THE BLOG

Has the Liberal Party Jeopardized Recent Gains?

03/13/2013 05:18 EDT | Updated 05/13/2013 05:12 EDT

With only two days to go before the deadline, the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) is working feverishly to deal with a communications glitch that could jeopardize recent gains.

It was previously reported that 294,000 individuals signed on to help them choose a new leader. It was a memorable achievement, compared to the heyday of Liberal majority governments that caused politicos to re-evaluate the party's ability to rebound. While many celebrated this renewal, detractors were also on cue with criticism to point out the majority didn't account for full-fledged members.

The Libs established a new category of participant in an effort to get the electorate more involved. It was a try before you buy concept that successfully inspired a lethargic public to re-engage in politics, at least for the time being. "Supporters" didn't have to pay for membership and they didn't exercise all the rights that came with being a card-carrying member; but they did receive updates and could vote for the new leadership. It was a laudable strategy that attracted enough new blood for many to start singing the Wind of Change.

The only problem is, with this new designation came a new process that appears to be causing some grief. Members and supporters alike have neglected to finish their registration that included the most important steps to complete. A second confirmation is required by March 14, 2013 to participate in voting and up to three quarters of participants have forgotten to follow through.

According to campaign insider Marc David, out of 294,000 initial registrants, only 73,500 may be eligible to vote. He breaks the numbers down further and explains that 50,000 are believed to be regular paid members, while the rest classify as "supporters." It goes without saying these numbers are estimates until the final tally, but he worries the majority of initiates may miss the opportunity to participate.

"It was the party's first election done this way, so it was expected that some glitches were going to pop up. But to lose three quarters of the people already signed up is hard to take," says Marc David.

He's working double time to inform fellow Liberals, old and new, it is indeed a two-step process. The first registration was meant to indicate or renew party membership and to accept the newest class of supporters. The second is actually registering to vote with the security PIN provided at step one. Mr. David has been sharing the subsequent paperwork to help everyone identify if they filled it out.

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Liberal Leadership Voter Registration

Daryl Fridhandler is the southern Alberta district organizer and he expanded on issues that may impact the resulting turnout. By telephone interview, he said the process of double registration is confusing even some of the most weathered Liberal veterans. When you do something one way for so long, it often creates an obstacle to absorb an entirely different method. He adds the LPC had little time to ground everyone in the new technique.

Fridhandler also described resistance from some of the masses, who declined to provide the security information required to keep fraud at bay. All parts of the voter registration document had to be completed or participants would find themselves disqualified from voting -- and this includes paid members. Some registrants were suspicious and took issue with questions relating to birthdate, mother's maiden name and first pet. Despite his reassurance these security features were needed to protect the integrity of the election, there were still folks who refused to provide personal details.

He says prospective voters had the choice to participate online or via snail mail, but the forms might have been challenging for elderly populations and those who practice English or French as a second language. This is the debate reported by volunteers who are trying to encourage them to finish.

Although Fridhandler couldn't confirm the exact numbers provided by his counterpart, he did say these glitches could cost the party 30 to 70 per cent of original support, in agreement with David's projections. He anticipates a debriefing will address complications that arose from the leadership campaign. As with all new things, they also agree it's been a valuable learning experience.

The good news is that information is available to help those affected before it's too late. Fridhandler acknowledges there are numerous emails being sent to recipients from Liberal candidates and the party. He said it's possible they might have overlooked the invitation to complete registration and hopes everyone will hunt for the applicable message.

He advises if supporters provided an email address upon recruitment and haven't received a second message to confirm voting, they can contact the party through the online help section dedicated to this purpose. Any questions related to web participation should also be directed here.

For those who did not provide an email address and opted for traditional mail, the response is a bit more complicated and in this case Fridhandler describes a few scenarios.

If they received a second registration (for the sole purpose of voting) through Canada Post, it will need to be thoroughly answered to qualify. Omitted responses are likely to result in being excluded.

Respondents who've provided the necessary information must ensure their letters are postmarked by March 14, 2013. The party realizes they won't receive all applications by this date, but as long as they're in the mail before deadline, the participant will be accepted.

Finally, anyone experiencing difficulty should contact the representative who signed them up for assistance. This person may be able to help the individual complete the form and get it submitted expediently. Organizers state they're doing their best to alleviate confusion.

A number of volunteers requested an extension that would allow them to cope with glitches, but as yet there is no confirmation and the registration date remains set at March 14. That's only two days to protect the 294,000 participants from dropping to 73,500 if estimates are correct.

Moments before publication, Sarah Bain responded to inquiries on behalf of Liberal Party of Canada President, Mike Crawley. She indicates the party will not release official numbers until the registration process is complete, but they look to be on track to reach 100,000 eligible voters. Ms. Bain confirms that organizers have access to these running tallies and any campaign has the ability to check this information. It's up to them if they provide it in their efforts to process registrants.

Regarding a deadline extension, it would be a committee decision that isn't made directly by the office of president. No alterations have been suggested at this time. Bain closes by informing supporters they can view a website video that explains the double registration process and they are more than happy to help anyone with questions (see video part one and part two).

Liberal Leadership Voter Registration