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No big boost in Liberal leadership voter registration despite extension

The Liberal party agreed to a request by front-runner Justin Trudeau to extend the deadline for registration by one week.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Less than 40 per cent of the almost 300,000 members and supporters who signed up to choose the Liberal party's next leader have so far registered to vote, despite a big push by the party to boost the disappointing numbers.

The party last week agreed to a request by front-runner Justin Trudeau to extend the deadline for registration by one week to Thursday.

It even conducted a phone campaign over the weekend which allowed supporters to register on the spot — a move that rival camps grumble amounted to party resources being used for the almost exclusive benefit of the front-runner.

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But with only three days left before the new deadline, only 114,000 people — or 39 per cent of the 294,000 party members and supporters — have so far registered to vote.

That's up only marginally over the 36 per cent who had registered by the original deadline of Mar. 14.

Moreover, rival camps suggest that number may be artificially inflated by dozens of bogus registrants.

Detailed information on registered voters is supposed to be kept confidential.

But rival camps privately say they've discovered numerous anomalies following the weekend's mass registration campaign, including instances in which dozens of registered voters — in one case, more than 100 — provided the same email address.

The Trudeau camp, which claims to have signed up about 165,000 supporters, sought an extension because it said the party had been unable to get registration packages to more than 100,000 supporters who signed up without providing email addresses.

Rival camps maintain almost all those without email addresses were signed up by the Trudeau team. The Trudeau camp acknowledges the bulk are theirs but maintains about 30,000 of them were signed up by others.

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Vancouver MP Joyce Murray's team argued strenuously against extending voter registration, backed by Martha Hall Findlay and Martin Cauchon.

"We were defenders of following the rules and not changing the goal posts," Murray said in an interview Monday.

"There's no doubt that the extension was a benefit to the front-runner campaign and the calls that were made over the weekend, again, were assisting one of the campaigns more than the others."

That said, Murray said she accepts the party's decision to "weigh more heavily on the goal of participation than the goal of fairness within the campaign and amongst the campaigns."

While she's a "big supporter" of the party's decision to open up the leadership vote to non-dues paying supporters, Murray said she's concerned that the phone campaign over the weekend has allowed abuses.

"I have asked the party how are they ascertaining the validity of each and every person when there were mass registrations happening by paid employees. I'm concerned about that, frankly."

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Murray said the rule was supposed to be that each person had to make the effort to register themselves, either online or by mail.

"(That) was a deliberate mechanism put in place to ensure that these were each legitimate, committed people that were able to vote."

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