Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Harpocracy: Conservative Party headquarters control candidate voter lists!

Voter identification 'massive job,' central Conservative campaign gives voter lists to local candidates, says Tory MP Vellacott

The Conservative Party manages the lists and matches voter identification telephone numbers centrally because it has the capacity and the expertise that the job requires, says Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott. 'If you had the unlimited kind of money that they put into the Senate elections in the States, I suppose you could hire somebody to do that kind of technical stuff,' he says. 'We rather like to keep people out face to face and doing other tasks.'

Elections Canada is investigating robocalls made to voters during the May 2, 2011 election (The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright)

By Tim Naumetz
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

PARLIAMENT HILL—The Conservative Party’s central campaign office in Ottawa takes charge of all Elections Canada voter lists and candidate voter identification lists, including the addition of voter telephone numbers, for all of the 308 Conservative candidate campaigns in federal elections, a veteran Conservative MP says.

Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon-Wanuskewin, Saskatchewan) explained the Conservative Party’s central control over candidate campaign voter-information lists in the midst of a growing controversy over alleged attempts by Conservatives to suppress the turnout of voters who supported other parties in the federal election last May.

Mr. Vellacott made the comments as he was elaborating in an interview with The Hill Times about his claim on Monday that Elections Canada may be partly responsible for the controversy after candidate campaign errors were made because of difficulty matching identified voter telephone numbers with what Mr. Vellicott described as Elections Canada voter lists that “too frequently” contain incorrect information about voter addresses.

Opposition MPs say Mr. Vellacott’s description of the central Conservative campaign data management and control—coupled with the secrecy under which all parties manage their voter contact identification information—indicates the Conservative Party had more control than it has so far said over the voter lists and phone numbers that are at the centre of the robocall controversy.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alberta) and Jenni Byrne, the national campaign director for the party in the last election, longtime backroomer and former top aide to Mr. Harper, have said the central campaign office had nothing to do with alleged robocall incidents, including calls linked to the Conservative candidate’s campaign in the Ontario electoral district of Guelph.

Mr. Vellacott, however, said the Conservative Party, with its massive computer data banks in Ottawa, centrally creates election-period voter lists for every election, including telephone numbers, for each of the individual candidate campaigns.

The party lists, also used for the election last year, are based on updated Elections Canada voter lists that are released to all candidates and registered political parties after the election campaign period begins. The final revised list is sent out three days before an election.

The list Elections Canada distributes to parties and candidates on computer discs contain only names and addresses of voters, not phone numbers.

Mr. Vellacott disclosed the Conservative Party’s central campaign matches the telephone numbers of identified voters, from a range of sources including electoral district information, with the Elections Canada voter lists.

“I don’t know how it works with everybody, but for the most part, because it’s such a massive job in such a short period of time, I would suspect that with most parties, I can’t speak for others, but I suspect it comes from the national party office, you know attempting to do that,” Mr. Vellacott said.

“They’ve got all these 308 ridings across the country, but they do the match up for us. We don’t do it ourselves, in terms of the addition [of phone numbers]. I don’t know how it works for others, the new dump of stuff as it kind of progresses through the campaign and then trying to marry those numbers, that’s all done by our national office, at least within the Conservative Party.”

Liberals told The Hill Times on Tuesday their party does not maintain central control over campaign voting lists and voter identification numbers, and a senior NDP official, Brad Lavigne, recently told CBC’s The House that NDP electoral districts maintain their own voter lists.

Mr. Vellacott said he believes the Conservative Party manages the lists and matches voter identification telephone numbers centrally because it has the capacity and the expertise that the job requires.

“In our riding, it’s a massive job. We’ve got 80,000 to 90,000 people, 30,000 electors,” Mr. Vellacott said.

“If you had the unlimited kind of money that they put into the Senate elections in the States, I suppose you could hire somebody to do that kind of technical stuff,” he said. “We rather like to keep people out face to face and doing other tasks, assuming that, as best can be done with modern technology, that the [the central Conservative campaign] are going to be able to do the job. They have people that have considerable experience at this kind of thing, and they’re doing it for all these ridings across the country, and they have to keep doing that as the campaign progresses too.”

Conservative Party spokesperson Fred DeLorey did not respond to a Hill Times emailed request for a response to Mr. Velacott's description of the party's voter-list controls and management.

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Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ontario) said Mr. Vellacott’s description of the Conservative Party’s information management “flies in the face” of the party’s claim it was not involved in fraudulent robocall messages to voters that plagued the Guelph electoral district, and further allegations of misleading or harassing calls to Liberal and NDP voters in more than 50 other ridings.

“If in fact the Conservatives do have a centralized national database, which they have access to, and they are using the CPC [Conservative Party of Canada] database as a central repository for all identified Conservatives, all identified Liberals and all identified NDP and beyond, then clearly they are the ones who are providing information to the local campaign, whether that’s a local campaign actor or rogue actor, somebody got access to a central CPC list,” Mr. McGuinty said.

The election phone-call controversy initially centred on alleged fraudulent robocalls that misled voters in Guelph into believing their poll locations had changed. Similar stories have emerged in other ridings, but Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro (Peterborough, Ontario), leading the Conservative defence in the Commons, has accused the NDP and the Liberal Party of attempting a “smear campaign” and blamed complaints from Liberal voters about harassing calls on calls that were made by polling and voter identification firms that the Liberals hired for the campaign.

Most Conservative candidates who polled heavily during the campaign used two firms that conduct telephone surveys and robocall voter identification—Responsive Management Group and Campaign Research.

NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Manitoba) said Mr. Vellacott’s revelations suggest the Conservative Party had the ability to incorporate telephone numbers of voters identified as supporters of the other parties into their local candidates' voter list.

“Now we have a Conservative MP admitting that they had everything to do with compiling the lists of who got phoned, and when. Doesn’t that implicate them directly?” Mr. Martin said. “To me, that’s an admission of full and active participation in the whole Guelph phoning scandal, and I believe they keep more than one list. They keep a list of all their supporters, but they keep a list of all those people that don’t support them as well.”

The Guelph robocall controversy centred on the use of a disposable cell phone registered to someone who used the alias Pierre Poutine to upload the fraudulent calls to an Edmonton firm, RackNine, whose owner has said he had no knowledge of the contents of the calls. Elections Canada continues to investigate that affair, and there were reports Tuesday investigators are attempting to trace PayPal accounts that were used in the scheme.

Elections Canada confirmed to The Hill Times on Tuesday that for the first time in a federal election a representative of one of the recognized parties, the Conservative Party, had before the election requested that the initial voter list given to the parties at the beginning of the campaign include the location of polling sites. In response, Elections Canada provided the information to the Conservative Party and the other recognized parties.

Chief Electoral Marc Mayrand cautioned about the unusual request in a comprehensive report to Parliament last August.

“Because a polling site can be replaced by another at the last minute, and to ensure that electors always have access to the most accurate information regarding their location, Elections Canada indicated to political parties that the list supplied should only be used for internal purposes and that parties should not direct electors to polling sites,” the report said.

“Political parties were invited to refer electors to the Elections Canada website, their local Elections Canada office or their voter information card for locations, to prevent electors from being directed to incorrect polling sites. Some political parties did not comply with this request.”


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