Calls have been made for measures to stop second home owners from registering their vote at secondary addresses ahead of next year’s Senedd elections.

While unproven claims of electoral fraud have dominated headlines on the other side of the Atlantic, calls for more stringent measures have been made ahead of Wales’ own national poll in six months time.

While it is a criminal offence to vote twice at the same election – carrying an unlimited fine – there are currently no restrictions on eligible voters whose secondary but not primary residence is in Wales from voting in Welsh Parliament polls.

They may also vote  in separate but concurrent local elections as long as their registered addresses are not within the same local authority area.

According to the Electoral Commission, while electors may be entitled to register at more than one address, they must be deemed ‘resident’ in order to be eligible – which is ultimately a decision for each Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) that the criteria has been met.

But the online petition entitled, “Ensure owners of second homes and holiday lets in Wales register to vote only at their primary address in devolved and local elections”, has already attracted over 1,000 signatories in a week – easily passing the 50 signatory threshold to secure a petitions committee debate.

It was set up by the Gorau i Gymru – Best for Wales group, which organised a protest on Anglesey recently against a rise in second home ownership on the island, and says action needs to be taken ahead of next year’s Senedd election and the subsequent 2022 local elections.

A spokesperson for the group told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the principle of “one person one vote” needs to be respected, adding they also have  concerns that the checks on duplicate voting in General Elections are not stringent enough.

They added: “We really feel that this issue needs to be looked at before next May’s Senedd election.

“With the growing number of second homes in areas such as Anglesey, it has the potential to skew democracy.”

The petition goes on to claim: “The serious potential for fraud and the harmful impact of that on our country is immense and should be urgently addressed prior to the 2021 (Welsh Parliament) elections.”

According to the Electoral Commission, circumstances allowing someone to register to vote more than once usually include students who live at different addresses during term time, people required to work away from their normal home and those who own a second home.

In their advice to EROs, the commission notes that registration applications must be considered on their own merits while retaining the right to ask for proof.

The guidelines include:

That a person may have more than one home, but property ownership is not sufficient to establish that someone is resident at an address;

the purpose for which the second home is used will affect whether or not someone may be considered to be resident at an address, i.e. whether this is where the ‘main business of life’ is being conducted;

temporary presence at an address does not make a person resident there;

temporary absence does not deprive a person of their residence.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson added: “People who are registered at two addresses are entitled to vote in local government elections at each of those addresses, provided they are not in the same local government area.

“It is an offence under Section 61(2)(a) of the RPA 1983, for an elector to cast more than one vote on their own behalf in a UK Parliamentary general election or at a referendum. This offence carries a penalty of an unlimited fine in England and Wales, or a fine not exceeding £5,000 in Scotland.

“Finally, the UK has low levels of proven electoral fraud. However, in our report on the UK Parliamentary General Election in May 2017, we highlighted concerns raised at that election about double voting.

“We said that we wanted to work with the UK Government to explore possible mechanisms to reduce the risk of people voting in more than one constituency.

“We also said that the Government should consider other options for reducing this risk, such as requiring people who are lawfully registered to vote in local government elections for more than one local authority area to choose which of those addresses they will vote at for UK Parliamentary general elections.”

The Electoral Commission’s report can be found at: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-04/UKPGE%20election%20report%202020.pdf

The Welsh Government was approached to comment but passed the enquiry onto the Electoral Commission.

The petition can be found at: https://petitions.senedd.wales/petitions/244390