There are two types of positions in federal electoral administration: positions staffed directly by Elections Canada and positions on teams established by returning officers in each electoral district for an election or referendum. Elections Canada is responsible for electoral administration at the national level, while returning officers are responsible for administering the electoral process in their ridings.
Elections Canada normally employs several hundred people in its offices and distribution centre in Ottawa. These employees plan and prepare for electoral events and produce the reports required by the Canada Elections Act.
During a general election, Elections Canada hires several hundred additional employees, who work for the entire election period, which lasts at least 36 days. Some of these employees may remain in their positions for a few weeks or months longer, depending on the projects they have been assigned. These additional employees work mainly at Elections Canada in Gatineau on the following tasks: support for returning officers, electoral logistics, communication with electors and, after the election, studies emerging from the electoral event and the preparation of reports.
The returning officer, who is appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer, hires an average of 500 people during an election. Two groups of personnel report to the returning officer: office staff and election officers.
Before an election, returning officers select their office staff – also known as “key staff” – but hire staff members only once the election has been called. Office staff handle all the preparations necessary for the smooth conduct of the vote and offer revision services and special ballot voting services.
Election officers work primarily at the polling sites (that is, where electors go to vote). Various positions are available, from the deputy returning officer, who handles the ballots, to the information officer, who directs electors to the appropriate table. During an election, election officers are the front line and make it possible for electors to vote in an orderly fashion.
Returning officers are responsible for recruiting election officers for their electoral district. They must abide by the Canada Elections Act (CEA), which states that priority consideration in each electoral district will be given to individuals on the following lists: for deputy returning officer positions, the list of names provided by the candidate of the registered party whose candidate finished first in the last election; for poll clerk positions, the list of names provided by the candidate of the registered party whose candidate finished second in the last election; and for registration officer positions, the lists of names provided by candidates of the registered parties whose candidates finished first and second in the last election.
During an electoral event, these candidates have until the 24th day before election day to recommend suitable persons for these positions to the returning officer (under section 36 and subsection 39(3) of the CEA). If returning officers do not receive enough names, they can hire people from other sources. Those interested in working as election officers must possess the necessary skills and qualifications, as listed under Available Positions for Employment on Polling Days.
The following individuals are not eligible to be election officers: people who are not qualified as electors; federal ministers and members of provincial executive councils; senators; sitting members of the House of Commons or of provincial or territorial legislative bodies; certain judges; people who were candidates in the last general election or in a by-election held since the last general election; people who have served in Parliament in the session immediately before the election or in the session in progress at the time of the election; and anyone found guilty of an offence under an electoral law relating to federal, provincial, municipal or school board elections or the Referendum Act in the previous seven years (subsections 22(3), 22(4) and 22(5) of the CEA).