5 things to watch for in today's Conservative leadership result

After a year of campaigning, it's mostly all over but the counting for the 13 candidates in the Conservative leadership race. As the final few votes are cast in person at the convention in Toronto and the tabulation machines are set to work, here's what to watch for when the results are revealed today at 5 p.m. ET.

Over 132,000 votes cast by mail ballot, with thousands more expected to vote in person today

Maxime Bernier, seen here with his girlfriend Catherine LeTarte before the candidate speeches on Friday evening, is thought to be the front-runner in the Conservative leadership race. The result will be announced Saturday, starting at 5 p.m. ET. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

After a year of campaigning, it's mostly over but the counting for the 13 candidates in the Conservative leadership race.

As the final few votes are cast in person and the tabulation machines set to work Saturday, here's what to watch for when the results are revealed at 5 p.m. ET from the convention in Toronto.

Points, not votes

Campaigns are working to pull every last vote out to the 14 polling stations open until 4 p.m. ET. But it's important to remember that when it comes time for the result, the number of votes cast is simply the means to the end.

Every riding is worth 100 points: the votes of members in that riding determine how many points each candidate gets for that constituency.

As candidates drop off through subsequent ballots, the points for that riding reallocate according to those voters' second, third or subsequently-ranked choices.

It's a race to see which candidate can rack up 50 per cent of the total points, not total votes. It takes 16,901 points to win the leadership.

Public opinion polling hasn't measured riding-level support, but campaigns have targeted votes riding-by-riding from the start.

There were 108 ridings with over 1,000 members up for grabs. There were also, however, about 75-80 constituencies with short membership rolls, where candidates could score a lot of points with relatively few votes.

Follow CBC's coverage

CBC's live coverage of the Conservative leadership convention continues Saturday with a CBC News special hosted by Peter Mansbridge starting at 4 p.m. ET. Watch livestreaming video here and follow the live blog, or watch on CBC News Network or Facebook. First ballot results are expected around 5:30 p.m. ET.

We'll have more streaming video, live updates and analysis at cbcnews.ca/politics.


This race has over 259,000 eligible voters. Despite some voting difficulties, the party said over 132,000 ballots were received by Friday's mail deadline. 

Several thousand members are expected to vote in person Saturday, bringing the expected voter turnout over 50 per cent.

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      The party's base membership was less than 100,000 before this race. A turnout significantly higher than that suggests many new members were engaged in picking this leader.

      If the party exceeds a 50 per cent turnout rate, it can boast that more of its members were engaged in this race than the most recent races for the Liberal and NDP leaderships.

      Front-runner Maxime Bernier has said he needs a good turnout among new members, including those who signed up to support Kevin O'Leary, in order to win.

      A strong showing for candidates seen as friendly to the party establishment, such as Andrew Scheer or Erin O'Toole, could signal that the base turned out.

      Dead ballots

      The first announcement, promised around 5 p.m. ET, will rank and reveal the points for all 14 candidates (O'Leary dropped out too late to remove his name from the ballot.) The lowest-ranked candidate will drop off, and his or her votes will be reallocated to their second-choice candidates.

      The winner will have been tabulated at this point, but the party isn't going to share it right away. Instead, to build drama and help members understand the result, it's going to be teased out gradually.

      A second announcement, expected after a short break, will reveal the next six candidates to drop off. Those votes will be reallocated, and the candidate rankings could start to flip around.

      The third announcement, which will lower the field to four remaining candidates (assuming no one has reached 50 per cent) may be the one to watch. Candidates with more significant support bases will bow out and more second and third choices will take effect. At this point, it will be more clear whose support is growing and whose may be stalled.

      After that, announcements will drop candidates one by one.

      Because no voter was obliged to mark more than one choice, and others may mark up to ten, it's difficult to predict how many ballots will still be alive in each round. A voter who marked only a few choices for candidates who drop off early will cease to be a factor later on.

      The number of these so-called "dead ballots" may grow significantly near the end, meaning a smaller, perhaps much smaller, subgroup of voters may decide this race if it takes many rounds to produce a winner.

      1st-ballot lead

      Most expect Bernier to have the lead when the first choices are revealed. 

      But the size of his lead could indicate what's in store. If he gets over 35 per cent support he's going to be hard to beat. Even if he doesn't, a lead bigger than five points in combination with a strong second-choice showing could put Bernier over the top.

      If he doesn't have this kind of a lead, the plot thickens.

      Thirteen candidates are vying to replace Stephen Harper as permanent Conservative leader in Toronto 7:30

      Watch for signs of overlapping support for like-minded candidates — social conservatives Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux for example. If Trost were to drop off first, Lemieux may see an uptick as Trost's supporters migrate to him as their second choice.

      Counting snags

      Much about this race has been complex: the large number of candidates, the ranked ballot, the larger-than-expected number of members eligible to vote and the logistics of combining a national mail vote across a huge country with in-person polling stations across multiple time zones.

      Will the result be ready on time and unfold without a hitch?

      Chad Rogers, a former Conservative campaign strategist, talks about how the leadership vote works 1:39

      Some describe the party as overstaffed and well-prepared to deliver the results on time Saturday. Others worry that the machines will have a glitch, there will be difficulties with one of the polling stations or some other late-breaking controversy will bog things down.

      Live broadcasters hope none of this happens. As the well-worn news cliche goes, time will tell.

      Eligible voters by province:

      Newfoundland and Labrador: 1,194.
      Nova Scotia: 4,692.
      Prince Edward Island: 1,188.
      New Brunswick: 3,674.
      Quebec: 16,412.
      Ontario: 114,508.
      Manitoba: 9,243.
      Saskatchewan: 12,966.
      Alberta: 59,448.
      British Columbia: 34,686.
      Nunavut: 52.
      Northwest Territories: 302.
      Yukon: 645.


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