Asked to retweet #PINgate: Should Albertans stand up and be counted?

I was asked to retweet this blog initially published after the leadership election in September, 2014.

I thought long and hard about divulging the phone call I had from an MLA while working at a polling station on Saturday. With all of the controversy and criticism floating around the election, I couldn’t keep it quiet. There are so many stories floating around that I wish more people would share them.

I was preparing case studies for a client in the US and got the idea to write the blog because of the political scandal that had rocked Illinois a few years ago. Former Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to sell Obama’s Senate seat, among other things. He is serving 14 years behind bars for corruption, including the soliciting of bribes for political appointments. I’m going back to to teach another course in ethics and think I will have their brilliant audit minds come up with suggestions on how this election could be audited.

The election result is what it is. We have a new Premier designate. I will also say that I did support another candidate, but this blog is not about that. It’s not sour grapes, it’s about the experience and the resultant effects on all Albertans, not just PC members. Will this election process and denying people the right to vote have a lingering effect on an election in 2016?

The spread of votes was so vast that it is highly impossible for the result to be what it was. Having two sitting MLA’s who were Ministers of several portfolios during their tenure, it’s hard to believe that they would not have had more support than what the numbers indicated.  It was akin to a public flogging. Let’s face it, elections are heated and emotional events for some. It both unites and divides people. But when the vote is cast and the results come in, the party goes back to build a stronger base. Or so we hope. I think we got a glimpse of a fractured party when the elected winner opted not to have the other two candidates on stage with him. Now, using the low numbers as an excuse not to give Cabinet positions to the other candidates sends a strong punishing message. But democracy doesn’t exist if there isn’t competition.

Do all PC members have the right to vote for their leader? The answer is yes – as long as the member is legitimate and the intent to vote is there as well.  Did all the members have their chance to vote? The answer is no. Is there a way to find out how many couldn’t? Yes there probably is.  Let’s explore answers to these questions.

How  many memberships did PC Alberta have prior to the announcement of the election? (I think it was around 15,000. I don’t know where I got that number but it has been floating in the back of my mind).

How many memberships were sold during the campaign?

Of that number how many people got to vote? (we know 23,000)

Based on the number of total memberships sold, how many didn’t get to vote?

If the result is what I think it is, we would find that several thousand Albertans did not have the opportunity to vote, for one reason or another.

How does Elections Alberta and the verification process work?

I think most of us thought that we were automatically registered with Elections Alberta. That turned out to be not true. If there was any discrepancy between the way your name was registered with them and with PC Alberta, you could have been denied voting rights. For example if you are registered as Joe B Snird with Elections Alberta and just Joe Snird with PC Alberta, technically you could be disqualified. Other things like address changes could have affected this as well.

Because of the electronic vote, it should be easy to do an audit of the membership numbers that were issued PINs. Usually candidates are given a block of memberships to sell. The numbers could easily be traced and audited to see if a certain number of PINs was issued to any one group over another. Will we ever know?…probably not.

Will those who couldn’t vote forgive and forget about this experience by the time the next election rolls around?  Will PC Alberta lose supporters? Will this spur a growth in opposition parties?

There has  to be a will to be ethical. If that will doesn’t exist, or other goals are made priorities, might takes over from right. It’s like a mantra we’ve learned from Survivor. The tribe has spoken.

Who got the PIN? Votes, views and ethics

As much as I complained about the difficulty in voting in PC Alberta’s leadership election, I decided I would do something about it.  I volunteered to work at a polling station to help Albertans vote on Saturday.

We were to assist people who arrived at the polling station from verifying their memberships, taking them to receive their pin number and walking them through the computerized log in and voting process. It was good to see many enthusiastic, if not computer wary Albertans make their way in to vote.  The biggest challenge that afternoon was how difficult it was for elderly voters try to use the mouse.  Both the faded and small print on the computer and using the mouse proved to be huge challenges for some voters.  It also didn’t help that the elevator up to the third level at the Expo Centre was out of order.  We heard stories that one man was trapped in the elevator for 30 minutes and then he had to be taken down in the freight elevator.

We were also helping people retrieve their pin numbers when they phoned in on the help line. You could almost hear an audible sigh of relief from people when we called and said we were calling to help them get their pin. For the most part we were able to help, but there were times when people were turned down because their information didn’t match Elections Alberta. One man told me he was a council member in Drayton Valley and he was stunned that his name was not registered with Elections Alberta.  We were to inform people to please register or update their files and then encourage people to vote for the 2nd ballot on September 20. There was no opportunity for them to vote in this election.  By now, we’ve heard all of these stories constantly reported in the press.

But this is where it takes a detour. I was handed a stack of pin numbers and asked to return the call of one MLA who had requested them.  I was told that an exception was made in this case and we were to pass the PIN numbers on to him. We had turned down many earlier voters who were calling in to get pin numbers for their spouses or their children.  Our instructions were that we had to speak to the eligible voter in order to hand them their pins.

