Monday, September 10, 2012

Liberal Party needs time to do supporter vote right

To paraphrase an old proverb, beware newspaper columnists bearing advice. That certainly applies to John Ibbitson’s column in the Globe this morning, where he takes the Liberal Party to task for setting a 41 day cutoff for supporter (and member) sign-ups to be eligible to vote in the leadership race next April.

Ibbitson starts by applauding the party members for voting to open up the party by creating the supporter system at the January convention, and then attacks the national board decisions that “undermine the very notion of the supporter category.” What has him upset?

…that privilege will end 41 days before the April 14 vote is announced. Mike Crawley, the party’s president, explained Sunday that the party had decided to make the cutoff for both supporters and members that far in advance, so that lists could be finalized, checked for possible acts of fraud, and then shared with all candidates.

For one thing, Ibbitson betrays a lack of understanding of the process. The national board didn’t set the cutoff date for supporters, the members did. It was part of the constitutional amendment we passed in January that created the supporter category, and amended the constitution to include this requirement for voting eligibility, section (63)(2)(A):

been a supporter of the Party for the 41 days immediately preceding the day of the Leadership Vote;

This applies to both supporters and members. So this was part of the system as passed by the delegates Ibbitson praised in January, and the national board can’t override it without asking the membership to pass a constitutional amendment, which given the timing would require an extraordinary convention like we held last summer on the leadership timeline.

That bit of process aside, even if it was feasible, doing away with the cutoff or putting it mere days before the vote, as Ibbitson seems to propose, would be an absolutely horrible idea that would be setting up the party for a bungled leadership vote. And I’m sure Ibbitson and his fellow pundits would have some buzz-killing fun with that.

Much of the future of the party is riding both on the success of this leadership vote and the supporter system, and it’s important that we get both right. And it’s important that everyone have confidence in the fairness and accuracy of the system.

That means ensuring that the potentially hundreds of thousands of supporters that are signed-up have their identities vetted and verified, so we’re confident that they’re real, they meet the requirements, and it’s actually them voting. I published an interview recently with Liberal membership chair Matthew Certosimo on this process.

And with a pool of potentially hundreds of thousands of voters, the party will need to build and design a voting process (either online, phone, mail-in or physical polls, TBD) with the capacity to handle the possible turnout and conduct the vote in a fair, transparent, open and efficient manner.

Accomplishing both of these things will take time, which makes the 41 day window between the sign-up cutoff and voting day essential. It will take time to complete the vetting of possible voters, and ensure the capacity to allow them all to vote is there (the media savaged the NDP for the delays in their leadership vote due to a denial of service attack).

Ibbitson, who spent a lot of time covering U.S. politics and often lets it influence his writing, wants a primary-style system. But he should be familiar enough with U.S. primaries to know that, despite the messaging by some when proposing it, the Liberal proposal was never that close to U.S.-style primaries. And no party can realistically adopt such a system on their own, for reasons varying from lack of resources to the need to prevent participating in different party’s processes. A proper primary system would see an impartial body such as Elections Canada registering Canadians for parties or as independents, and managing the votes in a non-partisan manner.

Until the unlikely day when all parties agree to buy into such a non-partisan managed system, cutoff dates to allow for verification of details and the provisioning of vote casting resources will be necessary. It’s the only way to run the vote fairly and without chaos.

And as for Ibbitson’s patronizing endnote…

Perhaps the federal party leadership failed to notice that the Liberal Party was defeated in the Quebec provincial election last week even as the Liberal government in B.C. was pummelled by a string of cabinet ministers announcing they would not be running in the next election and the Ontario Liberals failed to win a by-election that would have given Dalton McGuinty a majority government. The Liberals are running out of things to run.

… he may have failed to notice that the “Liberal government in B.C.” hasn’t been overly Liberal for some time and is riddled with former Stepen Harper advisors. He may have failed to notice that Jean Charest is a former Progressive Conservative and his party confounded his fellow pundits, the pollsters and popular expectations to hold the PQ to a slim minority government. And he may have failed to notice that the Kitchener seat was a long-shot for the Ontario Liberals (although their finish was very disappointing) and they won Vaughan, the other seat up for grabs (and held by the Conservatives federally) in resounding fashion.

But we musn’t spoil the narrative, fictional though it may be.

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1 comment:

MDI said...

"the national board can’t override it without asking the membership to pass a constitutional amendment" when it suits them, the national board has overwritten 'the rules' to serve big egos and other trifling causes. Tis not a time, when liberals are hugging 3rd place, to get bogged down in rules which are detrimental to the vocation the LPC wants: which is to get back to a form of national relevance in terms of voter support. They could have reduced the 41 day buffer to 21 without violating the spirit of the amendment, which was voted on by a small minority of people who can afford to fly to Ottawa to vote for 2 days.