Senedd Election’s digital campaigning ‘needs greater transparency’

The Electoral Reform Society Cymru says more information for voters is needed to make this year’s elections fair and successful.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed that delivering political leaflets by hand is not allowed under Wales’ Coronavirus restrictions.

The clarification follows guidance from the UK Government’s Cabinet Office which stated “restrictions do not support door-to-door campaigning or leafleting by individual political party activists. “

This means parties will have to rely far more on digital campaigning ahead of this year’s Senedd elections, which are planned for May.

However, there are concerns that digital campaigning is much less transparent and accountable than traditional campaigning.

Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru said: “What we really need to see is much stronger policy and legislation around online campaigning.

“We need much more transparency about where the money is actually coming from and how much things cost. As well as a really good implementation of these online imprints which will tell you who has paid for and promoted any adds you see online. “

ERS Cymru also wants voters to be given more information than usual to make sure they aren’t left in the dark by the lack of in person campaigning.

“What voters really need is a lot more information than they would usually get about this election,” said Ms Blair.

“So we’re already working with key organisations like the Electoral Commission, the Senedd Commission and the Welsh Government to make sure that the resources they’re producing this year are top tier.”

However, some smaller parties have sharply criticised the decision to ban in-person leafleting, saying it disadvantages them compared to larger parties.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said: “This is an attack on our democracy and a clear, partisan attempt to prevent election campaigning. Only last week the Welsh Government and the Electoral Commission said it was safe to hold elections, yet now Mark Drakeford is telling candidates not to deliver leaflets.

“Mark Drakeford should be following the science and not party politics. If it is safe for individuals to be paid to deliver leaflets, then it’s safe for volunteers to do the same. Stopping volunteer delivery means that only large parties and rich candidates will be able to campaign on any great scale.”

A spokesperson for Welsh Labour said: “We are living in unprecedented times in the Coronavirus pandemic, and ensuring that we take every measure to protect people’s health is crucial.

“That’s why Welsh Labour isn’t leafleting, knocking doors or engaging in any other forms of in-person campaigning at the moment, and we’re instead focusing our efforts on calling voters and encouraging them to register for postal votes.”

The Electoral Commission Wales said: “Political parties and campaigners will want to ensure that their campaigning activities are within Coronavirus restrictions in place across Wales and consistent with public health advice. Presently, the Government’s view is that these restrictions do not support door to door campaigning or leafleting by individual political party activists.”

ERS Cymru has called for increased public funding for political parties alongside caps on party spending and party donations to create a level playing field for every party.

Plaid Cymru, Welsh Conservatives and Wales Green Party were approached for a comment.