When are devolved elections held?

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Local government elections

Ordinary elections

Section 26 of the Local Government Act 1972 provides that county and county borough councillor elections are to be held in 2017 and every fourth year after 2017. Consequently, this section prescribes that the term of office for councillors is 4 years. Similar provision is made in relation to town and community councillors in section 35. Where elections are held every 4 years they are known as “ordinary elections”.

References below to local government elections mean county, county borough, town and community council elections.

Section 37ZA(1)(a) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 prescribes the ordinary day of when an ordinary local government election will be held. The section prescribes that an ordinary election will normally be held on the first Thursday of May.

However, the Wales Act 2017 inserted a new restriction into the 1983 Act. Under section 37ZA(2) and (3), the day of an ordinary local government election in Wales cannot take place on the same day as Senedd Cymru ordinary general election. Where this arises, the ordinary local government election is held on the day prescribed by the Welsh Ministers in an order. Before this provision was inserted, local government elections could have been held on the same day as Senedd elections.

Every county, county borough, town and community councils follow the same electoral cycle and should hold their next ordinary elections at the same time. This is commonly referred to as “all out elections”.

Changing the date of the ordinary election

Section 37ZA(1)(b) of the 1983 Act enables the Welsh Ministers to make an order amending the ordinary day of elections. Under section 37ZA(1)(b), such an order must be made no later than the 1 February in the year preceding the year in which the order is to take effect. This power enables the Welsh Minister to change the day of elections but not the year.

Under section 87 and 106 of the Local Government Act 2000, the Welsh Ministers, may, by order change the years that local government elections may be held. The Welsh Ministers have made a number of Orders under this provision. The first Order postponed all local government elections in Wales from 2003 to 2004. This was to prevent local government elections being held on the same day as the elections to the (then) National Assembly in 2003. Another Order was made in 2014 to move local government elections from 2016 to 2017. This was to prevent local government elections from being held on the same day as the (then) Assembly elections and elections for Police and Crime Commissioners. The Welsh Ministers also relied on this power to postpone elections to the Isle of Anglesey County Council for one year.

By-elections

Unlike with Senedd elections, there are no provisions to allow entire councils to hold extraordinary elections. However, by-elections (also known as “casual vacancies”) may be held where a councillors seat becomes vacant (section 86, Local Government Act 1972).

Where there is a by-election, the councillor elected will hold office until the date on which the councillor they replaced would have retired. A casual vacancy must be filled within 35 days of the vacancy arising. However, if an ordinary election is due to be held within 6 months of the vacancy arising, a by-election should not be held unless prescribed circumstances apply (section 89, Local Government Act 1972).

Senedd elections 

Ordinary general elections 

Unless provision is made to the contrary, section 3 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 prescribes that ordinary general elections to Senedd Cymru must be held on the first Thursday in May, 5 years following the last Senedd elections. As such, the next Senedd general election is due in May 2026.

These elections held every 5 years are known as Senedd ordinary general elections.

Extraordinary elections

The Senedd may resolve to dissolve itself (section 5, Government of Wales Act 2006). Where this occurs, the Presiding Officer must propose a day to hold an election. This is known as an extraordinary Senedd election.

If an extraordinary general election is held less than six months before the date on which an ordinary general election would normally be held, that ordinary general election won’t be held. The date of subsequent ordinary general elections would not however be affected, i.e. they would still normally take place on the first Thursday in May at intervals of five years after that in which the ordinary general election which did not take place was due to have been held. 

Changing the date of election

Under section 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Presiding Officer may propose to change the day when the Senedd ordinary general election is held. This may either be brought forward 1 month or postponed 1 month.

Where the Presiding Officer makes such a proposal, Her Majesty the Queen may dissolve the Senedd and specify the new day when the election should be held.

By-elections

If the seat of a Member of the Senedd representing a constituency becomes vacant, under section 10 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Presiding Officer must (unless an ordinary Senedd general election is due to be held within 3 months of the vacancy arising in which case the seat will remain vacant until that election) arrange an election for this seat to be filled within a 3 month period. These elections are commonly known as by-elections.

At a by-election, electors cast only one vote, for a named constituency candidate, (as opposed to the two votes at a general election, when electors are electing both a constituency member and regional members).

If the seat of a Member of the Senedd representing a region becomes  vacant, the next person on that party’s regional list at the last election will be elected (section 11, Government of Wales Act 2006). If the regional Member of the Senedd elected was an independent or no eligible members remain on the party list, that seat will be vacant until the next Senedd ordinary general election or extraordinary election. This situation has arisen in the Scottish Parliament which has a similar electoral system .