UPDATED: Tactical Implications of the Liberal Leadership Rules
[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]
The Federal Liberal Party gave a briefing to the Ottawa media to update them on eligible candidates, contest rules, and various deadlines. The Hill Times has a good overview of the session, but here's a briefing note with more of the details that would be of interest to Pundits' Guide readers.
UPDATE: Note several clarifications and additions below, courtesy of the helpful folks over at LPC headquarters. Thanks!
Nine contestants passed all the party's requirements in order to qualify for a spot on the ballot, all of whom are well known by now.
[Note that under the Election Act, a "candidate" is someone who runs for a seat in the House of Commons, while a "contestant" is someone who runs in a nomination contest or leadership contest. I will use both terms interchangeably, so as not to sound too jargony. But it's important to know the difference if you're using the Elections Canada website.]
The party is willing to say that each contestant has met all the candidate registration requirements. But it will not be releasing, for example, which provinces each candidate relied on to meet the "at least 100 signatures from each of 3 provinces" nomination requirement. We learned over the past weekend that it had been an issue for late-comer Martin Cauchon's nomination papers, and that he was trying to make up signatures in Manitoba. One might surmise that the provinces relied on for the nomination papers might give an indication of the various candidates' regional bases of strength, but that's reporting that will have to come by asking each of the different leadership campaigns. It's not coming from the party.
To be eligible to cast a vote for the next Liberal leader, you have to be a member or supporter in good standing as of the cut-off on March 3.
Note that any Canadian who is eligible to vote can enroll as a "supporter" of the Liberal Party at no cost. This description has a few implications. First is that anyone under the age of 18 cannot enroll as a "supporter", but is eligible (if over the age of 13 I believe) to become a party member which costs $10. [UPDATE: However, the membership fee is waived for those aged 14-17.] Same goes for non-citizen permanent residents, as I understand it. Both members and supporters have voting rights for the party leadership, while members can vote on other party matters, and run for a position within the organization or to be a candidate.
But there is a second step to go through before a member or supporter is able to vote, and that's voter registration. This process is designed to confirm the individual's contact information, their eligibility, and their location/residence for the purpose of determining where their vote will be counted. [UPDATE: The Liberal Party points out that security questions will also be included here.]
The registration process starts on Monday, January 21 for those members and supporters already known to the party, and continues until the registration deadline of March 14. Members and supporters will receive a registration package (which is already in the mail, I gather), and they have to return it before the deadline. [UPDATE: Email is being used for most supporters, except those not having an email address, who will receive a package the old-fashioned, snail-mail way.] The package will include various declarations, notably that the supporter supports the principles and values of the party, and is not a supporter or member of another political party. There may still be a charge in order to register, but McKay believes that to be unlikely. I'm told the party is conducting the convention on a cost recovery basis, however.
The party notes that, currently, its "universe" of potential voters stands at 100,000, including 55K members and 45K supporters who have enrolled through the party's website.
Meanwhile, leadership campaigns are signing up supporters and the occasional member. Memberships are still handled through the provincial-territorial associations (PTAs), though you can also join through liberal.ca.
But – and this is a big BUT – Canadians who sign up to become supporters of the Liberal Party through the website of one of leadership contenders, instead of through liberal.ca, will not become known to other leadership contestants until after the March 3 cut-off. Also, those counts are not included in the above figure of 45K.
Leadership campaigns are understandably concentrating on signing up non-paying supporters, rather than paying members, and each has been given access to a website widget by the party to use on their website, for the purpose of enrolling supporters. The supporters all go into the central party's database, but the ones who sign up through a given candidate's website are known only to that candidate's campaign until after March 3.
So, until March 3, a leadership campaign can communicate with all the current members, and any supporters who sign up through the party's website, and any other supporters who have signed up through their own website, but not those who signed up through the website of another campaign.
After the March 3 cut-off, a "preliminary voters list" is compiled and distributed to the various leadership campaigns, who will have an opportunity to scrutinize it and file any challenges, while the registration process concludes. After the registration cut-off on March 14, the "final voters list" is prepared and sent to all the campaigns and presumably the electronic voting vender, Dominion Voting Systems of Toronto*.
Then everyone on the final list will be sent a voting package containing a PIN, which will be able to be used for either telephone or online voting during the one-week voting period from April 6-14.
