Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 25 OCTOBER 2005
Q120 Mr Martyn Jones: Did the Commission's
research not pick up any indication of voter confusion about what
additional Members are?
Ms Jenkins: It certainly picked
up voter confusion about the electoral system, that is undoubtedly
Q121 Mr Martyn Jones: I thought it
Ms Jenkins: People do not understand
the electoral system and how people are elected. As you know,
many people working in elections do not understand it either.
There is undoubtedly a level of voter confusion about the electoral
system, but that does not impact on whether or not they vote,
interestingly. The issue is getting people into the polling station.
Once they are in the polling station they will vote whether or
not they understand the electoral process.
Q122 Mr Martyn Jones: That I am sure
is correct but in this modified de Hondt system that we have in
Wales there is an additional vote. Did any confusion come out
about what the additional vote was for? Did they think they might
have to vote for some other party? Did that not come out?
Mr Mathias: I think it is true
to say that the research revealed an element of ignorance that
there were going to be two votes and indeed what they were supposed
to do with the second vote, that is certainly the case. We were
also asked specifically by the First Minister Rhodri Morgan to
look at the issue of changing to one vote rather than two because
people were so confused about it, if you like, and that was the
rationale for us to look at it, that there was an element of confusion
in the public mind. Indeed, if you went to one vote rather than
two you would remove that element of confusion. On the other hand,
the disadvantage would be that there was already a second vote,
and a percentage of voters (we do not know how many) take advantage
of that second vote and use the second vote tactically or consciously
to vote for the same party or a different party, and to take it
away from them would be depriving them of that vote which they
have already got. Also it is arguable that one vote rather than
two would further disadvantage minor parties and independent candidates,
which is certainly a consideration to bear in mind. However, the
arguments for and against one vote rather than two are less clear-cut,
I think, in our minds anyway, than the other issue.
Q123 Mr Crabb: Just so I am clear,
are you saying therefore that the proposed changes in the White
Paper, particularly relating to electoral arrangements, could
lead to voter turnout falling below the 38% which we saw in 2003?
Mr Mathias: What we are saying
is currently, as you have heard, there is a degree of ignorance
and lack of awareness about the voting process, which is probably
why this particular issue amongst others has not come to the fore
in the public consciousness. If however there is a great political
battle about this particular proposal and it does come to the
fore in the public mind then I think it could serve to undermine
public confidence and could serve to foster distrust of politicians,
which we know already exists out there to a considerable degree,
so that is the danger.
Q124 Hywel Williams: Can I just confirm
with you, however, that in terms of any confusion that you might
have discovered in the research that confusion does not concern
what is called the Clwyd West problem? It is about a number of
other things but not about that particular issue?
Mr Mathias: Yes, that is correct.
Q125 Mrs Moon: I wonder if I could
just take you back to your focus groups. It is very striking in
relation to this 38% and the impact on turnout. Turnout for an
election involves commitment to the democratic process, as in
some respects does turning out for a focus group. Did you look
at how many people who came to your focus group failed to turn
up to elections? Have you carried out any research into the majority
of people who are not turning out for elections as to whether
or not the electoral system has an impact on why they are not
turning out? Have you looked at that issue?
Ms Jenkins: Yes we have because
the focus groups are not randomly selected. We particularly looked
at people in different groups so for example we selected voters
and we selected non-voters and we selected what the researchers
describe as "differential" voters, that is, people who
vote, for example, at the general election but not at the Assembly
elections, so that we could probe why they are voting in one election,
why they are not voting in another, why they have never voted.
So we look at those different aspects to try and get a full view.
Can you remind me of the second part of your question?
Q126 Mrs Moon: It was whether or
not the electoral system impacted on whether or not people turned
out. There was the complicated issue of people voting for a list
but that was not impacting?
Ms Jenkins: It has no impact at
all. We particularly looked at whether or not the electoral system
impacts on turnout and our view is that it does not have any impact.
I think there has been quite an extensive body of research done
on that. The Independent Commission on PR was looking at that
because there is an argument that proportional representation
encourages people to vote, but in Wales and Scotland so far the
experience has been that it has not impacted on voter turnout
Q127 Mrs Moon: Can you tell us why
they were not turning out? What were you being told was the reason
people do not turn out for Assembly elections?
Mr Mathias: A whole host of reasons.
It is easier for us to ask the question why is the turnout in
Wales lower than the turnout say for parliamentary elections to
Westminster. One of the prime reasons there is lack of knowledge
about what the Assembly is doing, which is at least in part down
to the media structure in Wales, but an ignorance about the Assembly
and ignorance about the electoral process supporting the Assembly,
which is one of the reasons why we recommended (and we are very
pleased to see our recommendation included in the White Paper)
that the Assembly should be given powers to publicise its own
elections. There is legal doubt about this at the moment and we
are very grateful that is going to be in the White Paper because
this could be a means of helping to address that particular problem.
