The Conservative Party of Canada said Thursday it has started counting the more than 400,000 ballots that have been cast in the party's leadership race — a record-breaking number in the contest to pick a new permanent leader.
But now, the party has a new question to confront — whether to carry on with this Saturday's planned leadership convention in the wake of Queen Elizabeth's death.
Of the 678,702 members who were eligible to vote, the party received 437,854 ballots by the Tuesday deadline — a roughly 65 per cent turnout. That's the same turnout that was recorded in the 2020 leadership election.
"Canada's Conservatives continue to set records in 2022," said Rob Batherson, the party's president.
"This is the largest number of Canadians to vote in a leadership election — of any political party — in our country's history. Canadians are clearly turning to the Conservatives to bring change to Canada."
The party said that 417,987 ballots will actually be counted after some 20,000 ballots were found to be incomplete.
To vote, the party requires members to send in a copy of their photo ID. Not all ballots were returned with a photocopy of a card or other eligible document that shows a member's name, photo and address. The party said the rejection rate is "slightly lower than previous leadership races."
To avoid a repeat of the last leadership race when technical troubles delayed the final result until the early morning hours, the party has already started feeding the ballots through its machines.
The final tabulation will take place on Saturday with the result expected sometime after 6 p.m. ET. At each round of tabulation, the party will be announcing the number of points received by each candidate.
But in the wake of Queen Elizabeth's death, there is now some uncertainty about whether the planned election events will proceed as planned. The party has organized a convention for paying delegates at Ottawa's Shaw Centre.
Ian Brodie, chair of the party's leadership election organizing committee (LEOC), said in a statement Thursday that discussions are underway on how the election results will be announced now that the country is entering a 10-day period of mourning after the monarch's death.
"The sad news of the death of Her Majesty The Queen obviously means that the Conservative Party of Canada's Leadership Election Organizing Committee is considering an appropriate, respectful way to announce the results of the 2022 leadership election," Brodie said.
"We will respect all protocols on the death of the Sovereign set by the Government of Canada, and provide an update early on Friday."
Under the party's leadership rules, the election is conducted through a points system that gives all ridings equal weight. Points are allotted proportionally according to the vote in each electoral district, with each riding eligible to cast 100 points (provided there are at least 100 accepted votes cast from that riding).
To win, a candidate needs to amass at least some points in every region of the country — a system designed to ensure representation from areas like Atlantic Canada and Quebec, where there are comparatively fewer Conservative members.
Members use a preferential ballot where they rank their order of preference. There are five options to choose from in this election: Conservative MPs Scott Aitchison, Pierre Poilievre and Leslyn Lewis, former Quebec premier Jean Charest and former Ontario MPP Roman Baber.
Brampton, Ont. Mayor Patrick Brown, who was disqualified from the race this summer, will also appear on the ballot.
Three other would-be contenders, including two anti-abortion candidates, were disqualified by the party's LEOC before the race started. That prompted some social conservative members to claim "corruption" was to blame.