The race to crown Andrew Scheer's successor as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada will come to an end tonight following an unprecedented contest that saw a record number of votes cast despite a nationwide public health crisis.
The campaign took a worrisome turn in March after the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to suspend the race, which was originally intended to wrap up in June.
But by the end of April, the party was armed with a new plan: a vote that would take place entirely by mail-in ballot and would do away with a lively night of election results announced inside a convention hall packed with supporters.
So far, candidates Peter MacKay, Erin O'Toole, Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan have contended with socially distanced debates and steered clear of the door-knocking and hand-shaking that usually accompany a campaign.
The four contenders will be watching tonight's results with family and friends from separate suites in a downtown Ottawa hotel instead of congregating on the convention floor.
WATCH | Conservative party members cast final ballots in leadership race:
Despite the setbacks, nearly 175,000 votes were cast in this year's race out of almost 270,000 eligible members — the highest number of votes in the party's history.
"I've struggled to find anyone that predicted back in March, when the pandemic hit, that the Conservative Party wouldn't just see a record amount of memberships but a record amount of ballots cast in a record turnout," said the party's director of communications, Cory Hann.
"We're pleased with it, and I don't know if anyone predicted it. If they did, I encourage them to buy a lottery ticket."
Hann said the figure is a testament to candidates keeping in touch with supporters, party members being more familiar with the voting process and renewed excitement to unseat the Liberal government.
"They're looking at these candidates as the prime minister-in-waiting," Hann said.
How to follow along
The Conservative Party was expecting to kick off the evening's proceedings from Ottawa's Shaw Centre at 6 p.m. ET, with a tribute and a speech from outgoing leader Andrew Scheer. The party expected to see a winner crowned between 7:30 and 9 p.m. ET. Glitches with a machine that opens the ballot envelopes delayed results by several hours.
Here's how you can tune in throughout the day:
- Hear National Affairs Editor Chris Hall and the CBC's Martina Fitzgerald host special coverage on CBC Radio One and the CBC Listen App starting at 7:30 p.m. ET (revised time).
Counting votes and assigning points
Vote counting is expected to start at 4 a.m. ET, a daunting process that includes opening 174,849 envelopes and flattening the ballots inside before they can be fed through a tabulating machine.
Tabulating could take until 6 p.m., at which point scrutineers will sign off on the final tally.
The new leader will be chosen by a ranked ballot system that awards points to each candidate rather than counting up votes. Each of Canada's 338 federal ridings is assigned 100 points, meaning a total of 33,800 points are up for grabs.
Candidates are assigned points depending on what percentage of the vote they get in each riding. If 60 per cent of voters in one riding choose a certain candidate as their first choice, for example, that person is given 60 points. A candidate must get 16,901 points to secure the party's top job.
Ranked ballots, rounds of results
In a ranked ballot system, voters can rank candidates in order of preference if they choose to do so. With four names on the ballot this year, the task was likely easier than it was during the 2017 leadership race, which saw 13 candidates go head-to-head.
The ballots will be counted in rounds depending on how many points each candidate gets.
In Round 1, regional results from provincial and territorial counts will be shared first, followed by national results delivered by Leadership Election Organizing Committee chairs Lisa Raitt and Dan Nowlan.
If none of the contenders hit the magic number of points in the first round, the person with the lowest number of points is taken off the ballot and a second round begins.
Everyone who ranked that candidate as their first choice then has their ballots counted again, with their second-place rankings tallied instead.
WATCH | How the vote could break down:
If a winner still has not emerged, the next candidate with the lowest number of points is removed and a third and final round begins.
Because it's not known how many rounds will take place, Hann said a winner could be announced at about 7:30 p.m. at the earliest and about 9 p.m. at the latest, though glitches have delayed that result.
When that happens, the newly unveiled leader will travel from Ottawa's Westin Hotel to the Shaw Centre next door to deliver their victory speech.