Election billboards boasting political candidates have long been vandalised, whether it be a bit of graffiti, the odd moustache or juvenile drawing.
But the 2020 general election campaign has taken a sinister turn in Northland with vandals taking to gouging, slashing and cutting the faces from various party hoardings, which a political expert has called "more violent in nature".
The widespread destruction has prompted one candidate to call on the public to report the "mindless vandalism" which is costing all parties thousands of dollars as they race to repair and replace the billboards.
Areas hit particularly hard in Whangārei have been Onerahi, Maunu, Riverside Drive, Tikipunga and Kamo, and there have been plenty of examples in the Far North, including the Kerikeri roundabout.
Auckland university's Dr Edward Elder, a political marketing expert, said it's a "general trend" during campaigns for vandalism to occur on billboards.
Dr Elder remembers the 2014 election, where then Prime Minister John Key and local MP Simon Bridges were turned into cartoon characters Batman and Robin in Tauranga.
When vandals target the face, they usually use quote marks and speech bubbles or draw moustaches on the billboards, he said.
But gouging someone's face has "more of a personal quality which is more symbolic of targeting the person, he said.
"Even though they're not actually cutting the person's face there's a symbolic aspect. It has the potential to be decoded as something more malicious in intent. It seems to be more violent in nature."
Tony Hamilton, the Labour hoardings manager in the Whangārei electorate, has been involved in four elections and said the destruction to billboards this time round is the worst he's seen.
At least 20 damaged signs had to be take down and replaced in recent weeks, costing the party at least $600.
The vandalism began the first weekend after they went up in July, two months before the original election date of September 19, he said.
The Prime Minister/Labour leader's face has been cut out, there's been lots of graffiti and more recently people have smashed the signs down, breaking the timber.
"This is by far the worst of the four [elections] in terms of damage by a country mile," Hamilton said. "This is so much worse."
Hamilton didn't want to speculate on why there was more hoarding damage this campaign, but believes there are distinct patterns to it, and the same groups of people could be behind it.
Postponing the general election due to a second wave of coronavirus cases could have also been a factor, Hamilton said.
"With the extension [to October 17] there's been more time to create more damage."
Both Whangārei and Far North district council's rules state the display of billboards is restricted to two months before an election, and must be removed the day before polling day.
They must be located in places that reduce the impact on community infrastructure and traffic and pedestrian safety.
Social Credit party leader and Whangārei candidate Chris Leitch has hit out at the "mindless vandalism" on billboards around the city in recent weeks.
His team has had to rebuild six signs, including three in Tikipunga and Kamo after someone smashed the timber and slashed the billboards then cut them into pieces.
Leitch estimates the cost so far is around $400.
"Billboards are private property in just the same way as anybody's house or car, and it's an expensive job to have to keep rebuilding them," he said.
"I'm calling on anybody who sees signs being vandalised to call 111 and report it to the police immediately."
Sitting National MP Matt King said his billboards have been vandalised at least a dozen times.
Each sign costs about $50 and are paid for by local party membership fundraising, he said.
"I've had faces cut out in Mangawhai, I've had them smashed, tagged and cut, everything.
"I know of National MPs who only had 60 signs up and all 60 have been trashed.
"It's disappointing, but it's just part and parcel of politics. You learn which areas are targeted more - the isolated areas – and avoid putting them in those areas."
Labour's Whangārei candidate Emily Henderson said dozens of her hoardings have been defaced.
She said people have driven into them, plastered them with graffiti and slashed and cut the faces out.
She has reported the incidents to police "in batches" and is keeping a tally of the damaged signs.
"We've lost huge numbers," Henderson said.
"We keep getting calls from the public asking 'why haven't you got a billboard up in Waipū? And I have to explain we did but they've all been destroyed.
"I wouldn't mind if the graffiti had been a bit wittier... people are a bit silly and possibly a bit angry. Maybe they don't like seeing women doing well."
A police spokeswoman said police are not aware of any specific complaints.
"However, police are aware of the wider issue of billboards being vandalised or defaced in the wider Northland area.
"It is not an issue unique to Northland, and has been seen in other parts of the country."
Police ask anyone with information to report it to police on 105 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
"Defacing property is an act of intentional damage and is a criminal offence," the spokeswoman said.
"Enforcement action will be taken in relation to anyone who is identified as deliberately damaging a sign."