Alberta's Progressive Conservatives started voting for a new leader Friday, and some members were calling the results from the party's leadership race questionable just hours after the voting started and a full day ahead of the polls closing.
The Tories ditched the traditional ballot box-style convention this weekend in favour of an online and telephone voting system. Some party members, however, started complaining Friday morning, saying they were unable to cast their vote or get through to the help line.
"If there's one eligible member that has been denied the right to vote, then this is a sham election," Nejolla Korris, an Edmontonian who has been a PC member since the early 2000s.
Jim Prentice – the former federal minister of industry, minister of Indian affairs and northern development, and minister of the environment – is expected to win the race. He does not hold a seat in Alberta's legislature. Mr. Prentice's challengers are Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver, both provincial MLAs and former cabinet ministers. The leadership race was sparked when Alison Redford resigned as premier this spring after critics called her spending and flying habits excessive.
Friday's voting hiccups were not tied to the actual voting system, Jim McCormick, president of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, said. Instead, the party's help line crashed. People experiencing troubles voting online, he said, were most likely entering their information incorrectly. The majority of the difficulties came as people tried to access their PIN over the phone or use the help line.
To vote in this weekend's PC leadership race, Albertans must be party member. They must also be a Canadian citizen, have lived in Alberta for at least six months, and be over 14. The Tories verified members' eligibility by cross-checking identifying information such as names and addresses with Elections Alberta's voter list. The party then sent eligible members personal identification numbers via mail, e-mail, or cellphones. Members were then to vote online, entering their 20-digit PIN, membership number, and part of their postal code. The PINs could also be used to vote over the phone.
In-person polls will be open Saturday in Calgary and Edmonton. Members will still vote online or over the phone at these stations, but volunteers will run the stations and computers and phones will be available.
Polls close Saturday at 5 p.m. MT and results are expected two to three hours later. A run-off vote, if necessary, is scheduled for Sept. 20.
Ms. Korris said she had difficulty getting her PIN this week. On Friday, the electronic system would not accept her vote. She then had difficulty getting through on the help line. The problem, she said, was that she misunderstood the way voters were supposed to enter their postal codes. The system asks for "postal code numbers," so people who enter the letter and numbers of their postal code will be rejected. The instructions, she argues, are confusing and thwarting the democratic process.
"How tough do you need to make it for [voters]?"