
Nirushan Sudarsan, from Cardiff, is one of the signatories of the letter and is a peer leader for Llais Ifanc, part of Youth Cymru.
He said: “This year’s elections are vitally important for young people in Wales. As we see the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on communities, health and the economy, we need to ensure young people’s worries and concerns are heard by people in power.
“With a whole new cohort of 16 and 17-year-old voters who bring new ideas, energy and thoughts to the table, elected representatives need to commit to ensuring young people are at the top of their agenda when campaigning and engaging with voters.”
What have Wales’ political parties said?
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for the Future, Delyth Jewell MS urged 16 and 17-year-olds to “make use of their rights” by registering to vote.
“[They can] use their vote to create the future they want to see for themselves and society,” she said.
“People who don’t vote end up having their futures decided by other people, which is why it’s crucial that young people take this rare opportunity they’ve been given to vote for radical change in May.”
A Welsh Labour spokesman said: “Our young people are valued and we want them to know they have place as an active citizen in Wales.
“The pandemic has changed so much of our lives – we want young people to shape the recovery and Welsh Labour will work alongside them to build an fairer, stronger and greener nation.”
Leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies MS said his party “welcomes the opportunity to engage with all those now old enough to vote for the first time”, adding it was “the most important Senedd election since 1999”.
“A stronger and more successful Wales is only possible if we engage and listen to our next generation and we’ll be doing exactly that in the run up to May,” he added.
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