Wednesday, June 27, 2012

10,000 Liberal supporters a very real number: Certosimo

Following-up on my post earlier this week about some of my concerns around the Liberal Party of Canada’s supporter sign-up process, I spoke today with Liberal membership secretary Matthew Certosimo about the process and the philosophy behind how it’s set up.

In summary, he feels the 10,000 supporters signed-up in the first month figure is a firm and very real number, due to the multi-stage verification process I’ll outline. And the number continues to grow. The party feels pre-checking the box is a standard industry practice for companies that communicate via web forms, but he will look at adding more language, either on the petition form or through a link, to illuminate just what being a supporter means.

More broadly, he described a system to bring supporters into the party that acts as a funnel at the top to bring in every possible, and gets narrower down the funnel to ensure that a) they actually do want to be supporters, and later b) that they’re qualified to vote for leader. That’s to deal with the two competing objectives of the system: wanting to broaden the tent while also needing to ensure the veracity of the list.

He described a multi-stage process. First, someone takes the first step to be a supporter by signing-up on the Web page or through a petition or other outreach method. At that point, they're providing minimal information and may not know too much about what that entails.  They’ll then receive a follow-up e-mail from party president Mike Crawley asking them to confirm that they do indeed want to be a supporter that provides more information about what that involves, and asks them for more information, as well as to affirm they support Liberal principles and aren’t a member of another party.

If they don’t provide the follow-on information, they may stay on a mailing-list but they don’t become official supporters. And while there’s the possibility of people ending up on the list that didn’t intend to be, Certosimo said this second stage is where they can ask off. And he said while 10,000 supporters signed-up in the first month, he said only 30 said they were on the list in error and wanted off. A pretty low error rate.

And before any supporter will get a ballot to vote in a leadership race, he said there will be a further process of verification and credentialing. Those rules are to be determined by an ad hoc committee on leadership rules. The method of leadership voting is still to be determined. Verification that a supporter exists and is qualified to vote would be easier to do if there’s physical (as opposed to online voting), but physical polling would be a difficult logistical exercise given the potential size of a voting pool that includes supporters. But Certosimo said whatever process is decided on will have to be one in which everyone can have confidence in the veracity of the supporter list. Campaigns, as is usual in a leadership race, will also have the opportunity to challenge the credentials of any voter.

Certosimo stressed that he pushed to launch the supporters system in May because he wanted the summer as a period to experiment and work the kinks out of the system, before leadership concerns begin to influence everything in the fall. He indicated the anecdotal reports I’ve heard of false positives were likely a result of unverified new supporter sign-ups being forwarded daily to riding presidents, along with new member and donor data. The supporter data is now being forwarded every 12 days, so it has undergone the preliminary verification to weed-out any false positives from the data riding associations are getting.

On my specific concerns about the supporter box on petitions, he said they discussed the pre-click decision and they felt it was an industry-standard practice employed by other companies that conduct these sorts of communications, and emphasized again the idea is to bring in as many people as possible in phase one, and verify their intentions in the next phase. As for the lack of information on the petition about what being a supporter is, he said they want to keep that page tight and much of that information comes in the verification e-mail. He will, though, look to see if more information could be added, perhaps via a link.

So, in short, 10,000 is a real number and is getting higher, backed by a multi-stage verification process.

I feel better knowing that there are multiple stages of verification, and the low false positive rate is also very encouraging. I would still prefer we ask people to make a more informed decision up front rather than funnel them in and then verify, but I understand where they’re coming from. And I’m glad there will be further verification before anyone gets a leadership ballot.

As mentioned that process is still being determined, and it will be incredibly important. My fear is that an online process could lead to unscrupulous organizers signing-up multiple people, either invented or real without their knowledge, and voting all their PINs online. Whatever process is created will need to ensure these are real people, and they are actually casting their own ballot, without coercion. While physical voting locations would be a major logistical challenge, it may be the only way to do this thing with confidence.

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