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There are two distinct franchises, the Parliamentary franchise and the local government franchise. There are also separate electoral registers for each franchise but in practice they are maintained, as far as is practicable, as a single register.

The Parliamentary franchise, the entitlement to vote in UK Parliamentary elections, is reserved to the UK Government. At the moment you must be 18 years of age on polling day and appear on the electoral register to vote in a UK Parliamentary election.

The local government franchise, the entitlement to vote in local elections, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently states you must be 18 years of age on polling day in order to vote and appear on the electoral register for local government elections. This includes elections for mayors and police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales.

The local government franchise has been devolved to Scotland since 2015. In Scotland, voters in elections using the local government franchise must be 16 years of age on polling day and appear on the electoral register for local government elections. This includes elections to the Scottish Parliament, which use the local government franchise.

In Wales, the Wales Act 2017 gave the then National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government legislative competence for the administration of Assembly and local government elections in Wales, including the franchise for those elections.

The National Assembly for Wales passed the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 at the end of 2019 and it received Royal Assent on 15 January 2020. It amended the law to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote at Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament elections held on or after 5 April 2021. The next scheduled elections are May 2021. The Act also renames the National Assembly for Wales the Senedd Cymru or Welsh Parliament. The new names took effect on 6 May 2020.

A similar provision to allow 16- and 17-year-olds in local government elections in Wales has now been introduced by the Welsh Government. The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill was introduced on 18 November 2019 and includes provisions to lower the voting age for local government elections in Wales. Stage 3 of the Bill will be taken in teh Senedd Cymru on 10 November 2020.

Northern Ireland does not have legislative competence for lowering the voting age. The franchise for local elections in Northern Ireland is an excepted measure, which means it would only be devolved by primary legislation at Westminster. In 2012, a motion in support of lowering the voting age debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly received cross party support. Only the DUP voted against the motion.

Historically the Conservative Party has generally opposed reducing the voting age and the Government has no plans to change the voting age. However, some senior Conservatives, such as Ruth Davidson, now support votes at 16.

The Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party all support voting at 16.


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