Tens of thousands of B.C. Liberal members will vote this weekend to determine the next party leader and premier of the province.
The voting system they will use to choose that leader, according to public policy expert Doug McArthur, is one of the most unusual he’s seen a political party use, and means that the outcome is still anybody’s guess.
Party members will cast their votes online or by phone between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday (February 26). Results will be tallied electronically by the private company administrating the online vote.
While poll results released over recent days indicate former deputy premier Christy Clark is in the lead, McArthur said the winning candidate will need to have not only the broadest support, but a lot of votes in smaller B.C. constituencies.
“The candidate that has the broadest-based support and it includes a large number of small constituencies, that’s the one who has the best chance,” he predicted.
The preferential ballot system being used for the vote requires all party members to rank at least their first and second choice for leader.
Due to a new system adopted by B.C. Liberal party members earlier this month, votes will be weighted according to the size of the constituency, with 100 points allocated to each of the province’s 85 ridings.
A candidate must win just over 50 percent of points from across the province to become the new leader.
If no candidate receives a majority on the first count, the last-place candidate is dropped from the ballot and the second choices of their supporters are included in the tally. This process continues until a leader is determined.
The weighted system means that candidates with broad support in larger constituencies won’t necessarily win on the first ballot, said McArthur, but they’ll need to also have support in smaller ridings.
“What happens with the weighted system is in the constituencies where there are large numbers of members, each of their votes will count depending on how big the number of members are,” McArthur explained. “Each of their votes will count as only 1/10th or 1/20th or 1/30th of a vote.”
Due to the unpredictability of the system, McArthur said he’s not placing any bets on the winner.
“Anyone who says they know how it’s going to end up is on pretty thin ice because there’s just not enough information when you get this complicated system in place,” he said.
Allan Warnke, a former B.C. MLA and political science professor at Vancouver Island University, agreed the vote is still difficult to predict.
“No one has a clear read on this,” he said. “Everybody’s been trying to do the math, including the campaigns, and this is one of those campaigns it’s too close to call.”
Warnke said there’s the potential for frontrunners Clark and Kevin Falcon to be polarizers within the party, and for George Abbott to come up the middle on the second ballot and win the most support.
Almost 90,000 party members were signed up as of last month, according to the B.C. Liberal party, including around 50,000 new members since the leadership campaign began.
However, about 6,000 of the new memberships have reportedly been removed from the party's list.
The leadership campaigns said today (February 25) some of their supporters still hadn’t received their personal identification numbers required to vote. Falcon’s campaign indicated Thursday that thousands of people in rural and northern B.C. hadn’t yet received their PINs.
According to B.C. Liberal Party executive director Chad Pederson, many members in the Peace Region and the northern part of Vancouver Island hadn't received their voter credentials by mail.
"We've been making some proactive calls directly to individuals in the Peace Region and the northern Vancouver Island to issue their pins to them by phone," said Pederson.
Vote results are expected to be released by 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
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