03/22/2012 11:41 EDT | Updated 03/23/2012 06:59 EDT

NDP Leadership Convention: Digital Votes From Home Expected To Be Crucial To Deciding Winner


TORONTO -- More than 3,500 NDP delegates are expected to gather at the party’s Toronto convention this weekend to elect a leader to replace the late Jack Layton.

This time, however, New Democrats watching the proceedings from their television sets at home won’t be left out of the action.


Although some 50,000 NDP members have already voted (39 per cent of party members), either online or through a mail-in ballot, thousands more are expected to participate online from the comfort of home, voting round by round as if they were on the convention floor.

“Voting online lets me be more strategic if need be,” said Nathan Cullen supporter Stephen Elliott-Buckley.

Convention Coverage, HuffPost Style: Over the next two days, while NDP members pick their new leader in Toronto, follow HuffPost Canada as our team brings you comprehensive coverage. We'll be posting photos, behind-the-scenes video, opinion and reporting from the convention floor.

Follow us at @HuffPostCanada, on our Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj's Facebook Page, on our NDP leadership site, and on our politics page and our front page. Friday, we'll be covering candidate speeches and a tribute to Jack Layton. Saturday morning, we'll be following the rounds of voting that will end with the new leader.

The online voting is a great way to expand democracy within the party without having to cram 70,000 people into one room, the B.C. resident added.

Elliott-Buckley really wants to pick a candidate who will prevent the perceived front-runner, Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair, from winning the race. If Cullen is off the ballot or "too low to stop Mulcair," he said he’ll throw his support behind one of his number two choices, either Brian Topp, Peggy Nash or Paul Dewar, depending on the dynamics on the floor of the convention.

“Voting online also lets me not have to make up my mind on a number two until I need to,” he explained in an email.

On top of sending emails to supporters and engaging on Facebook and Twitter, Cullen's campaign will be employing “hundreds of volunteers” to reach out to delegates face to face, said spokeswoman Coree Tull.

But even with real-time online voting, Cullen’s camp has been encouraging supporters to vote in advance polls. Candidates who haven’t locked-in all their support ahead of the vote risk having members at home, or even at the convention, skip a vote or two, contributing to a slide on subsequent ballots.

“Please note: if you vote in real time (online or at convention), you must vote for Nathan on each and every ballot. Real time voting is not preferential,” Cullen’s team reminded supporters in an email Thursday.

Peggy Nash’s campaign told HuffPost their organizing department will be phoning identified supporters Friday to ensure that everyone has voted.

“In addition, our social media team will be acting in parallel to our floor team to attract new supporters to Peggy as voting unfolds,” Zuzia Danielski, a spokeswoman for Nash said.

“We recognize some 80,000 eligible voters have yet to cast a ballot and we will be doing everything possible to mobilize support for Peggy.”

Brian Topp’s campaign told HuffPost their outreach will target members who aren’t necessarily participating in the action at the convention.

“Our game plan has always been premised on people voting from home. And we are reaching them one on one, volunteer to member in a G.O.T.V. (Get Out The Vote) effort that has been going on for weeks,” said Topp’s spokesman Jim Rutkowski.

Topp’s team will be reaching out to supporters throughout the day Friday and Saturday via telephone and emails, Rutkowski said.

Advance voting officially ends at 11 a.m. on Friday, then the seven leadership contenders will each get 20 minutes to make their final pitch to party members.

Topp’s campaign has already released his video presentation. Other candidates will also tout their cross-Canada support, endorsements and vision for the future.

“In Paul's showcase we will demonstrate the breadth of diversity of support for Paul (shown through multi-lingual speakers and our videos), as well as the energy and excitement that he brings to the NDP (shown through the live musical performance and the whole show),” his spokesman Joe Cressy said.

Dewar plans to highlight his experience, his NDP roots and his passion for the party, as well as his plan to win the next 70 seats needed to form government, Cressy added.

“The showcase is designed for both the audience and television.”

For those attending the convention or participating at home, voting on the first round will begin at 5 p.m. ET on Friday.

After the voting has begun, the convention will turn to an evening spent remembering Layton.

The glossy audio-visual presentation will include a speech by Layton’s widow, Toronto MP Olivia Chow. She’s expected to talk about Layton's desire to inspire love, hope and optimism, and achieve "real changes" in government to address the needs of all Canadians.


Also on HuffPost

What You Need To Know About The NDP Leadership Vote