May 16, 2017 1:51 pm

Thousands of Tory leadership votes might not count, Maxime Bernier tells supporters

In her farewell speech, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose says she is ‘incredibly optimistic’ about the party's next leader

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The presumed front-runner in the federal Conservatives’ leadership race says close to 20 per cent of the votes mailed in so far were incomplete and will not count — but the party is suggesting it’s too early to tell whether any ballots will be disqualified.

“Last night, our scrutineers started counting ballots,” Maxime Bernier wrote in an email to supporters sent Tuesday. “By our count, nearly one in five people has incorrectly filled out their ballot. That means thousands of votes won’t count.”

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As of last month, 259,010 Canadians were paid-up members and eligible to vote for Stephen Harper’s replacement, according to the party.

Assuming every one of those members voted (which is far from likely), that would mean 51,802 votes thrown into the trash, never to be counted.

READ MORE: Free of baggage from Harper’s Conservative era, Andrew Scheer seeks to replace him

But when Harper won the leadership of the then-brand new Conservative Party of Canada in 2004, about one-third of members voted. If the pattern holds – and if Bernier’s calculation is accurate – the party would be looking at almost 17,268 votes tossed out of a total 86,337 cast.

Despite the alarmist tone of Bernier’s email to supporters (there are a lot of bold, all-caps words and phrases, for example) the communications director for the party, Cory Hann, implied it’s too early to tell whether any votes will be tossed.

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Mailed ballots include two envelopes; one for the secret ballot and another for the signed declaration and a photocopy of a government-issued ID including a home address.

“The process we’re in right now is a verification process,” Hann wrote in an email to Global News. “We’re opening the outer envelope to check that both the declaration form and photo ID are included.”

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If they’re not in the outer envelope, the envelope containing the secret ballot is placed aside, he said, since it’s possible the form and ID were incorrectly placed in the same envelope as the ballot.

Scrutineers and officials will later check those envelopes set aside. If they include the appropriate information they “will be counted as normal,” Hann wrote. If the necessary documentation isn’t included in the secrecy envelope, the ballot will be tossed.

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Nonetheless, Bernier used the issue as a chance to plead to supporters to mail their ballots and get their vote in.

“If you haven’t voted, your vote is more important than ever,” he wrote.

READ MORE: Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose announces retirement from federal politics

“Your vote could mean the difference between a Conservative majority government, or four more years of [Liberal Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau.”

That last line seems to suggest a concern on Bernier’s part that fewer ballots cast means a decreased chance of him taking the leadership.

Conservative party members are electing their new leader via a ranked ballot system, split by riding. Each riding in the country is worth 100 points regardless of population or membership numbers.

The winner of the months-long leadership race will be announced at a convention on May 27 in Toronto.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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