On 2 July 2020, voters registered to participate in the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador Leadership Election on August 3 began receiving calls from the party probing their partisan loyalties. This is because the Liberals are vetting and purging their voter list.
Following an internal dispute between both leadership campaigns last week, the LPNL Leadership Election Committee (NLEC) has clarified who actually counts as a “supporter”—and issued a firm warning to both camps about how they sign people up.
The Independent has obtained a copy of the NLEC “Decision Regarding Furey Complaint” rendered on 24 June 2020. It responds to earlier complaints from the Dr. Andrew Furey Campaign that advertisements and statements from the John Abbott Campaign and its alleged supporters claiming “everyone can vote” were misleading.
While they dismiss all complaints against Abbott, the NLEC confirms that the list of registered “supporters” for the August 3 leadership vote will be vetted, and some individual applicants can expect to be purged from the list.
On June 21, Furey Campaign co-chairs John Hogan and Megan Reynolds wrote the NLEC to formally complain about the Abbott Campaign. Specifically, they alleged that by running campaign ads and making public statements like “everyone can vote, but you have to register” or “people are engaging from all different parties in this campaign and it’s good to see,” Abbott and his surrogates are breaking the rules by recruiting non-Liberals. By repeatedly telling people “everyone can vote,” the Abbott Campaign “has contravened the Rules in making misleading statements about who can participate in the process of electing a new leader.”
To bolster this argument, on June 22 they submitted screenshots of a Facebook post from an alleged Abbott supporter. The post suggested registrants hesitant about supporting the ‘aims and objectives of the Liberal Party’ could simply “click that button with your fingers crossed (…) in order to have a say in this privileged arena. You can always block the email address once the vote has been completed.”
The Furey Campaign argued that this post “clearly indicates the issue that has been created regarding who can sign up as a Member/Supporter.”
In their response to the complaint, the Abbott Campaign countered that the ads and statements are not misleading. Their position that ‘everyone can vote if they register’ implies that there are conditions which must be met in order to complete registration. While the “Aims and Objectives” of the Liberal Party of NL are established in Article III of the party constitution, the existence of ‘supporter’ as a separate category from ‘member’ suggests “the aims and objectives can hold common ground for persons other than Liberal Party members. Those who support the principles of the free and democratic society in which we live and who seek to participate in the election process surely must be seen to support the Party when those aims reflect core democratic values.”
The Abbott Campaign also disavowed any connection with the user who authored the “fingers crossed” Facebook post. Because that person is not a supporter or volunteer—and made the comments without John Abbott’s knowledge or consent—they argue the campaign bears no liability for them.
After considering both sides of the dispute and consulting with the Party constitution, the NLEC sided with the Abbott Campaign and dismissed the complaints against them. But they also issued several guidelines about how campaigns are expected to behave—as well as indicating which “supporters” can expect to be purged from the voting list.
The NLEC conceded that the ‘supporter’ category is a deliberate effort to broaden Party engagement beyond traditional ‘membership.’ They also acknowledged that it was therefore totally conceivable that people who had previously supported or voted for other provincial parties might now support the Liberals. But they emphasized that the ‘Aims and Objectives’ defined in the constitution include “not only support of Liberal principles and policies, but also the Party’s organization and election of its candidates.”
Critically, the NLEC decision also notes that while Abbott is not responsible for the “fingers crossed” Facebook post, they do not condone the statements it contained. They write that the comments in question “promote dishonesty and potentially, fraudulent conduct, and we do not support them. In fact, [this individual]’s commentary may well adversely impact [their] eligibility to vote in the Leadership Election, if [they have] signed up as a supporter.” They add that should similar comments come from either candidate, their volunteers, or associated social media accounts, “penalties and/or fines will likely be levied against the campaign in question.”
The NLEC also stated that the list of registered voters will be vetted, and that “should we be made aware that an individual does not support the Aims and Objectives, they will be made ineligible to vote.”
In response, John Hogan wrote back to the NLEC on June 25 to accept the Decision “in its entirety” and thanking them for addressing the Furey Campaign’s complaint. But he also wrote that “despite the dismissal of the complaint, the Furey Campaign now has heightened concerns arising from comments in the Decision… We feel it would be appropriate for the NLEC to conduct a site visit of each campaign prior to June 29 to determine how each campaign is working to sign up members and supporters… The integrity of the process is of the utmost importance and the NLEC should be fully aware of how each campaign is operating… we feel it is imperative that the NLEC has this information so it can make informed decisions on eligibility of members/supporters during the vetting process.” [Emphasis in original.]
“The NLEC are committed to the integrity of this campaign,” Michael King, Executive Director of the NL Liberal Party, told the Independent when asked if they will be vetting voters based on social media posts. “Any evidence that a person does not support the aims and objectives of the Liberal Party of NL will be taken into account in the vetting process. The NLEC’s recommendations in respect of vetting will be independently reviewed at least once, potentially twice if there is an appeal. The vetting process will be independently reviewed by the party’s Chief Returning Officer (CRO). Either campaign can then appeal the CRO’s decision to the appeals committee.”
King also said that the campaign site visits requested by Hogan did not take place. Another source familiar with the leadership campaign clarified that the party is using interactive voice response polling (otherwise known as ‘robocalling’) this week to verify voter information, and that this is the same vetting process undertaken in the 2013 leadership contest.
The full report can be found below.
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