Carmen Ria Smith, NUS Wales Deputy President 2017/18
Rob Simkins, NUS Wales President 2019/20
Zamzam Ibrahim, Vice President Society and Citizenship 2018/19 and National President 2019/20
Votes at 16 has been one of NUS priorities for a nearly 20 years, particularly for the Presidents of NUS Wales. The intention behind this campaign was simply to align voting rights with the age at which people have the right to leave education, join a political party and undertake full time employment. NUS’ 2017 #GenerationVote campaign demonstrated a burning appetite amongst young people to have a say over the decisions that have a lasting impact on their lives and spurred on by NUS Scotland’s campaign win in June 2015, we knew change was possible in Wales.
Successive NUS Wales Presidents worked with the Welsh Government and others to push for proposals to introduce votes as 16 in both local and Welsh Assembly elections. We also campaigned for modernising democracy through bringing in automatic voter registration, online voting and the use of mobile or alternative polling stations to give students more flexibility in how we vote.
Working with NUS colleagues we developed a campaign guide with the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the British Youth Council (BYC) and Fair Vote Campaign Toolkit, providing an overview of the political opportunities and objectives of the Votes at 16 campaign. The guide also provided advice for students’ unions on how to engage with elected representatives at a Day of Action.
We asked students' unions to host EqualiTea parties from 18 June to 2 July 2018 to question the concept of the EqualiTea events, developed by the Houses of Parliament, and consider whether we were in fact an equal society over a cuppa. We formally re-launched the campaign in October 2018.
NUS Wales fought the UK government on their plans to change the voter registration system in 2015. This required individuals to re-register and would have had huge repercussions in Wales, cutting off thousands of citizens from voting in the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections. We called on the UK government to retain the old register until after this election.
We recognised that political participation of young people is not just about democratic reform so also collaborated with Electoral Reform Society Cymru on their Missing Voices project in 2017 to understand and transform peoples’ relationship to politics.
In January 2018 the Welsh Government announced that it plans to give 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in local elections. We continued lobbying parliamentarians ahead of a National Assembly vote later that year to lower the age for its own elections, which we won.
After countless years of campaigning, we were finally able to celebrate an historic day on 27 November 2019 when votes at 16 came into force in Wales in time for the Welsh Election in 2021.
Now 16 and 17 year olds have the right to vote in Wales, our focus is mobilising students to cast their ballots in the run-up to the 2021 Election. We will be working with the Electoral Commission and students’ unions to ensure students are registered to vote at the appropriate address and campaigning to get students’ voices heard throughout the election.
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