In the early days of March, ACT Labor secretary Mel James met with the party's candidates to run through their campaign plans for the election year ahead.
Canberra's summer of smoke, hail and fire had passed. There was finally some clear air in the nation's capital, literally and politically.
It wouldn't last long, of course - less than a month - as 2020 continued apace from one catastrophe to the next.
"We had all of these beautiful campaign plans written up," Ms James tells The Canberra Times.
"Beautifully timed to be thrown in the bin."
Election campaigning was brought to a grinding halt as the coronavirus pandemic forced the nation into lockdown in the final fortnight of March.
Candidates were hauled off the campaign trail. No doorknocking, no street stalls, no letterboxing. No politics.
The campaigns have been slowly brought out of hibernation as social distancing restrictions have eased in recent months and weeks.
The ACT election will go ahead as planned on October 17.
But the election - held in the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years - won't be an ordinary one. Not for voters, not for candidates, and not for campaign managers, who are attempting to steer their party to victory through conditions as unprecedented as they are uncertain.
The Canberra Times this week spoke to the campaign directors of the three major parties about the fight to win the pandemic election.
'An election day like no other'
Even before Scott Morrison's national cabinet ordered the nationwide lockdown in late March, the ACT electoral commission had convened a special taskforce, comprising senior police, law officers, health officials and cyber security experts, to examine a simple question with extreme implications for the ACT democratic process: how to hold an election in a pandemic?
The taskforce canvassed six options, ranging from holding the election as though the pandemic didn't exist to conducting it entirely online or delaying the vote.
The preferred model, which the ACT Legislative Assembly agreed to, was to proceed with an October 17 election, but with dramatically expanded opportunities for early voting.
The idea was to spread out the "voter load" across a three-week period, in an attempt to limit the number of people voting at any one location at any one time, in particular on election day.
To help achieve this, laws have been passed to allow every ACT voter to cast their ballot in the pre-poll period, which will run from September 28 until October 16.
There is going to be a lot of stuff going out in a very short period of time. It will just be a much shorter, sharper and more focused campaign.Canberra Liberals campaign director Josh Manuatu
Some 15 early polling stations will be set up across the city, including in the town centres. Elections ACT will publish daily data on where and when people are voting, giving electors the opportunity to pick their moment to avoid the queues.
A total of 38.9 per cent of Canberrans voted early at the 2016 ACT election.
ACT Electoral Commissioner Damian Cantwell expects that number to almost double in 2020, due to his organisation's campaign to encourage Canberrans to cast their ballot before October 17 as well as a nationwide trend toward early voting.
For the local party strategists mapping out their campaigns, this shift is significant.
October 17 might be election day, but the make-up of the next ACT Legislative Assembly could be largely determined by votes cast in the three weeks prior.
For voters, it means the lines outside the 82 booths on polling day are likely to be much shorter, and the atmosphere of election day a little more subdued.
Will voters still be able to snag a democracy sausage after they vote? That's up to schools and community groups, Mr Cantwell says.
"Clearly any fundraising activities would need to comply with the ACT Public Health Emergency provisions related to COVID-19," he says.
"Of course I would not wish to see any undue risks to COVID safety for the voters, electoral staff and the community through such activities."
'A shorter, sharper, more focused campaign'
The anticipated surge in early voting means parties and independents cannot afford to hold back a major policy until the dying days of the campaign, when they might have previously been able to woo the prized swinging voter with a late, headline-grabbing announcement.
The candidates are also in a race against time to meet voters and build their public profile, having effectively lost three months of campaigning because of the pandemic.
The ACT Greens have made announcements on housing, employment, drug law reform and the environment since late June, and campaign manager Clancy Barnard says the party's wider policy platform will be fully formed by the time voting opens on September 28.
"Usually you do the majority of your campaigning after pre-poll opens, but we obviously can't do that so we are rushing toward the September 28 deadline," Mr Barnard says.
Labor's Mel James says her party - which, as the party in government, is still steering the ACT's response to the COVID-19 pandemic - will also ramp up its campaign toward the end of September.
"You can't be rolling out your policies for people to consider right up to election eve," she says.
"People need to have the information to make the informed choice. This has cemented it and will make it all the more important."
The Canberra Liberals have been ridiculed by their opponents for their relative lack of major election commitments, with a promise to plant 1 million trees across the next decade their only significant new spending policy to be announced this year.
