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Bill to manage Senedd election during covid pandemic approved

Cymeradwyo bil i reoli etholiad y Senedd yn ystod y pandemig COVID

An emergency bill to ensure the next Senedd election can happen safely, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, has been approved by Members of the Senedd.

The Welsh Elections (Coronavirus) Bill introduces a range of measures to make it easier for those affected by the pandemic to vote.

It will also significantly address the risk of there being an extended period where the Senedd cannot meet that would arise if the Senedd dissolved as normal, on 7 April, and the election could not proceed on 6 May because of the pandemic.

The Welsh Government is clear that the election should go ahead on 6th May 2021 as intended. Everybody should prepare on that basis.

But the Bill makes it possible to delay polling day should the pandemic present such a serious threat to public health and the conduct of the election, that it is not safe to hold the election at that time.

The Bill will become law following Royal Assent by Her Majesty the Queen, which is anticipated in the coming weeks.

Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said:

“I’m pleased Members of the Senedd have given their approval for the Welsh Elections (Coronavirus) Bill to become law.

“Given the unpredictable nature of the virus, there is significant uncertainty about what the public health situation will be like in May. That’s why we’ve acted now to respond to the potential risks to the election arising from the pandemic.

“The Bill Members of the Senedd have approved today, by a large majority, will help ensure people can exercise their democratic right to vote in the election, but to do so in a safe and secure way.

“The Welsh Government appreciates the huge efforts being made by the staff who run our elections to ensure it can be held safely on Thursday 6th May.”

Notes to editors

Provisions in the Bill include:

  • An ability for a voter to apply for an emergency proxy vote where, in the period ahead of the poll, a voter or their already nominated proxy becomes unable to participate in person on the day of the poll because of a reason relating to coronavirus, such as the need to self-isolate;
  • Allowing the Senedd to keep sitting for up to seven calendar days before the election (instead of it being dissolved 21 working days before the election as is usually the case). This will allow the Welsh Government and Members of the Senedd to continue to deal with legislation related to the covid pandemic and enable a postponement of the election should that prove necessary during the final month before the poll is held;
  • Allowing for the postponing of the Senedd election for up to 6 months, to a date no later than 5th November 2021, if this is needed due to public health reasons. The postponement and the fixing of a new date for the election would be proposed by the Presiding Officer and would require the agreement of two-thirds of Members.

The Bill also enables local government by-elections to be postponed beyond 6 May 2021 if required, to a date no later than 5 November 2021.

The Bill will apply only to Senedd elections and local government by elections in 2021 and not to any subsequent elections.