The government has announced that restrictions on door to door campaigning in the run-up to the local elections on 6 May will be relaxed from next week, in step with its planned changes to lockdown rules. The new regulations only apply in England: the devolved administrations are setting out separate plans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
From next Monday 8 March, the same day as schools and colleges reopen and outdoor recreation or exercise with one other person becomes allowed, outdoor election campaigning will also be permitted.
Doorstep canvassing and leafleting must take place on a one-to-one basis and COVID-19 restrictions must be respected. These include maintaining a two metre social distance, wearing face coverings and sanitising hands between visits to different households. Campaigners must not enter people’s homes and should only access shared hallways in blocks of flats where “absolutely necessary”.
Then from 29 March, the same day as the “rule of six” is expected to return, election canvassing will be permitted to follow the same pattern, so groups of up to six campaign activists from different households can work together outdoors.
As there will be no change to the rules on meeting others indoors, doorstep campaigning activity must continue to take place on a one-to-one basis. The new guidance also stipulates that campaigners should not collect postal ballots from electors for submission and should not transport electors to or from polling stations in private vehicles.
The new rules will allow nearly two months of outdoor campaigning in the run up to the 6 May polls. They replace a ban on election leafleting and doorstep campaigning that was expected to favour the two major parties. Smaller parties and independent candidates often rely on hand-delivering leaflets and doorstep canvassing and cannot match the resources that are routinely spent by the major parties on posting leaflets or social media advertising.
Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith said: “Democracy should not be cancelled because of COVID. Voters appreciate being well-informed and campaigning is an important part of effective elections. I urge political campaigners to continue to show social responsibility and for parties, agents and candidates to ensure that their campaigners understand the rules.”
Tom Hewat, election agent for Exeter Green Party, said: “We welcome the fact that we will once again be able to engage in our most successful campaign methods: delivering leaflets and talking to people on the doorstep. The safety of residents and our volunteers has always been of the utmost priority and, as ever, we will carefully follow the guidelines.
“As a grassroots political movement, reliant on dedicated volunteers and without the funds available to the two main parties to pay for postal deliveries, the green light for outdoor campaigning is particularly welcome.”
Michael Mitchell, chair of Exeter Liberal Democrats and city councillor for Duryard & St James, said: “Whilst welcoming any relaxation in COVID-19 regulations that is driven by medical data we remain concerned about the extent to which party volunteers and the public will be willing to engage in campaigning during the next few weeks.
“As a local party we believe that the May elections should have been delayed until September. In the autumn more people will have received either their first or second vaccination and hopefully the medical data would have allowed normal campaigning to take place.”
Exeter electors will be voting for city and county councillors and the Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner on 6 May. As the city council and police and crime commissioner elections should have been held last year but were delayed due to the pandemic, they will now take place at the same time as the scheduled county council elections. There is also a by-election taking place in Mincinglake and Whipton.
There will be attempts to make polling stations safe. People who wish to vote in person will be encouraged to bring their own pencils or pens to mark ballot papers, masks must be worn, hand sanitiser will be available and screens and distance markings will be used.
A significant increase from the nearly one in five votes that are usually cast by post in local elections is expected. The deadline for postal voting applications is 5pm on Tuesday 20 April, although anyone who wants to vote by post is encouraged to apply as early as possible. There are also new proxy voting measures for people who need to self-isolate because of coronavirus which will allow access to an emergency proxy vote up to 5pm on election day.
Exeter City Council is administering all the elections that are taking place in the city on 6 May. Election notices including nominated candidates will be published on the city council website.
You must be on the electoral register in order to vote. You can register to vote online as well as check and update your details. The location of Exeter polling stations can be found by postcode search.