The party has not decided yet the level of detail in which it will report to the public the membership and supporter counts, and whether by category and/or province. Of course, as part of the final result, the number of eligible voters will be announced, but detail beyond that has yet to be determined.
The Voting and the Results
So, eligible registered voters (whether members or supporters) will receive a voting package, and once voting opens (after the April 6 showcase in Toronto, as I understand it) they will be able to cast their ballot either by phone or online, anytime during the following week until the polls close. "Voting day" which has to be designated under the Elections Act, is April 14, but nothing in the Act prevents early voting.
Dominion Voting Systems is a vendor of voting machines to many jurisdictions in the United States, and has also conducted for example online voting for municipal elections in Peterborough. Interestingly, former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley serves as the Chair of its Advisory Committee.
Naturally, journalists in attendance at Wednesday's briefing were most curious to know whether the Liberals could avoid the distributed denial of service attack (DDOS) that plagued voting at the NDP's leadership convention last March, and other security issues. Executive Director Ian McKay did not take the opportunity to mau-mau the NDP on this one (for fear I suppose that other problems could come back to haunt the Liberals), but noted that in their analysis of what happened at the NDP convention, the short voting window was what caused the problems. I tend to agree, because the short time windows to vote on each ballot, while the convention was being covered live on television, made for a very attractive target to a hacker.
The Liberals, by contrast, will not be voting in separate rounds of voting for each ballot. They'll be casting a single preferential ballot, the results of which will be announced on April 14. And they'll have all week to do it.
It's unlikely that a glut of voters trying to access the server all at once would become an issue in that case, not least because it will be in the interest of each leadership campaign to pull their votes earlier rather than later in the week.
So, less dramatic, perhaps, but also less attractive to a hacker looking for another notch in his bedpost.
No online form of voting is completely immune from difficulties, whether in security, privacy, scrutinability or otherwise. But at least a DDOS could not completely derail a voting process as designed in this way.
Votes will be tabulated electronically, by riding, and then each riding's counts will be weighted to 100 points. The bottom candidate will figuratively "drop off", and the next preferential choice still on the ballot of his or her voters will receive those votes, leading to another drop off, another re-apportionment, another count, another drop off, and so on until one candidate obtains more than 50% of all the preferences.
During the NDP race, someone set up a mock ballot at DemoChoice.org to simulate the preferential ballot portion of their voting (though that ballot's link shows it is no longer current), and sure enough someone enterprising has already set up a similar mock ballot for the Liberal race, giving us all something to follow obsessively, and all the campaigns something to spend time freeping. Unfortunately it contains too many unofficial candidates, is missing two of the official ones, and the current leader (Alex Burton) is not even in the real race. But maybe the owner if she or he reads this, could be persuaded to cull out the irrelevant names and add the two missing ones.
The entire counting process at Demochoice.org takes less than a tenth of a second, and it probably will not take all that much longer for the Liberals in reality. But of course there's TV to consider, so no doubt it will be dragged out in some way or another.
Because the results will be tabulated electronically, they will theoretically be available by "ballot", by province, and/or by riding. But again, the party has not yet decided how much information to release and when.
The party also outlined further details about the debates, which you'll be able to read about at their leadership website. All debates will be livestreamed through their website at liberal.ca, in addition to any live coverage they garner from the networks.
Executive Director Ian McKay said that the supporter category did not seem to be unduly hampering their normal membership levels, and he also indicated that fundraising by the leadership candidates was not hampering the party's own fundraising efforts, noting that they had had their "best December ever" (results that will be reported in a few weeks).
Oh, and there will be a deadline for any leadership candidate who wants to withdraw from the race without appearing on the ballot, but McKay says they'll be taking advice from their vendor on what the optimum day is for that, so nothing specific to announce there as yet.
That seems to be the full wrap. Thanks to the Liberal Party for inviting me to observe and live-tweet the proceedings. I'll see if I can make it out to Vancouver for Sunday's debate.
Don't forget to check out the Pundits' Guide Liberal Leadership social media aggregator page for all the latest Facebook, Twitter, and Google News feeds in one place. http://lpcldr.punditsguide.ca
I have to declare a conflict of interest, inasmuch as two young people in my partner's extended family have worked for Dominion Voting Systems, and one still does.