One of Alberta's most contested ridings has 550 invalid names on its voter list, a Conservative Party candidate complained to Elections Canada this week.
That's less than 1 per cent of the total number of eligible voters, leading the incumbent New Democrat to dismiss the issue as insignificant.
Conservative Ryan Hastman's campaign team made the complaint after a review of the preliminary voters' list in Edmonton Strathcona.
The list had approximately 75,000 eligible names in the last election, but the leading candidates now are in a dogfight and believe that every vote will be important.
Mr. Hastman is seeking to knock off incumbent New Democrat Linda Duncan, who won the riding by fewer than 500 votes in 2008.
A voter can be ineligible if they are registered to addresses that are not homes. The addresses cited by the Hastman campaign include private mail boxes, storage lockers, stores and industrial sites.
"We have no reason to believe these bogus addresses are anything other than bureaucratic errors. But in a close race like Edmonton Strathcona, we have to make sure there is no cheating and no mistakes," Mr. Hastman said in an e-mailed statement to reporters.
Elections Canada told his campaign that it will review the complaint, Mr, Hastman added in an interview. "When the margin in 2008 was 463 (votes), 550 addresses could be enough to make a difference."
Ms. Duncan said it's common to find some errors on any voters' list.
"Every day we're out canvassing, you find that Elections Canada hasn't removed names of people who used to live at addresses. Whatever. Doesn't Ryan Hastman have something better to do than trying to find people who are living in empty fields?" Ms. Duncan asked.
"I'm more concerned about getting people out to vote than trying to find people who don't exist and shouldn't be voting."
The move is the latest in a recent series of publicity efforts embraced by the Hastman campaign, which two weeks ago reached out to volunteers for more support, with Mr. Hastman conceding he was losing the race.
The campaign went public with photos of vandalism on two of its election signs; held a press conference at a factory where Mr. Hastman, donning a hard hat for TV cameras, argued that NDP policies will hurt Alberta's job market; and released an e-mail from a provincial NDP supporter who had threatened to boycott a business owner with Conservative signs on his property.
It's a far cry from the early weeks of the campaign, in which the Conservative camp largely avoided the media spotlight amid a controversy over one of its volunteers.
Mr. Hastman's campaign didn't explicitly lay blame for the allegedly incorrect names. However, it named only two of the businesses linked to the 550 cases. One is a hemp store, another a "goth-punk clothing store," both along Whyte Avenue, an arts strip in the riding that is the heart of Ms. Duncan's support.
"What is he doing? Trying to find that I'm fraudulently getting elected? We haven't even had a vote yet," Ms. Duncan said.
Mr. Hastman countered that his campaign's review of the voter list was intended simply to ensure a level playing field.
"It's important that the voter list is accurate," he said in an interview late Thursday evening. "We sent a formal request for an inquiry to Elections Canada. And they've told us they'll look into it."
When the writ is dropped, Elections Canada creates a preliminary list of electors for each riding based on the National Register of Voters. It is amended by voters themselves, who can report a change of address, or by occasional door-to-door revision checks, although those are "by and large in new developments and areas that are growing," said John Enright, a spokesman with Elections Canada. [Edmonton Strathcona is a long-established community with little new development.]
Voter cards mailed to incorrect addresses could be used to cast a ballot -- but only if a would-be voter also had one of three things: a current piece of photo identification with a matching address, two pieces of ID (both with a name, with one that has an address and neither requiring a photo), or a sworn oath of another voter vouching for the person's identity and address.
Mr. Enright said the complaint will be handled by the local returning officer, who has until 6 p.m. local time on Tuesday to finalize the voter list. Such complaints do occur in elections, but are not particularly common, he said.
"We're pleased that the candidate brought it to our attention, because it's going to allow for the returning officer to make changes to the list if need be. It's an important part of the process," Mr. Enright said.