In the fifth of a weekly election diary, Labour MP Deborah Russell adjusts to scrutineering in a socially distanced world, and makes some furry friends on the trail. 

I can tell that I’m getting to the increasingly-blurry-minded stage of the campaign, as shown by what I said to myself when I remembered I had to write a diary entry for Newsroom: just seven days to go. 

My team has been telling me that I must not exhaust myself, but I’ve pointed out that the objective is for me to be utterly exhausted by 11.59pm on Friday 16 October, and not a moment before.

Street corner meetings have continued apace, but this week they moved to the beach: among other places I’ve held meetings at Laingholm Beach and the Huia Domain, and on Saturday I’ll be out at Piha. Our beach meetings are a little more informal: we set up an umbrella, some chairs and a big red Labour flag while people come by to chat.

This week’s meetings were also attended by pets: plenty of dogs at Laingholm, Annette brought Mr Bean across the road to my meeting at Huia, and Devan’s very good boi Buddy took an interest in politics at Parau.

Finally, the polls opened. Like many candidates, I voted as soon as possible, heading down to my local mall in time to be there when the doors opened, and duly put up the requisite social media posts to encourage people to get out and vote.

Deborah Russell with “very good boy” Buddy and owner Devan. Photo: Supplied.

We’ve got a huge effort going on to record voter data. Usually, we would have a volunteer sitting in polling booth, listening carefully as the clerk reads out each voter’s electorate and name. We tick those names off the roll, and then enter them into our canvassing system so that we no longer make phonecalls or knock on their door.

This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Electoral Commission has limited the number of scrutineers who may sit in booths. Instead, we are able to visit once a day and collect data about who has voted. We don’t get names, but we do get the electorate number, electoral roll page number and line number for each person who votes. It’s equivalent to what we would have recorded if we had a scrutineer in each booth. Scrutineering, but in a social distancing world: it’s a thing.

More from a socially distancing world: in the last days of Level 2 in Auckland, we had a Zoom candidates’ debate hosted by the Whau Local Board Youth Committee, and the Whau Pasifika Committee. It’s a small glimpse into the home worlds of each candidate. Rob Gore, who is running for New Zealand First in New Lynn, chose to tune in from outside: as the evening went on, his backdrop went from late afternoon to gloaming to nearly night. My home world is a somewhat disorderly working bookcase: read into that what you will.

Two nights later, and most of us met again at the Waitakere Ethnic Board’s candidates’ debate. This was a meeting covering all the electorates out west in Auckland, and for the first and only time this election campaign all four Labour MPs and candidates were together. Vanushi Walters, standing for Labour in Upper Harbour, has a high place on our list, and all going well our West Auckland caucus will expand by a third following the election.

Labour’s West Auckland MPs and candidates (from left) Phil Twyford, Vanushi Walters, Carmel Sepuloni, and Deborah Russell. Photo: Supplied.

We started sign waving this week, thanks to a member of my team who is very keen on it. We’ve been at intersections in Avondale, New Lynn and Blockhouse Bay, and each time, there has been a steady stream of tooted support and waves from drivers. I suspect that sign waving doesn’t change many, or indeed any, votes. But it does remind people that there’s an election on, and that they should get around to voting.

In between all of this our last leaflet is going out. I’ve done several delivery runs myself, and it’s gold. People stop to talk to me, they tell me they’ve voted for me already so I don’t to put anything more into their letterbox, I get offers of fresh sites for billboards, and as a bonus, I get some exercise.

I’ve long held the view that I shouldn’t ever ask my volunteer team to do anything that I’m not prepared to do myself. So, like many MPs, I regularly get out there to stuff leaflets into letterboxes. Including all the letterboxes with “No Junk Mail” signs: Auckland City Council has a bylaw deeming election material not to be junk mail in the two months before Election Day.

Seven days to go.

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