Conservatives say they’re hoping for a faster ballot count in this year’s leadership race

With a record-setting number of new memberships on the books — and lingering memories of the long wait to announce the winner in the 2020 contest — Conservatives say they have taken steps to ensure voting and ballot-counting in the current leadership race goes as smoothly as possible.

The Conservative Party of Canada says it has distributed 280,000 leadership ballots and hopes to send 380,000 more by Monday. Ballot processing and verification is to start next week and party members have been told to return their ballots by Sept. 6, four days before the party plans to announce its new leader. 

“We are trying to make sure as best as possible that members know to get it in the mail as quick as possible,” said a deputy returning officer at a background briefing in Ottawa Thursday morning. The official spoke to media on condition they not be named.

It’s not clear yet when the ballot-counting will start. Party officials say they still have to work out the details, given the sheer volume of paperwork expected.

Those officials said they want to announce the leader on September 10.

Conservative Party leadership candidate Jean Charest attends a party barbecue in Calgary, Alta., on July 9, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

In 2020, ballot counting stretched into the morning. Erin O’Toole’s victory was announced at 2 a.m. ET on Aug. 23 following a six-hour delay blamed on various glitches — including a ballot-counting machine that accidentally shredded thousands of voting cards.

While they wouldn’t get into specifics, officials said they have “contingencies” in place to ensure there are no problems of that sort this time around.

On Thursday, the party gave media outlets a tour of its ballot verification centre in downtown Ottawa. “We can be processing into the thousands,” the deputy returning officer said.

The party said that, at last count, just 48 ballots have been returned.

“There could be a whole wave of ballots just waiting for us to get splashed on,” the deputy returning officer said. 

Scrutineers from each leadership campaign will be allowed into the verification centre to observe as soon as ballot verification starts next week, the party said.

“We sent them a note explaining about the operation,” said the deputy returning officer. He said not every campaign has responded to confirm their presence yet.

Patrick Brown’s name still on ballot

Disqualified leadership candidate Patrick Brown’s name is still on the ballot because he was dropped quite late in the race.

A source has told CBC News the party plans to ignore votes for Brown and count Brown supporters’ second choices on the ranked ballots. The party would not confirm this today.

“Let’s not talk about Patrick Brown,” a senior party official said repeatedly when reporters raised the issue.

No actual ballots were on display at the verification centre Thursday; they’re being shipped out of and received at the Ottawa offices of Deloitte, the auditing firm the Conservatives have retained to ensure the voting process goes smoothly.

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