My Latest Column – Voting and Organ Donation

Last month the Welsh Labour Government’s consultation on Electoral Reform came to an end. The consultation looked at plans that could see the voting age lowered to 16 and 17 year olds in Wales and major changes to how we vote. A new law could introduce electronic voting at polling stations, voting from your smartphone or computer, mobile polling stations and voting in other places other than polling stations like supermarkets and local libraries. My office has had plenty of feedback on these proposals, most of it positive. If enacted, this would amount to the biggest change to the Welsh electoral system since 1970.

The proposals are designed to make it easier to vote and easier to be entitled to vote. I support plans to lower the voting age to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. I strongly believe that lowering the voting age would help engage our young people in the decisions that affect their lives. At 16, young people are old to leave school, pay taxes, get married and join the armed forces. There has been speculation as to the likely effects of this proposal on turnout. However the experience of other countries suggests that 16 and 17 year olds may actually be more likely to vote than 18 year olds, as more of them live with their parents and attend school. When the voting age was reduced to 16 in Austria, results show that turnout of 16 and 17 year olds is in fact higher than turnout of older first time voters, and it is nearly as high as overall turnout. Lowering the voting age should also help set a pattern for greater participation in elections later in life.

Last week in my role as Cabinet Secretary for Health I wrote to Jeremy Hunt to offer Welsh Government support and advice to inform changes to the organ donation system in England. In 2015 Wales became the first part of the UK to introduce a soft opt-out system. This means that unless a person has not registered a decision to become an organ donor (opted in) or a decision not to become an organ donor (opted out), they will be considered as having no objection to being an organ donor – this is known as deemed consent. I firmly believe benefits of a soft opt out organ donation system to those needing a transplant are literally, life changing. I was pleased therefore to hear the Prime Minister announcing her intention to follow our lead by consulting on a new opt-out system for organ donation in England. Over the last year, there has been a decrease of 18.5% in patients who die whilst on the waiting list for their transplant. Whilst I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved so far in Wales, I know that there is still work to do to raise awareness of the changes to our organ donation system. This is why I recently launched a new campaign to encourage people to discuss their wishes with their family.