Campaign director Josh Manuatu says the opposition made a conscious decision to support the ACT government through the health and economic crisis, which has meant it has had less time than it otherwise would have to set out and start selling its vision for governing.
The campaigning will ratchet up in the next fortnight, after Chief Minister Andrew Barr delivers his highly anticipated ACT budget update on Thursday.
In ordinary times, the budget would have been handed down in June and the opposition would have had two months by now to cost its policies against those numbers and forecasts. Not this year.
"We are going to have to get out a lot of policy between now and effectively two or three weeks out from polling day," Mr Manuatu says.
"There is going to be a lot of stuff going out in a very short period of time. It will just be a much shorter, sharper and more focused campaign."
'X marks the spot'
It is time-consuming and labour-intensive, but old-fashioned doorknocking remains one of the most effective ways for a candidate to reach and sway a voter.
After the March lockdown forced a sudden halt to face-to-face campaigning, candidates have started slowly returning to doors, shopping centres and street corners.
The Greens were the first to restart doorknocking, while a few Labor candidates resumed the campaign ritual on the weekend.
Mr Manuatu says the Liberals hope to shift to a more "field-heavy" campaign in the coming weeks.
In any case, the visible, physical campaign won't be the same.
The small group of Labor candidates who doorknocked alone last weekend were required to clean everything they touched at a property.
Greens candidates carry hand sanitiser and a stick of chalk on the campaign trail, drawing an "X" 1.5 metres from their street stalls to make sure they maintain physical distancing.
The campaign directors say voters appear more welcoming than ever to speak with candidates. Perhaps they've been missing those "random, interpersonal interactions" which the pandemic has deprived us of, Mr Barnard speculates.
"When we thought about it, we really do believe in speaking one-on-one with someone," he says.
"We just don't think sending someone a message or text is equivalent to in-person."
Despite the positive responses thus far, the major parties are ready to pull the pin on face-to-face campaigning if COVID-19 cases re-emerge in the ACT. If the Greens receive any complaints about doorknocking, they will immediately pause the practice until the incident has been reviewed.
"As much as it is about the COVID risk, it is also about community comfort," Ms James says.
"If people aren't comfortable, then it is no value to us and it is no value to them."
'Every campaign requires adaption'
With traditional campaigning either paused or heavily restricted at different stages of the pandemic, parties and candidates are turning to social media and other digital platforms to connect with voters.
While digital campaigning was always going to be a key part of election strategies, Ms James says nobody had accounted for the emergence of a twin health and economic crisis.
The upside, she says, is the innovation which has sprung from the disruption.
She singled out Labor backbencher Tara Cheyne's daily pandemic updates to her 4100 Facebook followers as an example of how candidates are keeping in touch with the community, and potentially reaching new voters.
Liberal Mark Parton's heavy, and at time controversial, use of social media has only increased during the pandemic, while a number of his colleagues - including Murrumbidgee MLA Giulia Jones and Kurrajong candidate Patrick Pentony - have also started broadcasting self-made videos to their pages.
Candidates and volunteers have spent hours on the phone calling Canberrans - and it hasn't always been for entirely political purposes. Ms James says at the start of the pandemic Labor used their resources to contact vulnerable or elderly people, not to pitch for their vote but to check in on their wellbeing.
"The campaign has certainly required a lot of adaption to deal with the changing requirements over the course of the year," Mr Manuatu says.
The parties will need to make compromises at almost every turn. Major parties typically call on interstate help to bolster volunteer numbers in the final weeks of the campaign, but that might not be possible if border and travel restrictions remain in place.
Campaign and candidate launches might be smaller and less raucous than usual.
'No tolerance for negativity'
In the same way it has altered the nature of campaigning, the pandemic has changed the tone, or at least the focus, of the ACT election campaign.
This was to be an election fought on rates, local buses, light rail, public hospitals and climate action.
While those local issues might well be an important factor for many voters, the pandemic has brought bigger-picture questions and concerns to the forefront of the mind of the broader electorate.
The candidates are sensing voters have less of an appetite for politics, least of all for the type of tit-for-tat mud-slinging and scare-mongering which has become an unfortunate feature of Australian politics.
There's a view that voters are looking to their potential leaders for answers. For vision. For solutions.
"2020 has been a different year for campaigning, just for the simple fact that we have had so many unprecedented events that people's appetite for political campaigning and usual political discussion has not been the same," Ms James says.
"We know that people hate negative campaigning, but right now there is lots of negativity in life, so people have even less tolerance for it."