The Conservative Party has discovered scores of online membership sign-ups broke the rules, following an investigation into allegations of voter fraud in the party’s leadership race.
The party announced Friday evening that it found 1,351 memberships that had been purchased through the party website by two anonymous IP addresses. The statement says that those purchases were not made by the members that were supposedly signing up — a violation of the rules.
“Over the course of the last six months, the Conservative Party of Canada has received 1,233 prepaid credit card transactions through our website. We have examined each of those transactions and roughly half of those have been traced to the mentioned IP addresses purchasing memberships,” the party said in a statement. The party has removed those names from the membership roles and they will be ineligible vote.
The news lends credibility to allegations made earlier this week from an anonymous source, and trumpeted by front-runner Kevin O’Leary, who blamed “backroom organizers who are committing widespread vote rigging.”
O’Leary’s campaign released a statement from Julian Fantino, a former Conservative cabinet minister and surrogate for the candidate.
“I welcome the party’s investigation, and hope that all other candidates take these allegations seriously, so that this practice is ended immediately,” Fantino said.
While it’s not clear who is responsible for the hundreds of improperly-bought memberships, the anonymous email sent to reporters and party supporters earlier this week blamed organizers with Maxime Bernier.
It is against the party’s leadership rules for someone to pay for another member’s $15 registration fee, especially if that person is unaware they are being registered.
The anonymous allegations alleged that Bernier is deploying organizers in the Tamil community to sign up members without their knowledge, paying for memberships with prepaid credit cards and using IP address anonymizers, with the intent of retrieving their ballots and voting on their behalf. The email goes on to make a slew of other accusations against members of the Toronto Tamil community.
Prior to the Conservative Party releasing the results of its investigation, Ari Laskin, a spokesperson for O’Leary’s campaign, told VICE News that they have little more to go on than the anonymous email. He defended the notion that the fraud could be “widespread” — saying “if it’s happening in one area, I don’t think it’d be something unique to that area.”
O’Leary’s campaign wants to ban the use of prepaid credit cards to buy party memberships.
Laskin acknowledged that this sort of monkeying wouldn’t tilt the outcome of the race altogether, even though O’Leary had called it an attempt to “to buy a Leadership victory.” Still, Laskin said it was a matter of integrity and suggested that any campaign that refused to call for an investigation alongside O’Leary should be looked at with suspicion. “I would start looking at that campaign a little further,” he said.
Actually trying to rig the outcome of the race would be an elaborate, and resource intensive endeavour. Also, since each riding proportionally distributes 100 points based on the vote breakdown of their membership, signing up new members in a specific part of Toronto, even in the hundreds, may only elicit a handful of additional points. A candidate needs 16,901 points to win.
Similar voter fraud allegations have been bandied about for years in Canadian politics.
Tony Clement, who initially ran for leader before dropping out and endorsing Bernier, told VICE News that their campaign is not responsible for any possible voter fraud, and accused O’Leary’s campaign of “desperation” tactics.
“We’re in constant contact with our hundreds of volunteers,” Clement said prior to the investigation results. “We’ve been constantly reiterating that the rules are in place.”
He added that singling out the Tamil community, whoever is doing it, is “pretty outrageous and disgusting.”