You can read part one – How a #WarringahVotes volunteer did double duty for Sophie Scamps in #MackellarVotes – here
I WAS THRILLED when Jacqui Scruby, Dr Sophie Scamps’ campaign manager, responded to my hesitant offer of help at the Ocean film fundraising event with open arms and promptly booked me to help train scrutineering volunteers.
As a result, one week to election day and I was sitting in the dark in a carpark at Palm Beach with my laptop hoping the signal was strong enough to join a zoom training session for Sophie’s campaign.
My day had started with some ‘street listening’ for Sophie, a huge focus for all the volunteers. We were earpieces for Sophie, listening to constituents on her behalf, feeding what voters said to us back to the main office. That morning, two of us froze in the chill wind at Church Point handing out leaflets to friendly walkers and cyclists who stopped for coffee after a ride through from Akuna Bay. Every five minutes or so my fellow street listener would shuffle over towards me. “How much longer to go?” he shivered, as he peered at my watch.
I was ‘caught out’ that day by a climate sceptic – he posed as someone concerned about the environment and I fell for it, much to his glee and my dismay. But on election day, when he turned up at the polling booth where I was handing out ‘How-to-Votes’ we recognised each other straight away and laughed. I knew there was no point in handing him anything!
You never know who you will meet
After freezing at Church Point I did the t-shirt swap in the car and drove to Balgowlah to hand out flyers for Zali’s campaign. My reward was seeing Zali on her campaign bus and munching on a delicious Zali cookie with turquoise icing. I’m not sure if I achieved anything because we were preaching to the converted at Balgowlah, but it was still lovely to touch base with the Zali volunteers.
After a second t-shirt juggle I headed off for more street listening, at Glenrose. It was a tough shift to crack as we were reaching saturation point so close to the election. Even with a brand-new newsletter to hand out, we were getting very few takers and even fewer smiles.
Just as we were feeling demoralised, fellow volunteer Lindy Butler recognised the singer Kamahl as he arrived at the shopping centre. She struck up a conversation and incredibly flipped his vote.
Afterwards Kamahl chatted to us over coffee. I told him all about Sophie’s motivation to act on climate change. Kamahl interrupted me, booming,
“Google ‘100 Children’, it’s a song I sang in the 1970s about the environment.”
“Okay, I will do it later”, I said meekly. I was positively starstruck at this stage. “No, do it now!” he boomed again, fixing me with his great brown eyes.
I looked up the song, thinking I was just humouring him, but was stunned by the song’s synchronicity with Sophie’s campaign. He tapped my mobile number into his phone. “What shall I put you under?” he asked. I suggested Sophie, then he shook his head, “Synchronicity Jo” he laughed.
Before he left he recited ‘Desiderata’ for us in his powerful voice, right in the middle of Glenrose shops. A couple of faithful fans had joined us at this stage and it was all getting a bit surreal. When I left the Glenrose shops, Kamahl was ambling up to passers-by with Sophie’s campaign t-shirt clutched in his hand, supervised by the ever present Paul Boland.
Later in the week, after Kamahl had worn the campaign office out with his eagerness to help, a photo of him and Sophie at the pre-poll booth received the most likes of the campaign.
The joy and wonder of scrutineering
It had been a long day but an incredible one, and now for the on-line scrutineering training zoom. I had been asked to wax lyrical about all things scrutineering at the end of the session, to help encourage any would be scrutineers who might be hesitant or unsure.
The trainer was an extremely experienced volunteer who’d done the job for a few elections. Everyone was listening intently and it was all very serious. As the list of what not to do grew longer, I was mildly horrified at my rather slap-dash approach to scrutineering in 2019. I also started to wonder if my naïve enthusiasm about all things scrutineering, arose from ignorance being bliss!
I gulped back my nervousness when it was my turn to speak. I said that before volunteering for Zali’s at the last election I had never even heard of scrutineering, but volunteered on the basis that if all I did was check that Zali’s votes went on the right pile then I was helping.
“You might miss a few drinks at the campaign party, but it’s worth it”, I said. “Rumour has it that everyone who scrutineered for Zali at the last election loved it so much they all want to do it again.”
“Nothing prepares you for the experience of watching the actual votes being counted; I thought it would be deathly dull but how wrong I was!”
I also spoke about my sense of awe at the respectful silence which fell across the school hall as election officials carried in the boxes holding the ballot papers. One official asked scrutineers to witness the breaking of the plastic tags which sealed each box and check the numbers of those tags as they were carefully recorded. It was all deeply moving. I was mindful of how many millions had died in wars to protect our right to vote, and how lucky we were in Australia to have our votes treated with such respect.
I told them that nothing really prepares you for seeing all the green ballot papers spill out onto the tables. They were unceremoniously emptied out onto scrappy tables in a humble school hall by tired officials who had been there all day, watched by equally exhausted volunteers from various campaigns.
And after handing out so many blank How-to-Votes as a volunteer, it was surreal to see the ballots filled in by all those unknown hands, just for a few moments piled high in a togetherness of voices.
When the counting of the primary vote began each scrutineer picked an electoral official to hover behind as officials sat down and unceremoniously drew a pile of votes towards them, working through the votes one by one. We watched them like hawks but they were faster and we had just a second maybe to check the vote for validity before it was allocated to a candidate’s pile. Usually though, when a vote was in doubt the official hovered over it so the scrutineer also gets a chance to muse on its validity. And slowly those small piles of votes began to grow. One by one by one the votes built up until the two front runners became obvious.
I felt wildly inexperienced giving the training that night, but then didn’t we all at various times in the campaign? Comfort zone? What was that? I was thrilled later by how many people came up to me on election day and said that my burst of enthusiasm at the end of the training had inspired them to scrutineer. I was even more humbled though when even the trainer said it had reminded him of the joy and wonder of scrutineering that he had long forgotten.
You can go on to read part three of the series here
A word from Margo: No Fibs has history with #MackellarVotes – we covered Alice Thompson’s #IndependentsDay campaign in 2019, where she paved the way for Dr Sophie Scamps, as James Mathieson did for Zali at the 2016 election. I’m thrilled to publish Jo’s account of her volunteer adventure with Sophie in #MackellarVotes and with Zali in #WarringahVotes. It shows how voters in the adjoining North Shore seats worked together, and details a volunteer’s eye view of how the campaign worked and why it was different to Warringah’s, which No Fibs also covered in 2019. And of course there’s Louise Hislop, who became a campaign manager for Zali in 2019, worked in her electorate office, then moved to Mackellar, where she teamed up with an old friend, Leonie Scarlett on Sophie’s campaign team. Louise wrote her story in a seven part series on No Fibs called #WinningofWarringah and said there was a winning Mackellar vibe in the under-radar seat in a mid-campaign #transitzone podcast. #Transitzone did the first interview with Sophie in October 2021 when, as a member of Mackellar Rising, she was seeking a candidate and did not intend to run. We published Sophie’s launch speech and collated a live Twtter launch report. Her volunteer coordinator Leonie Scarlett wrote an account of her journey, as did volunteers Paul Boland, Julie Donald, Michael Osbourne, Joy Nason, Jan Proudfoot, Beth Jessup. Flan Cleary collated his emails to Irish friend on his volunteer adventure, and Marita Macrae, Kerry Smith and Margaret Woods teamed up for a joint contribution. Jo’s series is a very valuable, information packed, addition. Thank you Jo, and more Mackellar volunteer stories are welcome!