Cullen edged out Mulcair in live NDP leadership voting

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Thomas Mulcair shakes hands with third-place candidate Nathan Cullen after the Quebec MP won on the fourth ballot at the NDP leadership convention in Toronto on March 24, 2012. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

The outcome of the protracted vote at the NDP leadership convention was seemingly decided before the balloting even began.

Alice Funke, a retired business intelligence specialist who now works as a freelance data analyst, has done some number crunching on the results and found that Thomas Mulcair had the contest wrapped up before the real-time ballots were opened to voters.

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In fact, third-place finisher Nathan Cullen actually won, by a narrow margin, the real-time votes on every ballot on which his name appeared.

That’s because the complicated one-member, one-vote procedure that allowed all 130,000 paid-up New Democrats to participate in the election resulted in more than 84 per cent of the votes being cast in advance, by mail or online.

“Unfortunately for Cullen,” Ms. Funke writes her blog, “the convention-day round-by-round voting never accounted for more than 17.5 per cent of the total ballots counted, and he had too big a gap to catch Mulcair in the preferential ballots cast in advance.”

Mr. Cullen said his real-time win was “some consolation” for his loss to Mr. Mulcair.

Much of Mr. Cullen’s momentum came toward the end of the seven-month race. But advance voters were allowed to mark their ballots three weeks before the final convention so they may have been locked in before they were aware that he was going to be one of the frontrunners.

“We knew the finish line was always our opponent,” Mr. Cullen said in a telephone interview. “We could feel it even a month out. Was the finish line coming to quickly? And it did in the end. We weren’t able to get that buzz into a large enough sphere that people though ‘this guy’s got a chance.’”

The long convention was delayed by a number of outside attacks on the electronic voting system, something that Mr. Cullen said must be fixed.

“People, when they don’t get quick response, they tend to go do something else,” he said.

Even so, Mr. Cullen said he agrees with the way the election was conducted because it engages people and allows them to feel like they are part of the even though they are in a far distant part of Canada.

“The one-member, one-vote system is the most democratic way to elect a new leader,” party spokeswoman Sally Housser told The Globe. “We wanted to provide our membership with as many opportunities as possible to be part of the excitement of electing the leader of the Official Opposition.”

In addition, less than half of the people who were eligible to vote decided to take part in the election. The party had no way of knowing how many of the people who did not vote in advance would cast ballots on Saturday since they could do so from their home computers. If a sizeable number of at-home voters decided to weigh in on convention day, the result could have been much different.

Ms. Funke’s numbers show that former party president Brian Topp and Mr. Mulcair, a Quebec MP, were well ahead on the mail-in ballots while the other candidates did much better online.

The preferential ballots asked voters to rank their choices, from first to seventh. When someone’s top choice was eliminated from the race because they placed last on a ballot or quit, their vote would move to the person who was their second choice.

According to the data provided to Ms. Funke, Mr. Mulcair was the overwhelming second choice of MPs Romeo Saganash, Niki Ashton and Paul Dewar and pharmacist Martin Singh – all of whom were on the first ballot but not the second.

Mr. Topp apparently did somewhat better than Mr. Mulcair in gaining second-choice support after the second ballot because he picked up voters from Peggy Nash, an MP who shares Mr. Topp’s interest in adhering to traditional party philosophy.

Mr. Mulcair wound up winning the leadership on the fourth ballot, late on Saturday night.

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