October 27, 2017 1:02 am
Updated: October 27, 2017 9:04 pm

Voting in Alberta UCP leadership race to continue despite PIN security concerns

WATCH ABOVE: The United Conservative Party spent Friday pushing back against concerned about how votes are being cast to elect its first leader. Tom Vernon has the story.

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Voting in the Alberta United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership race will go ahead as normal, despite concerns raised about the voting process by two of the candidates vying for the party’s top spot.

The leadership election committee said Friday it is satisfied with the security measures in place to protect the integrity of voters’ personal identification numbers (PINs).

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“I am absolutely confident in the system of distributing PINs,” said Robyn Henwood, chair of the leadership election committee for the UCP.

“It’s an airtight system, we’ve had absolutely no complaints. We do an ongoing investigation throughout the entire process and no red flags have come up at all.”

The decision comes after Brian Jean’s and Doug Schweitzer’s leadership campaigns submitted a formal request Thursday night to pause the voting process.

Schweitzer told Global News the request was made because of concerns about how simple it was for voters to get personal identification numbers.

“We had a couple volunteers call into us saying, ‘Hey, we went to get a new pin number, we called the number. We were amazed at how easy it was,’” Schweitzer told Global News on Friday.

“The party has put in place, originally, some pretty robust protocols to make sure that there isn’t any ability to impact it from a voter-fraud perspective. But right now, all you have to do is call in to the hotline, tell them your name and an address … and somebody can get a voting PIN.

“We have a little bit of concerns that that’s not the right way to do this. We’ve asked the party to fix this issue right now – and suspend voting until it’s done.”

WATCH: Doug Schweitzer joined Global Calgary live in studio on Friday, at which time he discussed why he and fellow UPC leadership candidate Brian Jean want voting paused.

The UCP told Global News it is confident with the security procedures in place, including tracking Internet Protocol addresses of where the votes are cast.

“Since the allegations were made, we’ve asked for some evidence to be produced because we don’t see it on our end and we’ve yet to see that evidence,” UCP executive director Janice Harrington said Friday.

“The call centre has all of your information and you must verify who you are. You can’t call on behalf of somebody else and get their PIN, you must confirm your name and address.

“If by chance somebody had that information on you, and [they] called and were given a PIN in a way that would be considered fraudulent, what we would see is the person would go to vote legitimately and their PIN would be disabled because they’ve already voted — or because somebody’s called and got a new PIN and their old PIN was disabled.”

However, the Jean and Schweitzer campaigns raised further concerns Friday, suggesting they’ve seen evidence VPN (virtual private network) might be used to mask IP addresses. Both campaigns have raised this issue with the leadership election committee.

Two people contacted Global News on Friday claiming to be UCP members who have still not received their PINs to vote. They said they were unable to get through to the party by phone.

On Friday evening, Harrington told Global News the party was resending PINs to remaining members who have not yet voted.

In an email Friday afternoon, Jason Kenney’s campaign said it is “100 per cent focused on our get-out-the-vote efforts, and won’t be distracted by this.”

About 1,500 new PINs have been issued and the party said it has not heard concerns from any members.

“I think that this race is going to be very, very close – so we want to make sure that we get this fixed and hopefully the party takes this concern very seriously,” Schweitzer said.

Late Friday afternoon, Jean tweeted that he believed any questions about the integrity of the voting system had been cleared up.

“GOTV (get out the vote) running in high gear!” Jean tweeted. “Questions about process have been resolved & am confident in integrity of system. One more day! We can win this!”

Mount Royal University political analyst Duane Bratt said problems with electronic voting often pop up during party leadership races.

“This is not surprising,” Bratt said. “It doesn’t seem to happen as much during general elections but it does during party leadership races.”

However, he notes issues never seem to be brought up by the candidate seen as the front-runner.

“Kenney was seen as the front-runner. This suggestion by the Jean and Schweitzer camps that there’s a problem with the voting matches the script. It’s never the front-runner who is complaining about the voting. It’s always those who are behind, so we’ve seen this movie before.”

The UCP said by Friday afternoon, over 68 per cent of members had already cast their vote. About 60,000 people are registered to vote in the race.

READ MORE: 3-horse race enters homestretch in United Conservative Party leadership vote

Jean, Schweitzer and Kenney are all vying for the leadership of the new UCP party, which formed earlier this year after Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Party agreed to merge.

Voting to select the first UCP leader began at 9 a.m. on Thursday. Voting ends at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The leader will be announced at a media event in Calgary soon after voting closes.

With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News. 

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

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