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April 1, 2011

A Guide for April 17 Vote Watching

A neighbour knocked on my door once when I was watching election returns and asked why I was watching that, since detailed results would be in the papers tomorrow. For political junkies, watching the returns is like watching the Stanley Cup.

By April 17th the five NDP leadership candidates will have travelled the province, debating and pressing the flesh, for almost three times as long as the 36 day federal election campaign. No one can guess how the NDP leadership race might unfold until the results from the first round of counting are announced. It is unlikely that any candidate will win on the first ballot, the results of which will reveal the spread between the candidates and whether Nicholas Simons and Dana Larsen have enough votes so the second preferences of their supporters might change the rankings between Mike Farnworth, Adrian Dix and John Horgan. Another key question is how many of the party's 28,000 members will vote in the April 11-16 advance poll compared to the number who vote on April 17th. Voters in the advance poll will cast a preferential ballot whereas those who vote on April 17th will cast separate ballots for each round of counting, after they know the results from the previous round. It is possible that enough votes will be cast in the advance polls and the spread between the candidates will be sufficient that votes cast on April 17th will not be decisive; alternatively, if there is a narrow gap between the leading candidates after the first ballot, the leader on that ballot may not be the ultimate winner.

It's anyone's guess how many votes Simons and Larsen will capture on the first ballot, but if they hope to have any influence on the second preference of their supporters, they will have to make their endorsement before April 11th. Waiting until April 17th would probably be too late to influence most voters. Unlike the Liberal leadership race where voters were required to mark at least two preferences, the NDP rules allow voters to mark just one preference, thereby exhausting those ballots once that candidate is eliminated. Consequently, the number of valid votes cast in the final round will be less than the number in the first round.

The leadership race looks like a love-in, very un-NDP-like. The candidates are clearly aware that in the wake of ousting Carole James, the last thing the party needs is a divisive leadership race. The challenge will be for the party, and particularly for the caucus, to unite behind whoever ends up as leader.