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The BC Liberals' voting process would confound Einstein

British Columbia Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark, centre, votes in favour of a motion to change to a weighted voting system during the B.C. Liberal Party Convention in Vancouver, B.C., on Feb. 12, 2011.


A contemporary Einstein, where are you? We know Barbie ("math is hard") Doll is not up to snuff, but someone is needed to sift through all the permutations, combinations and mathematical equations that are making the pending Liberal leadership vote so entrancing and wide open to speculation.

I venture to say there's never been a ballot like it, anywhere. Not even the legendary hanging chads of Florida come close.

To wit. Each riding counts for the same 100 points, no matter if one contains as few as 200 members and another has as many as 8,000 members.

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So, a candidate actually wins more points by having 110 supporters in the small riding than he or she does from claiming 3,800 voters, say, in the larger constituency. Try to figure how that plays out across all 85 ridings, and one could go mad on ye olde Ouija board.

Toss in the unprecedented stipulation that all voters must make at least a first and second choice on their ballots, with second choices counting as first choices and … oops, my Twitter-addicted brain just exploded from the complexity.

But you get the idea. Call in Watson.


On a more serious note, Liberal protestations to the contrary, at first glance, the potential for abuse is a mite worrisome. Voting will be mostly online, by individual PIN number. But is any mechanism in place to ensure that those votes are really cast by members on their own, and as their own free choice?

I raise the issue of the thousands of newly signed-up Liberal members within the province's Sikh community. Everything may be fine this time around, but these kinds of mass signups have caused problems in other leadership campaigns.

Many of these brand-new members have been registered by small numbers of people. Their job is to deliver those votes on election day, traditionally difficult when members had to go to a specific place at a specific time and hang around to cast a ballot.

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This time, voting will be much easier. Just the click of a few computer buttons. Some Sikh organizers have told me that plans are in place to "assist" new members who may have language and technology difficulties. Computers in central locations? Visits to homes to help the process? Possibly, these few organizers say.

That's not all. For reasons I tried to explain above, ballot second choices are crucial, and many of these freshly signed-up Liberals may not be familiar with the other candidates.

That could put a lot of influence into the hands of the organizers who signed them up and who may suggest where that second choice should go.

These are scenarios that might not come to pass at all. Democracy is a messy business at the best of times.

The Liberals are holding a technical briefing about voting mechanics on Friday, so we could learn how they plan to thwart these possibilities.


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Quote of the week: "The 'hanging ceremonies' have … become an important democratic ritual."

Yep, leave it to our pro-capital punishment Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to seemingly link hanging with democracy, but there you go.

A word of caution, however, before you go searching for the reappearance of the noose for reporters who believe Bev "Roy Orbison" Oda was guilty of, in the tuneful Twitter of Andrew Coyne, putting the 'not' in the doc she got she got.

Sadly, for the drama of this tale, the PM was actually talking about a ceremony to officially unveil a portrait of the best asterisk in Canadian history, Arthur Meighen, only 62 years after it was first "hung."

Hands up, all those who knew that Mr. Meighen was twice prime minister of Canada, albeit for ultra-short durations in the 1920s. A double Kim Campbell, as it were.

But best of all, Mr. Meighen was caught up in the legendary "King-Byng" crisis, a fascinating event - beloved by the country's two constitutional experts - that demonstrates just how exciting Canadian history really is.

Yet you try to tell the young people today of the importance of the "King-Byng" crisis, and they won't believe you. They won't.

So welcome, then, to the hallowed halls of Centre Block, Arthur Meighen, of whom it was often said: he could recite Shakespeare, but couldn't remember where he left his umbrella.

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