Local government 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 the Assembly 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 Assembly elections.
The next ordinary local government elections in Wales are therefore scheduled for the first Thursday in May 2021. As this is the same day as the Assembly ordinary general election, the Welsh Ministers must make an order to move the day of the elections.
The Welsh Government have committed that local government councillors elected in May 2017 should be allowed to serve a 5 year term. It is therefore likely that the next local government election will be on the first Thursday in May 2022. This will not be on the same day as the Assembly ordinary general election.
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 2003 Assembly elections. 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 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.
Unlike with Assembly 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).
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 the Assembly must be held on the first Thursday in May, 5 years following the last Assembly elections. As such, the next Assembly general election is due in May 2021.
These elections held every 5 years are known as Assembly ordinary general elections.
The Assembly 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 Assembly 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 Assembly 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 Assembly and specify the new day when the election should be held.
If the seat of an Assembly Member representing a constituency becomes vacant, under section 10 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Presiding Officer must (unless an ordinary Assembly 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 an Assembly Member 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 Assembly Member elected was an independent or no eligible members remain on the party list, that seat will be vacant until the next Assembly ordinary general election or extraordinary election. This arose in the Scottish Parliament which has a similar electoral system .