03/24/2012 12:42 EDT

Vote Fail: NDP Online Ballot Issues Tied To Attempted Cyber-Attack (UPDATED)

The Huffington Post Canada

UPDATE:Thomas Mulcair was elected leader of the NDP on Saturday at the party's convention in Toronto.

TORONTO -- The NDP's leadership vote this weekend was subject to an attempted cyber-attack that caused delays, headaches for members of the party and a potential PR disaster.

The online ballot system was heralded as a way to modernize digital democracy, but the NDP Leader's Principal Secretary Brad Lavigne says that on Saturday, "somebody was trying to break into our house."


The delays cast a shadow over the votes, which saw Mulcair take 43.8 per cent of the vote during the third ballot. Topp took second place with 31.6 per cent of the vote and Cullen, in third, received 24.6 per cent.

Lavigne maintained the site wasn't hacked, but rather said: "I would describe it as somebody outside the system who was attempting to mess up with our system."

"The system has not been compromised. The only thing that has taken place is that they've delayed, they've jammed up the lines, they've occupied the space that the company was creating for our membership," he said.

"The only thing that we know is the delays that were being caused were being caused with those outside the system who were attempting to mess with our system. They did not get into the system. The vote is very safe. The analogy that can be used is that somebody was trying to break into our house, the alarm went off and the robbers were scared away."

The Canadian Press reports Jamey Heath, campaign manager for third-place contender Nathan Cullen, says the party's chief electoral officer has disclosed the problem to the three remaining camps in the race.

The party hired Scytl, a Spanish-based company that specializes in electronic voting security, to run the online voting system.

"The party has informed Nathan's campaign that there was a cyber attack on the voting system,'' Heath said in an interview with CP.

Fewer than 10,000 New Democrats actually voted electronically today, CP says. Most members, some 56,000, voted before the convention.

So far Saturday afternoon, convention organizers have had to extend voting times twice -- during the second round of voting and another for the third round. The third vote, which was supposed to end at 4:30 p.m. ET, will now end at 5:40 p.m.

On the convention floor and on Twitter, rumours of a denial of service attack, with no confirmation that one had actually happened, are surfacing. One NDP source told The Globe and Mail they are investigating a "possibility of an attack."

It is not known whether the voting issues had a direct impact on voter turnout.

"I think certainly in the first round," said Sally Housser, NDP spokeswoman. "Once the system got moving again the volume of calls of people having any complaints dropped completely off and we were seeing no messages on Twitter on anything like that."

Because of high traffic to its website, organizers were allowing members inside the Toronto convention centre to vote until 4:30 p.m. During that time, members outside are being shut off. At 4:40 p.m., a one-hour window will open for members outside the centre.

Now the party is cooling its heels while national TV time, crucial for the party's larger outreach, is running out. CBC has already switched off coverage on its main network and said it will cut back in when results are ready, but Hockey Night in Canada calls.

The voting snafus all began when the second round of ballots was delayed to 12:45 p.m. ET as organizers looked to give members more time to cast their votes. The vote was delayed again until 1:15 p.m. and the results were out just before 2 p.m. About 2,600 fewer votes were cast between the first and second round.

Housser said the problems happened because the servers jammed -- too many users were trying to access the site. The party noticed issues during this morning's second round vote, but maintains every voter who tried to vote were able to do so.

"All I can say in terms of the servers is that's what we're seeing -- that they're being overloaded essentially. We're overloading and that's what's causing the lag time. We're identifying as quickly as possible."

For the third round, they noticed more problems and instituted the separated voting process.

"We shut down, essentially, the outside voting to ensure that everybody here could vote without a problem," Housser said.

The party is in contact with membership and is encouraging them to vote and keep trying.

At the convention, voters were lined up to cast their ballots. But on Twitter, many of the party faithful were venting. Some said even though voting times were extended they weren't able to cast their ballot.

The first round of voting began on Friday afternoon. The majority of members participating in this weekend's leadership vote cast their ballots before the convention even began, but many others are voting round by round.

“I think that there has been some struggle online," Nathan Cullen, NDP leadership candidate, told HuffPost Canada. "People are tweeting that it is hard to get on in certain places so hopefully some of that clears up and I think you might even see the vote total go up in the next round.”

Though there are 175 voting terminals in Toronto, countrywide members can use their mobile phones and computers to vote. Members log in and use a PIN password. Some 65,000 voters cast their ballots for the first round.

"Trying to vote online, but website slow," Tweeted Ian Bushfield, adding "Jack [Layton] would call this a #fail."

David Parker wrote the NDP thinks they are the next big thing, but, can't even get 70,000 Canadians to vote in their leadership race.

With files from Althia Raj

Here are more Tweets from NDP voters: