Ontario's Progressive Conservatives will begin casting their ballots for a new leader on Friday in an online process some candidates are challenging over worries the outcome will be tainted by false memberships and vote-rigging.
The campaigns of former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford and political newcomer Caroline Mulroney have flagged concerns with the team running the PC Party's leadership contest, saying a number of fraudulent memberships could have been purchased in recent weeks with prepaid credit cards. They also say a number of party members are still waiting to receive the paperwork they need to register to vote.
Mr. Ford's campaign is asking the party to ditch its online-voting process and revert to using paper ballots owing to the complications, his spokeswoman told the Globe and Mail on Thursday. The party has admitted some people have yet to receive the unique PIN sent in the mail to each of the party's members. The number is needed to register online and cast a ballot after voting starts on Friday morning.
"We're hearing from thousands of people who have not received their PIN in the mail yet," said Lyndsey Vanstone, Mr. Ford's spokeswoman. "Because of the extreme issues with this process, we want to see the party go to paper ballots and have a regular old-fashioned vote."
The problem should work itself out in a few days, said Hartley Lefton, the chairman of the committee running the leadership contest. "We are aware of some party members who have not yet received their PINs to register. We believe that the great majority of these members should receive their PINs in the next day or two."
According to Ms. Mulroney's campaign, the use of prepaid credit cards, also known as burner cards, makes it impossible for the party to track how each membership is paid for. Party rules require people to pay for their own memberships, but the prepaid cards can't be tracked back to any individual.
The issue of prepaid card use was also raised in the 2017 federal Conservative leadership campaign. At the time, candidates charged that fake memberships were being paid for with these cards. However, the use of these cards is not forbidden under the Ontario party's rules.
"I remain concerned about the potential for fraudulent memberships," Ms. Mulroney said in a statement. "I will be watching the process closely and will work with the party to ensure all legitimate party members have the opportunity to vote, and the integrity of our voting process is assured."
The party has already removed almost 500 members from the voting list, because some were duplicates and others because of payment irregularities, according to party officials.
Former Tory MPP Christine Elliott, a candidate in the race, said she was confident in the process and expected the party is doing its "due diligence to ensure that voting will take place in a timely and secure manner."
A new PC leader will be announced on March 10, only six weeks after former leader Patrick Brown resigned in the wake of sexual-misconduct allegations. Because of the quick turnaround, party officials said they turned to using an online-voting system they haven't used before.
To cut down on fraud, the party requires members to verify their identity during registration. After receiving their PIN, voters have to register online and upload a copy of their ID, either an Ontario driver's license or a piece of ID with a photo and another with an address.
To help voters struggling with the process, especially seniors who might struggle with the technology, campaigns are holding voting parties over the next week to register members. Members will be able to cast a ranked ballot during a week of voting, between March 2 and March 8.
While Mr. Ford has asked the party to return to a paper ballot, the party is confident with the online process, according to Mr. Lefton. "We have unprecedented opportunities for people to vote. There is a week of voting and people can vote from the comfort of their homes," he said.