Plans to reform the electoral system in Wales will create an opportunity to engage young people, according to a cyber security expert.
The Welsh Government announced plans in the Senedd this afternoon, including lowering the voting age to 16 in local elections, and the chance to vote online.
Dr George Theodorakopoulos, an expert on online security, co-wrote a proposal which was submitted to a government consultation. He said online voting would encourage people to take part in future elections.
“It’s all about participation, especially in local elections. If we are targeting young voters who have some of the lowest turnouts, we need to go digital. People are born with smartphones today. Why not make the most of that?” Dr Theodorakopoulos said.
But he warned that care needs to be taken to ensure voters’ online security. “We see stories in the news about voting systems being hacked. We need to be careful, and there are a lot of discussions around this in the academic community.”
Another major plan outlined by the Welsh Government would allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in council elections – although this would not apply to Welsh Assembly or UK government polls.
The plans have had a mixed response in the capital city. Cardiff Council said it supports the move, believing it will help to enthuse local young people about politics. Around 7,500 people in the city would gain the right to vote under the plans.
Ashley Lister, the Labour councillor for Grangetown, said it would send a message to young people that their voices would be heard.
“I think it’s really important that we allow young people to have a say in democracy,” Cllr Lister said. “Local councils affect a lot of young people’s lives. I think it’s only right that they have a say in how that council plays out.”
But members of opposition parties also voiced concerns over how the proposals would be implemented. Rhys Taylor, who represents Gabalfa for the Liberal Democrats, warned the Welsh Government needed to ensure young people were well informed, if they were to make the most of new voting powers.
“We have to recognise that we need to educate young people around the act of voting, political parties, and political systems. That will come through as part of education reforms that [Education Minister] Kirsty Williams is delivering in government, but we need to separate that from the fact that 16 and 17 year olds are full citizens.”
Although the plans were raised at the Assembly today, no date has yet been set for a debate or vote on the proposals.