The lackluster race to lead the governing Progressive Conservative Party is finally coming to an end tomorrow. Thanks to the Westminster System, the person selected by the membership of the party will essentially automatically become the Premier of the province of Alberta. Unfortunately due to a series of terrible decisions in setting up the system for the leadership election, we will never be confident of the legitimacy of whomever ends up elected in this mess.
I served on the three person committee that managed the election of Danielle Smith as leader of the Wildrose Party in 2009. I learned many lessons through the course of that race. The hardest lesson for an idealist like me was accepting that even in an internal race there are many people who are eager to stretch and break rules in order to win. While most people have personal principles that would prevent this, sadly many will do whatever they can to try and gain an edge for their team. For example, one of the teams in the Wildrose leadership race literally signed up multiple dead people as members. This was caught and internal discipline was enforced. One day I will go into more full detail about some of the stunts attempted in that race.
Because of the reality that some will try to abuse the system, some checks and balances were built into the system to try and reduce or eliminate abuses.
1. In the Wildrose Party, aside from immediate family members, all members must purchase their own membership.
This one can be tough to manage but with the checks below, one can see how bulk buying of memberships is difficult in a properly run leadership system.
The Prentice team initially denied and then admitted to buying memberships for others. While the practice of buying memberships for others is frowned upon by most, it is not technically wrong in the PC leadership election system. I will explain below why this is a huge problem.
2. In the Wildrose race, after a period of time, the membership lists of all teams were shared for the remainder of the campaign. In the PC race this is not happening.
Leadership races put a huge strain upon the resources of the party. Teams typically hold their membership sales tight until the last minute and then literally dump tens of thousands of them on the party at once to be processed. Just entering these memberships into the system alone is a Herculean task, scrutinizing the veracity of the members effectively is nearly impossible for the party itself. This is where sharing the lists with the teams is critical.
Who better to check the lists of members and how they were signed up than competing leadership teams? You can rest assured that volunteers in the different leadership teams in the Wildrose were dedicated to scrutinizing the new lists of members for discrepancies the moment that they got these lists. This is indeed how some of the small but still egregious abuses of the system came to light in the Wildrose leadership race. It was the knowledge that these lists would be shared that kept some of the unprincipled from abusing the system in any large way. They knew that if there were 50 memberships coming from the same household or if one person was signed up 6 times with slight differences in the spelling of their names that alarm bells would go off so they didn’t even try.
In refusing to share the membership lists among the teams, the PC party has invited abuse and we know it is happening. The only questions are the degree of the abuse and how it may or may not have affected the outcome of the race. We likely will never be able to find out.
3. The Wildrose invited scrutineers to be present for every aspect of the vote counting. Now to be fair, one unprincipled team actually took advantage of that for their own benefit and I will indeed write in detail about that down the road. Either way, for the most part having representatives from leadership teams present helps prevent counting abuses and such. As with the membership lists, nobody is better to police the rules in these regards than the teams themselves. The PCs are not allowing such scrutiny which is very distressing.
4. The PCs are using a telephone/internet voting system.
There are countless essays and articles about why these systems are terrible and ripe for abuse. I will let the reader google that should they want more information as my posting is getting lengthy enough.
Aside from cracking the system itself, the phone/internet system of voting also allows anonymity in voting which makes abuse terribly easy.
Let’s say for example I was an unprincipled supporter of one of the campaigns and I had deep pockets for some reason. Let’s say I have access to voters lists from elections Alberta. I could theoretically sign up hundreds or possibly thousands of people for memberships without their knowledge. All I would have to change would be the email address to send the PIN for voting to which is an option in the system. The party’s only check is that the name and address matches the electors list. With the members list reaching the party at the last minute, no physical mail would reach the unknowing new member until the race was over. Communications would come through the email address. With online voting and over the course of a couple days, one person alone could vote countless times and how would they be caught? Scrutineers wont catch it as the party is not allowing them.
The provincial Liberals, Alberta Party and federal NDP all did remote voting in their last races. The turnout for all of those races were dismal so what is the reason to go with this terrible system?
As I type this we are hearing all sorts of reports about how the system is getting overloaded and people cant get their votes in. Odd in mid-day on a weekday. One would think most prospective voters would be working.
The voting system is turning out to be a gong-show of a disaster and the voting has only been going on for a few hours now.
In light of the huge exploits I have demonstrated above, how could anybody really be sure that whoever wins the race has done so fairly? The PC party is already reeling from years of scandals and have lost the trust of many Albertans. What they needed was a leader elected to refresh the party and get off to a principled start. This is impossible now as we will never be able to be sure if that leader was legitimately elected.
Opportunity lost again.