TORONTO - Ontario's Progressive Conservatives began voting online for a new leader Friday as some of the leadership candidates expressed concerns about a complex system they said could keep some members from casting their ballots before a fast-approaching deadline.
Hartley Lefton, chair of the leadership organizing committee, said the party was working to ensure all members received documentation in the mail needed to access the voting system, which was brought in for a hastily organized leadership race triggered by Patrick Brown's resignation in January amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Four candidates — former Tory legislator Christine Elliott, lawyer and businesswoman Caroline Mulroney, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, and parental rights activist Tanya Granic Allen — are vying to replace Brown.
The Tories, whose membership management system was hacked in November, implemented a two-step process to verify the identity of voters, which requires party members to submit photo ID and wait to receive a special code in the mail.
At least one of the campaigns said Friday that scores of members were still waiting for that document even as the voting period began.
"We're urging the party to make sure that people get their PINs so that they can vote because it's important that everyone, all members, have a chance to vote in this leadership," Mulroney said at a Toronto event. "I am concerned about it."
Lefton said the party is aware of those concerns and was dealing with them. He also noted the online voting system was working well.
Concerns have also been raised about the possibility of membership fraud through the use of prepaid credit cards, with some candidates arguing payments made through them cannot be tracked, which makes it impossible to verify that the person buying a membership is the person who casts a ballot.
Those interested in voting for the new Tory leader had until Feb. 16 to join the party. A source with the Progressive Conservatives said memberships rose to 190,000 by that deadline, an increase of roughly 60,000 since the party last examined its rolls.
Tories who wish to cast an online ballot originally had until Friday to register to vote, but the party extended the deadline to 11:59 p.m. on Monday. Voting is set to take place online until Thursday, with the results announced on March 10.
Each party member gets one vote, which will be converted into electoral votes, the party said. There are up to 100 electoral votes per riding, to be allocated to each candidate in proportion to the votes they received in the riding.
The leadership will be determined using a ranked ballot, in which voters pick their preferred candidates and have the option to select a second, third and fourth choice.
The winner is whoever receives more than half the total electoral votes. If no one crosses that threshold on the first round, whoever has the fewest votes or less than 10 per cent get eliminated and those votes get redistributed to whoever was marked as the second choice. This continues until a winner emerges.
Brown, who vehemently denies the allegations that led to his departure, briefly entered the leadership contest to reclaim his old job, but pulled out earlier this week, saying the race was taking a toll on his friends and family.