Q128 Hywel Williams: Some of the
thinking about the Assembly sees it that Assembly elections are
second-order elections. Does the voting system mark it out as
being a second-order election and would first past the post impact
it differently and increase the perceived importance?
Mr Mathias: I do not think so.
As Kay has been saying, we do not believe from our research that
the method of election has any particular impact on turnout. It
is far wider issues about engagement with the political process
and engagement with the political process in the Welsh Assembly
as distinct from Parliament. Those are much more important issues
in terms of the turnout than the method of election.
Q129 Mrs Moon: We heard from Lord
Richard prior to your submissions and, as you know, the Richard
Commission recommended an increase of Members from 60 to 80. If
that had been followed what impact would that have had on your
preferred system of Assembly elections, if we were looking at
Mr Mathias: We felt it was not
within our remit to look at the structure or the powers of the
Assembly. We are here to comment on specifically electoral issues.
So the straightforward answer to your question is this is not
something we have considered and not something we have a view
Q130 Mrs Moon: The Richard Commission
also recommended a different electoral process, however. Did you
not look at that?
Mr Mathias: No, we have not looked
at that and there is a very good reason for that. There are currently
five different electoral systems in operation across the United
Kingdom. It is the role of the Electoral Commission to give guidance
on and in some sense regulate aspects of all those elections.
It is therefore not appropriate for us, we feel, to state a preferred
system of election one against another because we have a responsible
role in connection with all of them. So we do not state a preference
and we have not considered whether one system is better than another.
Q131 Mrs Moon: But you are saying
that the system that is being recommended in the White Paper is
not one that you would see as being positive so you are making
a comment on one system.
Mr Mathias: We are making a comment
on a change to an existing process, not whether one whole electoral
system should be changed to another. We feel that is a different
issue because the additional Member system operates, as I have
said, around the world and the proposal here is moving outside
how any other country operates, and we felt that was a legitimate
question to comment on, quite distinct from suggesting that STV
is better than AMS or vice versa.
Ms Jenkins: I think as well one
reason why we considered it important to comment was that the
White Paper justifies the proposed change in the electoral system
as being reported voter confusion and concern and indeed refers
to reports of the Electoral Commission on the 2003 elections,
and so we felt it was important to look at the issue from the
point of view of voter participation and how we thought it would
impact potentially on voter participation at the 2007 election.
Q132 Mrs Moon: Thank you. Just very
briefly, are you able to comment on the change potentially to
the turnout and to the result of the 2003 election if we had had
the 80 Members?
Mr Mathias: Obviously that is
not something we have looked at it. We have not looked at the
issue of the structure of the Assembly or any consequences that
flow from it. It is our job to comment on any proposals that specifically
are made by the Government and we look at it from the voters'
point of view. We did not feel that was within our remit to do.
Q133 Mark Williams: In your written
submission in paragraph 20 you set out four points which were
your criteria for evaluating any potential changes in the electoral
arrangements. You talked in terms of the reasons for change should
be comprehensible to voters, changes should be fair and seen to
be fair, the need to avoid accusations of partisanship which could
affect participation (which we have talked about) and the need
to consider the broader context. In your view, do the Government's
proposals meet those criteria?
Ms Jenkins: We have already partly
gone to that question in that we are talking about low public
understanding of the whole issue. What we have looked at particularly
is how it would impact on voter participation, and our concern
is that voter understanding of the whole issue of electoral arrangements
is very low. We were worried that in the runup to the elections
if there are accusations about partisanship, which we think is
very likely, that that could have an adverse impact on voter participation
at the next election. Also one of the criteria is that we have
said in terms of arrangements for political parties then they
should be the best possible arrangements for political parties
and candidates to participate, and obviously if there are strong
views by some parties about those electoral arrangements those,
in our view, could not be the best idea of arrangements. I think
there is another issue about the proposed changes and how they
might be understood by voters. If it is said that the concerns
about the Clwyd West problem are about the issue of dual candidacy.
We would really like to know more about the basis for that confusion
and concern because we do think there is a possibility that voters
are confused and concerned about the additional Member system
as such rather than dual candidacy per se in that if you prevent
dual candidacy you will still have the situation that parties
which have lost in the constituency election will be seen to have
won in the regional election. The additional Member system is
a compensatory system. It is specifically designed to correct
the advantage in the constituency election through the regional
list so it may be that what is said to be confusion and concern
about dual candidacy might in fact be about the additional Member
system as such, which we feel has not been probed sufficiently
in the White Paper.
