I am annoyed. I am a longtime member of the founding party and was a member of the PCs before the merger. Despite this, my registration to vote was rejected for some reason and now I have to contact the party to try and resolve this before I can vote. I was annoyed at snapping a pic of my drivers license and jumping through the hoops in order to attempt to register in the first place.
Despite my annoyance, I understand that there simply won’t be an easy way to go through this process if we want it to be fair and legitimate.
There are two big factors in a leadership race that members at large often don’t take the time to think about and those are cost and security. Its dry stuff. Having served on a leadership committee before, I know where the issues are and why the process has likely evolved into this annoying setup.
I am going to start with security.
Leadership races can be passionate and messy affairs. Some campaigns stick within the rules and some try to stretch or even break rules when they think they can get away with it. Some supporters act to stretch rules on their own thus causing embarrassment to one team or another and sometimes conspiracy theorists fabricate breaches in the rules during and after leadership race.
The most important and toughest things to do are to verify that each voter is legitimately qualified to vote, that they are who their application says they are and that they actually purchased their membership on their own.
In a past leadership race I served on the committee for, one of the teams literally sold memberships to dead people. They had bought bulk memberships using a veteran’s organization members list and submitted these to the party. I guess they figured that they could convert these veterans to their candidate later. Needless to say, some infuriated widows called the party office demanding to know why memberships had shown up in the mail for husbands who had passed away years before. Its sad but this kind of crap happens and it takes levels of security to ensure that it is kept in check.
I was on the Wildrose Party Executive committee prior to the 2012 election as well and dealt with the nomination battles. In one of our Northeast Calgary communities, the battle was rather hard fought. There were 4 candidates for the nomination. Three were of identifiable ethnic minorities and one was not. Thousands of memberships were submitted in a matter of weeks. Upon examination, it turned out that thousands of these memberships were duplicated among all three of the minority candidates. Whether we like to admit it or not, some cultures are more inclined to play some rather rough politics than others.
This put us into a terribly sticky situation as a party. What optics could look worse than disqualifying three non-white candidates in favor of a white one? We spent weeks with some people literally going door to door and confirming memberships. It was proven without doubt that all three of the candidates in question had sold memberships over and over to the same people and without their knowledge or consent. Some still cried racism when we punted them but they had little to stand on as we had made a solid case on who had broken the rules.
The more security in the system one has in races, the better the chance that the situations like those above could be avoided. That said, every level of security comes with a degree of inconvenience and cost.
Now on to cost.
We are in an unprecedented situation. The United Conservative Party is starting from scratch. The bank account began at zero. Those who have worked with parties during leadership races know that getting volunteers and donors to the party during these times can be damn near impossible as leadership candidates are all working the hell out of the feet and wallets of every possible party supporter already. That is why entrance fees were high. The bills have to be paid somehow and managing one of these races is expensive.
The most secure way to do a race is still with ballot boxes in every constituency in the province where volunteers or paid people can check the identification of every member as they come in to vote. The Progressive Conservative Party used to do races that way and it worked fairly well. The PC party of that time had literally millions of dollars that they could dedicate to this most expensive means of running a race as well. The UCP simply doesn’t have those resources. Gathering and counting all of those paper ballots securely was expensive and time consuming as well.
Another means is with mail in ballots. We did that with the Wildrose Party race that elected Danielle Smith. There were a number of security measures along with uniquely numbered ballots and multiple sealed envelopes. While is was possible that a person could fake a membership or two, to come up with the thousands of unique mailing addresses in order to get the ballots made rigging pretty much impossible. This method too was very expensive and time consuming. Cases and cases of sealed ballots were kept in secure storage and a long counting process ensued.
Now on to electronic voting as the UCP is using. It comes at a cost but I imagine that it is much cheaper than the prior two methods I listed (as least I sure hope so). Vote counting is nearly instantaneous which is nice as well. The huge challenge though as we are seeing is in the verification of the members. That is why the best that they could come up with was this registration method. though it is a bit of a pain in the arse.
Registrations still need to be confirmed by a real live person as well. That takes a lot of staff/volunteers and time. That is why there are cut off dates set. The party simply can’t cut things too close to voting day or there could be some real issues if processing isn’t complete in time.
Are there better ways? Perhaps. Maybe even probably. As it stands now though, this is what we have and it simply will have to do.
Every leadership candidate and their team agreed to the rules and the system when it was set up. It is rather disingenuous if any candidates are claiming that these timelines and regulations caught them off guard. They know the deadlines and the requirements. It was incumbent upon them to prepare their campaigns based on these things and if they couldn’t get prepared in time, it is nobodies fault but their own.
I will still grumble at all these steps. I will likely have some suggestions to avoid this sort of thing whenever the next leadership race comes along. Until then though, I will simply accept the system and do what I have to do to cast my ballot.
This race will very likely be choosing our next Premier of Alberta. There is no easy way to conduct such an important vote while ensuring security. While this system has some bugs, it will serve its purpose just fine in the end.