I called the MLA, left a message for him and waited for a return call.  He called me back and I read the numbers back to him. Once I was done he said that he had a couple more.  As many of you know, I analyze language for a living. For many of us, a couple would mean two – but in reality it rarely ever does. I had already given out at least 13 pin numbers to this man.

He told me he had more and read back another 7 names and membership numbers. His requests were processed and while I was waiting to read him the numbers, I heard him tell someone “get me more names, get me more names”. When I heard that, I thought that giving him any additional PIN numbers was wrong.  I asked that he call the office and put in another request but that I couldn’t help him any longer.  So who actually voted from that stack of pin numbers? Was it the member?  I doubt it!  Or was it the enthusiastic MLA or a volunteer that entered votes  for those phantom members?

Does this violate any code of ethics? Is it right for an MLA to have the voting rules broken for them to help members vote? It depends. It depends if the help request is legit or not.

I told the woman who gave me the stack of PINs that he gave me another list of names and membership numbers and that he yelled to someone else to bring him more that he could read out to me. She shook her head and told me I did the right thing and said “this is a complete gong show”. I really believe that the polling stations and additional manpower on the phones was really helping those vote who couldn’t earlier. But this last call really called to question the ethics of bending the rules for MLAs or anyone else

If every MLA called in with a list of members and their membership numbers like this man had – how many favoured voters were receiving their voting information while others weren’t? As I mentioned in my previous blog, we will never know. How many memberships were sold during this leadership race?  How is it that voter turnout was only 23,000 – less than one third voter turnout from 2011. Is it because people couldn’t vote? Didn’t care about the vote? Or, weren’t given the opportunity to vote?

Candidates have moved on, a winner declared and that’s life in politics.  I have one major question.  Will this MLA and others be rewarded for collecting member pin numbers?  Or will this behaviour be deemed unethical?

 

PC Alberta where’s the Party?

This leadership race, more than any other, perplexes me. I’m still confused how the overwhelming majority of MLAs backed one candidate as the heir apparent in this leadership race. What did everybody else know that I didn’t?

Of course it boils down to one thing.  He is the guy that “the party” wants. And it seems the regular voting Albertan is NOT ‘the party”. So, if our elected officials were told who to support and they in turn tell their constituent members which way to vote, it calls into question the fundamental basis of democracy. If that was the tactic, then be up front, most Albertans are able to handle the truth.

Rumors abound of dirty tactics, backroom deals and free memberships doled out by a candidate rather than purchased by engaged voters. MLA  Manmeet Bhullar, Minister of Service Alberta & Prentice Campaign co-chair, admitted in the Edmonton Journal on August 29 “There’s a lot of mudslinging, and a lot of rumours, and a lot of behind-the-scenes deal-making that’s going on between people right now, because it’s a leadership race.” What kind of deal making? It’s got to be good if all but six MLAs back one candidate.

This is the first time I’ve thought that we are going to experience some real election fraud or vote rigging in Alberta. A voting system that some party insiders have admitted was never tested before the digital polls opened this morning. Was that intentional or not?

Hundreds upon hundreds of eligible voters are still without their pin numbers.  A 1-800 help phone line that rings perpetually busy. Or, if you are one of the lucky ones, it will ring, pick up eventually and you will be told the mailbox is full.  Long time party members have had to phone and beg for PIN numbers because one wasn’t sent unless you asked for it. The instructions online are confusing and not clear. The bottom line is an election process where due diligence and transparency doesn’t seem to exist.

But there’s another hoop you have to jump through too. The PC Alberta website tells you that you must be registered with Elections Alberta to be considered an eligible voter. Many people claimed that PC Alberta informed them they were ineligible to vote.  Katherine Smith @kikkiplanet tweeted earlier today that one campaign informed her that 45% of their members were rendered ineligible to vote and disqualified.

I wanted to make sure I was eligible. Friends told me they found out they were not registered even though they had lived at their homes for several years.  I looked up the elections Alberta website and decided to register myself.  I was required to input a barely readable number found on the bottom of my driver’s license. My mom is 90 years old and has never missed a vote in all the years she’s lived in Alberta. She doesn’t drive so she wasn’t able to fill anything out online. I called Elections Alberta and was told “If anyone has ever voted before in a provincial election, their name would be registered with Elections Alberta.” Based on this, how could 45% of one campaign’s member base be rendered ineligible?

At least at a live election people have to come in and vote in person. Their credentials are checked, they are physically handed a ballot, they walk into the voting booth and they cast their vote. During the ballot count volunteers from each campaign observe the count to make sure ballots are counted correctly.Everybody has an idea of how the campaign is going in their polling stations.

In this instance the votes disappear into a dark abyss and we will never know who got to vote and who didn’t. We won’t know if members of one campaign were favoured over another and we won’t know if this election was fair.   I hesitate to think of any Putin-esque tactics at play in this province of ours.