Voting system wasn”™t broken

Federal Conservative Party supporters will no doubt continue to debate for some time the results of the leadership campaign that put dark horse candidate Andrew Scheer at the helm.

However the question of whether the former house speaker is the right choice to lead the party quickly became secondary to concerns about problems with the voting process.

Immediately before the mail-in vote, which culminated in an accounting at a convention on May 28, candidates’ camps struggled to respond to concerns that thousands did not receive ballots in time to submit them by regular mail.

Then, after Scheer won a razor thin 13th-ballot victory, the team of candidate Maxime Bernier, who finished second in the ranked ballot system,  publicly questioned why a discrepancy of more than 7,000 votes exists between the number of voters counted on the final ballot and the list of members who voted that was provided to the various leadership camps.

Party officials explained the discrepancy as the result of a lag between entry of names into the party’s database and other data entry issues.

Regardless of the reason, the result is an election with a questionable outcome. And that’s without even getting into how the ranked ballot process left the party with a leader who trailed acknowledged front runner Bernier on every ballot but the final one. There may be problems with first-past-the-post, but it’s not exactly clear that first-past-the-13th post is necessarily preferable.

This a problem not unique to the federal Tories.

For their 2013 campaign the Liberal Party  created a “supporter” category of party affiliation allowing Canadians who were not paid members or members of another political party to vote for the Liberal leadership after affirming they “support” the federal liberals. The ballot was conducted online and by phone. While in that case a clear first-ballot victory by current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was not controversial, all the same elements existed for potential issues.

In the most recent Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race, many questioned a process that allowed Patrick Brown, a federal Conservative MP with no prior connection to the provincial arm of the party, to become leader almost entirely on the strength of online member recruiting efforts.

Locally, most municipalities have switched to what we still consider “alternative” forms of voting such as mail-in ballots, and Centre Wellington is planning a move to a potentially trouble-fraught online system.  

The more we try to fix the tried and true system of requiring physical ballots, the more evident it becomes the system is not broken. These recent examples should give pause to any consideration of a move to alternative voting for actual federal or provincial elections.