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Trailing UCP candidates knuckle under after brief rebellion over evasion of voting limits on home computers

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Backlit keyboard. Image: Colin/Wikimedia Commons

Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean must rue the day he ever agreed to take part in a leadership "contest" with Jason Kenney, late of both Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's federal cabinet and the dying embers of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.

The same, apparently, can be said of Doug Schweitzer, the third candidate in the race to lead the so-called United Conservative Party, although "race" isn't exactly the right word either.

Both Jean and Schweitzer made an astonishing and unprecedented plea to party election officials just before midnight Thursday for electronic voting to be halted immediately because of ongoing misuse of voters' personal identification numbers.

Postmedia reported that a submission from Schweitzer's campaign alleged "secret use of software to falsify the sender's IP address, expressly designed for the purpose of evading detection," which the submission described as "suspicious behaviour."

Yesterday, however, UCP officials blithely ignored the two unhappy candidates and declared that voting could proceed.

Robyn Henwood, chair of the UCP's leadership election committee, was quoted by Global News as stating, "I am absolutely confident in the system of distributing PINs."

"It's an airtight system, we've had absolutely no complaints," she said -- bizarrely under the circumstances. "We do an ongoing investigation throughout the entire process and no red flags have come up at all."

In other words, there's nothing to see here, folks! Just move along, please.

The two candidates quickly knuckled under and voting proceeded.

Still, the fact two thirds of the candidates still standing in the UCP leadership race openly implied there is cheating against them in the election is hardly reassuring. This is particularly so in light of the accusations of bullying and intimidation against some of the candidates challenging the same front-runner in last spring's Progressive Conservative leadership contest, and the fact the accusers are neither supporters of Alberta's NDP government nor members of the now defunct progressive wing of the province's conservative movement.

Jean and Schweitzer are, like Kenney, members of the party's ideological right. Disgruntled, they are unlikely to switch their allegiance to the NDP, as did former PC leadership contender Sandra Jansen, who is now infrastructure minister, or declare they have been abandoned by their party, as does former PC leadership contender Stephen Khan.

As former PC deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk observed yesterday, "the standard for all votes is 'reasonable apprehension of bias,' which means, 'if it looks like it stinks, it stinks.' In this case, it reeks." Lukaszuk was a candidate in the 2014 PC party leadership race that was won by Jim Prentice.

So what exactly is going on?

According to the allegations, an official in the office of former PC interim leader Ric McIver, who backs Kenney, advised Kenney supporters to rig their computers to get around the voting system's limit of five votes per computer by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) application.

"You will need to download this VPN software to your personal computer if you are going to use your personal computer as a voting station," a text from the official to a supporter read. "Otherwise you will only be able to have 5 people vote off your computer."

In other words, a supporter of one campaign can get PIN numbers from hundreds of members who have purchased -- or had purchased for them -- UPC memberships, then vote for all of them from a single home computer. This is known to frequently happen with elderly voters and in some cultural communities in leadership campaigns.

Naturally, if Kenney is declared the winner today as expected after suspect voting, UCP officials will solemnly vow to look into the concerns and then later declare all to be well. The accounting firm that would do the investigation is reported to be associated with another of Kenney's key supporters.

Kenney played a central role in Harper's election strategy in 2015, which turned out to be a remarkable year for Canadian democracy.

It's hard to believe that the same players would have played by the rules in 2015 if they had accurately read the tea leaves coming into the campaign against Justin Trudeau's Liberals.

As is well known, electoral fraud by Conservatives took place in the 2011 federal election, although it was ruled by a judge not to have affected the outcome of the vote that year. A hapless minor player served time in jail.

Albertans and all Canadians would be advised to take note of more of this kind of behaviour before the same players can get their hands on the levers of democracy.

Voting closes at 5 p.m. today.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Colin/Wikimedia Commons

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