A SPANISH citizen who voted in May’s Senedd elections is backing a campaign to extend the right to vote to migrants in England and Northern Ireland. 

Gareth Lynn Montes, who was born and raised in Madrid, has lived in Wales for seven years and thanks to legislation passed last year was able to vote and help determine the makeup of Wales’ national parliament in May. 

That is because when the Senedd agreed to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds last year the legislation also ensured all legally resident foreign nationals in Wales can vote, and stand as candidates, in Senedd and local elections.  

That not only extended the franchise to include people from countries who haven’t before been able to vote in the UK but protected the right of EU citizens, like Gareth, to vote in some elections, which could have been denied due to Brexit. 

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“I did vote in May and I was very happy to do so. I came to the UK to study at university but I have chosen to make Wales my home. I live here, work here and am invested in society, despite the weather and terrible food,” joked Gareth who has a masters in international relations from Swansea University. 

“It’s important any person like myself who has chosen to make Wales their home for any period of time is able to contribute to society.  

“You can make the argument you pay taxes so should be able to vote but I think it goes beyond that and you should have the right to vote in a society you contribute to.” 

Gareth, who lives in Cardiff and works as a researcher for a housing and homelessness charity, is backing the #OurHomeOurVote campaign by the Young Europeans Network which wants England and Northern Ireland to follow Wales and Scotland in implementing residence-based voting rights. 

The campaign is concentrating on securing the right to vote, and stand as candidates, for local elections.  

Voting in UK general elections is restricted to British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens with the right to remain in the UK, aged 18 and over, and the same eligibility applies to Police and Crime Commissioner elections that are also controlled by Westminster. 

EU citizens did have the right to vote in local elections, across the UK, and elections to what was the National Assembly for Wales, but in England and Northern Ireland people from some EU countries will lose voting rights due to Brexit.  

The UK Government’s elections bill, which has been criticised for proposals that will apply across the UK requiring voter ID, will allow EU citizens who were resident before the end of December 2020 to continue to vote in local elections. 

Otherwise EU citizens will only be able to vote in local elections in England and Northern Ireland, including elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, if the UK has an agreement with their home countries allowing UK citizens the right to vote. So far agreements have been struck with Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and Poland. 

But the #OurHomeOurVote campaign wants the UK Government to follow Wales and Scotland in establishing the right to vote for all residents regardless of their nationality. It wants the elections bill to be ammended to replicate the laws in Wales and Scotland. 

Gareth, whose father is from north Wales, has opted to retain his Spanish citizenship which he would have had to surrender if he took a UK passport. 

The 2016 Brexit vote, in which some two million EU citizens in Britain were excluded from voting has also motivated Gareth to support the campaign. 

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“A lot of it goes back to 2016 it made a fundamental change to society and there were millions of others in this country who were not able to vote and have any say in it, that is quite shameful. 

“People like my father, British passport holders who had lived away for too long, also didn’t have a say. 

“The EU referendum was quite a kick in the teeth,” said Gareth. 

The National Wales: Gareth Lynn Montes outside his local polling station in MayGareth Lynn Montes outside his local polling station in May

Gareth, who was aware that Wales intended adopting residence-based voting rights as he had interned at the Senedd before the legislation was passed, said in the lead up to May’s elections he had also sought to gauge interest among Spanish people in Cardiff. 

“I posted in a Facebook group for Spanish people in Cardiff and did a poll to test awareness and how many people were going to vote. 

“Most said they could vote, some weren’t aware or they weren’t aware of the registration process and that made me think how engagement could be better.” 

Gareth said he felt politicians and the Welsh Government could have made a bigger effort to engage with voters but also said he understood that extending the right to 16 and 17-year-olds may have been a higher priority: “I guess they had to make a bigger fuss about 16 and 17-year-olds.” 

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The #OurHomeOurVote campaign says migrants make up 10 per cent of the population and in some areas, such as London around 37 per cent of residents were born abroad and many are excluded from having a say on the future of their local areas or the authorities that provide vital public services and which they contribute towards. 

It also points out countries including Australia, South Korea and European nations including Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland and Luxembourg have residence-based voting in local elections. 

The campaign states: “Like Scotland and Wales, these show that a residence-based voting rights model in local elections is possible and has already been successfully implemented in many countries across the world.” 

For more on the #OurHomeOurVote campaign you can visit its website by clicking here

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