Q134 Hywel Williams: I seem to remember
reading in the paper that in some countries list candidates are
also required to stand in constituencies. Is that not an equally
elegant answer to the Clwyd West problem as the one proposed?
Mr Mathias: You are referring
to the situation in Quebec which has recently reviewed its electoral
system and come to the conclusion that in the additional Member
system they would wish to require all candidates to have stood
in constituencies. You cannot be elected on a list unless you
have stood in a constituency which is precisely the reverse of
what is proposed in the White Paper. Here I think what the rationale
is if you have a two-tier system of Members, constituency and
list, the conclusion they came to was it is better to integrate
the two tiers as much as you can by requiring all list Members
to have fought a constituency battle, whereas the net effect of
the proposal in the White Paper is that it further distances list
Members from constituency Members and makes them even more second
tier than they are at the moment and that is one of the risks,
but it is a contrast, you are right, between the conclusion in
Quebec where they did a thorough review of all the international
systems before they came to their conclusions and what is in the
White Paper, for which there is no evidence at all.
Q135 Mr David Jones: In paragraph
25 of your submission you caution that "there should be compelling
reasons for introducing a change to an electoral process that
is as yet untested over a period of time." Would you say
that the Government has actually shown any such compelling reasons?
I have particularly in mind the comments you make in paragraph
19 of your submission where you observe that the same electoral
arrangements apply to the Scottish Parliament. Do you not think
it anomalous that the Government should perceive this to be a
problem in Wales but apparently not a problem in Scotland?
Mr Mathias: As I mentioned earlier,
the situation is slightly different in Scotland because there
are four Scottish MSPs on the list who are Labour MSPs and where
there are tensions between list and constituency Members it tends
to be more cross-party than one party against the others. So the
situation is slightly different. The point we are making there
is the fact that Wales might be different in its process than
Scotland is not an absolute reason why it should not go that way
but that regard should be had to the situation in Scotland and
consultations should be had with the Scottish Parliament to ensure
that no unnecessary differences and anomalies are created.
Q136 Mr David Jones: I would like
to touch on what everybody keeps describing as the Clwyd West
problem. I must say I take it rather amiss that my constituency
is described as a "problem"! In your view has what happened
in Clwyd West had any impact on voter turnout and participation?
Also perhaps could you comment on the fact that, as I seem to
recall, in Clwyd West, the Conservative Party which came second
in the first past the post election secured a bigger share of
the vote in the regional list. Does not that show a degree of
sophistication on the part of the electorate rather than it being
Ms Jenkins: There is no evidence
that the Clwyd West so-called problem has had any impact on voter
participation. We do not believe it has. I can only refer back
to the research we have already talked about about what makes
people vote or not vote in any election (but in an Assembly election
particularly) and we have not got any evidence that that has been
Q137 Mrs James: I am very interested
in the Arbuthnott Commission and it has been quoted quite widely
by you in a number of places. While the final report says the
current voting system has "potential to add to existing cynicism
(about politics and politicians) current engagement was not the
result of voting systems." How do you interpret this research?
Mr Mathias: It largely backs up
what we have said.
Ms Jenkins: I was just going to
say it is very similar findings to that which we have found out
ourselves. There are a whole host of reasons as to why people
vote or do no vote and they relate generally to disengagement
with the political process. People feel very strongly about issues
but they do not necessarily translate those into party political
issues or as to why they should vote in any election. All those
background issues are going on but also going on are issues related
to particular election short-term factors, to do with the election
campaign and whatever the issue is at the moment which then affects
people as to whether or not they turn out. However, in all of
that the voting process has not emerged as something that makes
people vote or not. In that context we would agree with the findings
of the Arbuthnott Commission research.
Q138 Hywel Williams: Just to sum
upand this is a statement rather than a question perhapsit
seems to me that you are saying it is possibly unwise to base
a change in the long term electoral system on the outcome of one
election, as it were. Indeed, a geographical or party split might
be different in the future.
Mr Mathias: Yes.
Q139 Hywel Williams: Can I just turn
to the question of the national list. Is a single national list
a viable alternative to the present regional list?
Mr Mathias: This is not an issue
which we have looked at because it is not an issue that has been
presented to us to look at. In principle, there is nothing wrong
with a national list but, as I understand it, it could operate
in a number of different ways and we would have to look at exactly
what the proposal is before making any comment. I would say this:
if the Government wished to develop that or any of these proposals
we would be happy to co-operate with research and development
of such a proposal if it was appropriate, but we have not looked
in detail at the issue of a national list.