'Scent of democracy': nice hand sanitiser ticks box for New Zealand's early voters

By Charlotte Graham-McLay in Wellington

They arrive carrying their own pens. They stop for a dollop of pleasantly lemon-scented hand sanitiser as they enter and exit polling places. And they are turning up to vote ahead of election day in record numbers.

As far as polling booth drama goes, New Zealand’s election has so far yielded none: just the calm, orderly process of 1.15 million people casting early votes – nearly double the number who had voted by this time in advance of the 2017 election.

But while the country appears to have vanquished Covid-19 for a second time – New Zealand has no reported cases of the virus outside quarantine facilities for returning travellers – the Electoral Commission is still taking precautions. Instead of the usual shared pens attached to voting booths with pieces of string, officials have purchased 2m disposable pens at a cost of NZ$390,000 excluding taxes, each of which is discarded once a single voter has used it.

“Since there are about 3.3 million people enrolled to vote, the commission is still asking people to bring their own pen,” said Peter Riordan, a commission spokesman, in a statement. The commission had prepared for an election under tougher coronavirus restrictions, which had prompted the bulk biro purchase.

The election this Saturday 17 October will determine whether Jacinda Ardern, the Labour party leader and prime minister, will govern for a second term ahead of Judith Collins, the opposition leader from centre-right National. If she does, the vote will also decide whether Ardern – the likely victor, according to the polls – would need the left-leaning Green party to form a coalition, or whether she could govern alone.

More than a million people had voted by the end of 11 October, according to figures from New Zealand’s Electoral Commission, compared to just over 670,000 advance voters on the ninth day of polling in 2017. Nine days after polling opened in 2014, just over 147,000 people had voted.

The country is voting on two referendums – recreational cannabis and euthanasia – that might have provoked some of the early turnout. The last of the Covid-19 restrictions on New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, lifted less than a week ago. It meant that polling in the city began under some coronavirus rules. Voting opened on 3 October nationwide.

The lurking threat of Covid-19 has also prompted the prominent display of QR codes for the government’s contract-tracing app – as well as large bottles of hand sanitiser – at polling places.

The the hand sanitiser, in a particularly New Zealand turn of events, has gone viral by local standards on social media, with many viewing it as a metaphor for the country’s comparatively pleasant electoral campaign. One Twitter user described it as “awesomely fragrant”; another deemed it “absolutely delightful”, and a third called it “delicious.”

JackyNinjaKitty says VOTE! 🇯🇵🇳🇿💮 (@JackyNinjakitty)

Mum and I have voted early!! Easy as - surprisingly busy too! But awesomely fragrant hand sanitiser, a free pen, and very helpful lovely staff who were great with mum who had somehow misplaced her Easy Vote card! #VoteEarlyNZ2020 pic.twitter.com/eh7VWvodR9

October 6, 2020
Charlie (@charlieflin)

Voted today! Can now personally agree that the Earthwise Nourish Purple Hand Sanitiser smells absolutely delightful.

October 11, 2020
Deanie (@deaniewink)

Voted! 🧡 Took less than 5 mins and I also discovered Earthwise make a ridiculously delicious scented hand sanitiser in the process of it too! pic.twitter.com/vzfzDdrv7u

October 9, 2020
Bad Guitar Player (@NZStever)

Voted yesterday. Heading off on holiday today and wanted to get it done before leaving town. No line ups. Nice smelling hand sanitiser. Easy. We are very lucky to be living in NZ. #nzpol

October 10, 2020
Martin Stiles (@martinkstiles)

Now that I’ve voted, let’s talk about the REAL issues NZ. Like, how nice was the hand sanitiser at the Voting booth?! Still sniffing my hands. The scent of democracy?

October 11, 2020

Riordan, the Electoral Commission spokesman, said the sanitiser was selected for its price and the fact that it was made in New Zealand.

“The pleasant fragrance was an unexpected bonus,” he said.