Conservative Leadership: The Voting

Conservative Leadership: The Voting

May 27, 2017 10:59amET

How will the Conservative Party of Canada welcome its new leader? Here’s the process:

The key points:

  • Members will again use a single secret ballot to rank their preferred candidates.
  • Each of Canada’s 338 electoral districts is worth 100 points regardless of membership size — a controversial rule in the past for some party members. Points are assigned based on a candidate’s percentage in each district. A majority of points (16,901) is required to declare a new leader.
  • If no winner emerges in the first round, the lowest candidate is dropped and the second preferences on their ballots are reassigned to the remaining candidates. The process repeats in subsequent rounds until a winner emerges.
  • Liberals used the same system to elect Justin Trudeau leader in 2013. The Progressive Conservatives had a similar process for Joe Clark’s second win in 1998.
  • Eligible voters must have been Conservative party members as of March 28, 2017. (Except for previous members whose membership lapses in the 60 days prior to voting; they can pay their renewal fee “at the door” and become eligible to vote.)
  • Members can vote via mail-in ballot or in-person, at a handful of polling stations across Canada, or at the Toronto Congress Centre on May 27.


Let’s take a more detailed look at the voting system.



This is the ballot sent to 259,010 Conservative members eligible to vote for the new leader:

Members can rank anywhere between one and 10 choices.

Conservative party officials have already planned for issues with ballots once they’re opened. A few examples:

  • Skipped Rank? If a ballot has a #1 and #4 choice, but no #2 or #3, the #4 choice is moved up to the #2 position.
  • Two candidates with the same rank? Rankings up until this conflict will count.
  • Two or more ranks with the same candidate? Only the higher-ranked instance will count.



  • The Conservative party constitution mandates a postal voting option and bans faxed ballots — a result of the 2004 leadership vote.
  • There’s no online voting option.  The party told reporters it wouldn’t necessarily improve turnout, but would introduce security risks and the possibility of a technical fail — citing the denial-of-service attack that delayed the NDP’s 2012 online leadership vote.
  • Conservative members must include a signed declaration and copy of photo ID with their sealed ballot envelope when they mail back their package. The deadline for receipt is May 26 at 5pm ET.
  • Those packages were being examined as of May 15 by the party, Deloitte, and campaign scrutineers, to make sure those elements were all included. It’s up to the campaigns themselves to contact members with incomplete packages.

The Conservative party even has a live stream of the ballot storage room and verification area:

  • In-person voting is also available on May 27 at the Toronto Congress Centre and 13 other stations across Canada, though the party expects most members to use the mail-in option.
  • Individual riding associations were required to pay the rental costs for space and tabulating machines. Those machines are meant to immediately flag any ballot errors, giving the voter a chance to correct.



  • Ballot envelopes will start being opened at 4am ET on Saturday, May 27. Two hours later, volunteers will begin scanning them stacks of 100. The party hoping to process 24,000 ballots per hour.
  • (Remaining incomplete ballots will have been opened the previous day, allowing campaigns to contact supporters and arrange in-person voting where possible.)
  • Each campaign can have up to 14 scrutineers in the main counting room – but without phones or electronic devices. And they must remain there until the first-round results are made public.
  • The physical ballots will eventually be destroyed. But the a digital scan of each will be kept for auditing purposes. The ballot lists the member’s riding, but no other identifiable information.



  • Late in the afternoon on May 27, Dan Nowlan (chair of the Conservative party’s leadership organizing committee) is expected to visit the results room and ask for first-round results. No numbers will be known until this point.
  • As seen live on CPAC and, those first preferences will be publicly revealed in reverse order of support. The process repeats until a candidate has achieved a majority of the required 33,800 points (at least 16,901).



Former prime minister Stephen Harper became the Conservative Party of Canada’s first leader with a one-ballot victory over Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement.

Because of the equal riding system, Harper won 55.5 per cent of the point total despite taking nearly 70 per cent of all individual votes.

Harper had strong support in western Canada and better-than-expected results in Quebec and southern Ontario:

Here’s how the results unfolded on March 20, 2004:

-Andrew Thomson

Read the Conservative Party of Canada’s official 2017 voting rules: