Ottawa

'It's a mess': Anger, frustration overwhelm PC members trying to vote for new leader

As the deadline looms to choose their new leader, Progressive Conservative party members in eastern Ontario say they're unhappy with a complicated registration process they feel may affect voter turnout.

Deadline for registration and voting extended as complaints roll in

Some PC voters in eastern Ontario say the process to choose the party's next leader is both flawed and far too complex. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

As the deadline looms to choose their new leader, Progressive Conservative party members in eastern Ontario say they're unhappy with a complicated registration process they feel may affect voter turnout.

The process involves receiving a 12-digit verification code by mail — some of which have been slow to show up — before using that code to upload a piece of photo ID and a document that verifies their address.

If the registration is accepted, members then receive an email with further instructions, requiring them to visit a second website to enter a voter ID number.

Entering that number gets them a personal identification number, or PIN. They then login again with both numbers to receive a ballot.

Party 'botched' registration process

"Not only is the process a problem, but the execution has been botched," said Barry Raison, president of the Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes Provincial PC Association.

Raison said that while some members received their email with voting instructions on the same day they registered, others are still waiting one week later.

"Our members are frustrated and they're very angry. They feel they're being disenfranchised by a process that is [a] poorly designed, overly complex, multi-step process that requires computer skills that many of them do not have."

One of those members is Jack Bradley, who lives in the Township of McNab/Braeside in the Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke riding.

He and his wife Sarah purchased party memberships for the first time just over a month ago. They recently learned they'd have to make a 20-minute drive to the library in Arnprior, Ont., just so he could scan a copy of his driver's license. 

My wife is 80 years of age, and here they want us trouncing all over the country just to be able to vote.-  Jack Bradley

"I was angry. I thought, you know, I'm 80 years of age. My wife is 80 years of age, and here they want us trouncing all over the country just to be able to vote," he said.

Bradley said he's also worried that anyone who doesn't have access to a computer or a vehicle would likely be out of luck.

Even for 54-year-old Paul Kelly, who considers himself to be fairly technologically savvy, registering to vote was a difficult process.

The Pembroke, Ont., resident said it took four attempts and some creative juggling involving multiple browser windows to complete the process.

In all, Kelly said it took nearly half an hour to register — and he understands why some people may just give up.

'It's a mess'

Raison said both his riding association and local MPP Steve Clark's office have received dozens of complaints about the registration process, so many that association hosted a five-hour help session on Friday.

Around 50 people turned up, Raison said, and he expected to hold another session this week.

"It's a mess," he said. "The question they ask is why? Why was a system that's this complex designed and instituted for this leadership vote?"

Quite frankly, I believe this process looks like something that was designed by a bunch of 25-year-olds sitting around a table in downtown Toronto.- Barry Raison

Raison said the process is skewed toward younger voters. In his riding, he said, many of the nearly 700 PC members are elderly, with some lacking internet access — which can be more expensive in rural areas.

He said it can also take several tries for would-be voters to enter their verification codes correctly, since the numbers 0 and 1 are virtually indistinguishable from the letters O and I.

The system is cumbersome for the riding associations too, he added because of the amount of time volunteers have to spend helping people register.

"Quite frankly, I believe this process looks like something that was designed by a bunch of 25-year-olds sitting around a table in downtown Toronto," Raison said. 

"It's not relevant to many of the members of the party [who] are selecting the leader."

A message on the Ontario PC Party website lets members know the registration and voting deadlines have been extended until March 7 at 8 p.m. and March 9 at noon, respectively.

Voting process already extended

The PC Party has already extended the registration and voting deadline to March 7 at 8 p.m. and March 9 at 12 p.m., respectively, after some members claimed they hadn't received their verification code by mail.

No one from the PC Party's executive was available Sunday for an interview or comment.

Raison said he hopes the party reassesses the process and perhaps returns to a paper ballot and single-day voting — last used in 2015 when former leader Patrick Brown was elected to spearhead the party.

He said he believed that was easier for members and riding associations, and fears voter turnout has already been affected by the new system.

"No question that some people will look at that letter that requires them to go to a website and enter a verification code and they will toss it in the garbage," Raison said. "And they won't be happy."

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