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Councillors reject bid to change voting system

Caerphilly County Borough Council offices in Tredomen (Pic: LDRS)

A CAERPHILLY councillor was left “disappointed” after colleagues shot down his plan to reform the way people vote in local elections.

Kevin Etheridge wants to scrap first-past-the-post ballots in favour of a more proportional system of representation that allows voters to choose candidates in order of preference.

He had won the support of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, the director of which called first-past-the-post “ultimately an unfair system”.

Cllr Kevin Etheridge (Pic: CCBC)

Speaking to a Caerphilly Council committee on Tuesday February 20, Jess Blair said the system currently favoured Labour, which was “over-represented” in the council chamber.

That’s “not to say it will always be the case,” she added, explaining that the system favoured Plaid Cymru at local elections in 1999.

“One day, it could be unfair to you,” she told the committee’s members.

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1999 local election results in Caerphilly showing vote share and seat share (Credit: ERS Cymru)

Cllr Etheridge, an independent, said the council “must move with the times” and introduce the “fairer” single transferable vote (STV) system “to help democracy”.

He said Gwynedd and Powys councils had already agreed to open a public consultation on switching to STV, and urged the committee to support the same move in Caerphilly.

His calls had won the support of several independent colleagues and Plaid councillors.

Lindsay Whittle, the Plaid group leader, told the committee he believed elections could be re-energised if results were more representative of people’s choices.

Voter turnout was as low as “40% in some wards” and said people were left wondering “what is the point” in participating in elections, he said.

“If that is what we all thought then democracy dies,” he added.

But other committee members were unconvinced a change was necessary.

“Why change something that works?” Labour councillor Denver Preece asked. “I think we are courting something that we don’t need.”

Labour colleague Gary Johnston, the committee chairman, told colleagues he felt first-past-the-post “works”, adding he was “against” a consultation on changing to STV.

Amanda McConnell, also Labour, said the proposed system seemed “complex and time-consuming”, citing a council report which suggested it could take three days for results to be declared – an estimated timescale Ms Blair disputed.

And Labour committee member Walter Williams said changing the system would lead to more money being spent.

David Beecham, the council’s electoral services manager, confirmed “any costs for changing the voting system would fall on the council”.

The members of the corporate and regeneration scrutiny committee voted ten to four against Cllr Etheridge’s proposal.

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