About 127,000 members and supporters will be eligible to vote next week for the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, less than half the number that originally signed up. So were the party's efforts at mass mobilization a bust? Not at all.
For the first time in this country's history, a national political party has sought to draw the broader public into a leadership race without forcing people to become dues-paying, card-carrying party animals. Though the process was highly flawed, tens of thousands of Canadians registered to cast a vote for Liberal leader.
It's a fine achievement. The Liberals have blown open the doors to the back rooms. Conservatives and New Democrats should take note.
Not that there haven't been mistakes, going all the way back to the very creation of the new category.
Faced with clear and present danger of oblivion, Liberals decided at their 2012 biennial convention that anyone who wanted to could register as a supporter of the party. No fee, no membership, just the right to cast a ballot for leader.
The convention failed, however, to ratify a proposal for a series of regional primary votes, similar to how the Americans chose their party nominees for president.
That was the first mistake. Primaries would have generated more supporters, more interest, more media coverage, more buzz. And they would have been fun.
The second mistake was to not vet those who signed up as supporters from the beginning. Instead, a vague expression of interest sufficed. This, combined with arcane constitutional rules, forced the party to set March 3 as the cutoff for people to sign up. So just as the race started to get interesting, and people started to take notice, the list was closed. BIG mistake.
A better approach would have been to ask supporters to provide their name, address, phone number and the like at the very beginning. That way, the list would have been more reliable and the deadline for joining could have been moved closer to voting week.
The loosey-goosey way in which supporters signed up also contributed to false triumphalism: More than 294,000 supporters and members had joined, the party trumpeted last month. As the list was culled of fakes, duplications and people who simply weren't willing to bother to properly register, the number went down, and then down again.
In the end, 127,000 supporters and members were eligible to vote, a thousand fewer than the 128,351 who were eligible to vote for NDP leader in March 2012. And the NDP required people to take out a membership.
Only about half of the NDP members cast ballots, however. It will be interesting to see whether the Liberals can draw a higher number.
Despite the diminished Liberal total, it would be wrong to suggest that the new supporters category failed to meet expectations. Party officials said about three-quarters of those eligible to cast ballots are supporters. Without the supporters category, more people would have signed up as members, but it is likely the total would have been far below the NDP number, reinforcing the notion that the Liberals truly are a third-place party.
Unlike the NDP contest, the Liberal race quickly turned into a coronation for Justin Trudeau. Had there been another frontrunner or two, the fight to sign up supporters by each team could have driven the number far higher.
And the party still has the names of those 163,000 people who signed on initially but didn't register to vote. They can be tapped for donations and other forms of support as the months go by.
But most of all, the new category should be seen as a brave effort by a party that needed to be brave. The results of the first go-round were encouraging. Next time out, those results should improve. There is now real potential for national party leaders to be chosen by a broad base of interested voters.
Though Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair no doubt hope that "next time" is no time soon.