Doug Ford has called on the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party to extend voting in its leadership election for an additional week.
But Ford doesn’t just want to extend voting:
He has called for the implementation of a physical voting location in each Ontario riding.
This is not only unrealistic, but would be impossible to implement. The leadership election organizing committee (LEOC) should not waste a moment entertaining Ford's request.
Full disclosure: I helped coordinate the last Ontario PC leadership election, and I remember all too well the months of preparation it took.
In order to have ballot boxes in each riding, the first step would be to find a local person in the riding to facilitate the vote. That means having one neutral “returning officer” (or "RO") who is agreed upon by each of the leadership campaigns and LEOC.
At this point in the leadership race, most capable party activists have aligned themselves with a campaign, and considering the many allegations of “rot” in the PC party over candidate nominations, trusting a non-neutral RO to facilitate a leadership election could be problematic.
But for a moment, let’s pretend that LEOC could find and coordinate having a neutral and competent RO in each riding.
Then that RO would have to book a voting location. The voting location would need to be accessible to all members, and in large rural ridings, often you would need more than one voting location.
Each of these voting locations would need to be open on at least two different days, allowing people an option of when to go and vote in person.
Once the location is confirmed, the party would have to ship out a secure voting box to the RO as part of a complete election kit. You can’t use any old box; it has to be a secure box that can’t be tampered with. Elections Canada sells these boxes, but they can take weeks to deliver.
But let's assume that the party has leftover boxes from the last leadership election, or maybe Staples has a product that will suffice.
The next step would require that at the end of each voting day, the RO will have to seal the voting box with special tape, then put the box in a transparent garbage bag and seal that with a certified Ontario PC tape. Sealing is required to eliminate any potential for ballot box stuffing. This ballot box sealing process would have to be watched by campaign scrutineers.
Then LEOC would have to work with the party and a security team to pick up all of the boxes from a secure location and transport them to Toronto to have the ballots counted. In order for this to be completed in a timely manner, the party would have to charter a plane to pick up the boxes in northern Ontario.
Once all of the boxes made it to Toronto, the party would need a team of about 15-30 neutral people to stay up all night and count ballots. These people would be required to give up any communication devices so the results would not be leaked.
The party would have to get food and accommodations for the ballot counting volunteers and hire an independent auditor to monitor the counting.
So, I suppose that if all of that could be accomplished in a week, then sure Doug, let’s do it! But that process can not be completed in a week, and I suspect that the Ford campaign knows this. It could be that Ford’s announcement was more about setting himself up for a loss to Christine Elliot, rather than actually making sure everyone can vote.
Considering the resources required, it was obvious that in such a short period of time, the only plausible way to conduct a “one-member one-vote” leadership election would be online.
If I were advising LEOC, I would have suggested looking into adding in-person voting in four or five locations: Toronto, Ottawa, London, Sudbury, and Thunder Bay.
But even that could be problematic.
I suspect the Doug Ford campaign knows how unrealistic this is, but if it’s true that Ontario PC Party members have yet to receive a ballot, then yes, something needs to be done.