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Report on the October 24, 2016, By-election in Medicine Hat–Cardston–Warner

1. The Medicine Hat–Cardston–Warner By-election

1.1. Launching the By-election

Issue of the writ

The 2016 by-election was called to replace Jim Hillyer, who passed away on March 23, 2016. The Conservative Party of Canada Member of Parliament for Medicine Hat–Cardston–Warner (Alberta) was first elected for Lethbridge (Alberta) at the 2011 general election.

The writ for the by-election was issued on September 18, 2016. The date for the by-election was set for October 24, 2016, and advance polls were from October 14 to 17, 2016.

Opening returning office and hiring election workers

The returning officer opened one local office on September 18, 2016, in Medicine Hat and one satellite office on September 19, 2016, in Cardston.

A total of 605 people, including individuals on standby to act as replacements if needed, were hired to fill 655 poll worker positions.Footnote 1 Table 1 in Appendix 2 lists the positions occupied for the by-election.

A total of 292 poll workers were past workers from the 2015 general election. The rest were recruited through an online application form on the Elections Canada website and posters in the local office, at the Medicine Hat College and in the post office in Cardston. Four of the workers were under 18 years of age. In collaboration with the Medicine Hat College, information on how to apply was shared with the entire campus population. The candidates of the registered political parties did not provide any names of potential poll workers.

Based on observations at the 2015 general election, the agency updated the training curriculum for deputy returning officers and poll clerks to allow for more hands-on training. Presentation materials, notes for training officers, exercises and videos were either newly created or updated. Manuals for poll workers were improved, and the agency deployed two employees to the local office to observe and assist with training.

Working with political entities

At the close of candidate nominations at 2:00 p.m., local time, on October 5, 2016, there were six confirmed candidates for the by-election. The returning officer held a meeting with the candidates and their representatives on October 7, 2016.

Elections Canada provided software for preparing financial returns and various information resources to candidates, their official agents and auditors. All official agents received multimedia kits that included handbooks and tutorials. Political entities also had access to a number of online resources published since the 2015 general election, including one written opinion, two interpretation notes and six new/updated guidelines, such as the Political Financing Handbook for Candidates and Official Agents.

The election expenses limit for candidates was $112,531.55. The election expenses limit for political parties was $78,302.90.

Information campaign for electors

The "Ready to Vote" information campaign, which was also used in the 2015 general election, seeks to communicate to Canadians effectively and clearly about the electoral process, registration procedures and the identification required to vote. Communications tools used in the 2016 by-election included webpages on elections.ca, a multimedia advertising campaign, electronic and print information products, direct mail, social media messages and outreach to specific groups of electors.

The campaign was delivered in phases that followed the themes and activities of the electoral calendar: registration, the mailing of the voter information card (VIC), voting at advance polls and voting on election day.

Electors could obtain information about their registration status, the location of their polling place, voting procedures and other topics from the returning office directly or by calling the national or returning office toll-free numbers. National contact centre agents responded to 228 enquiries; the local and satellite offices responded to 1,148 calls from electors in the electoral district.

Advertising, social media and website

A multimedia advertising campaign delivered print ads in daily and weekly newspapers in the electoral district, as well as ads on the radio, online and in out-of-home venues such as TimsTV at the five locations in the electoral district.

Elections Canada posted daily social media messages to its Facebook and Twitter accounts about where, when and the ways to register and vote, as well as key election dates. Elections Canada was able to monitor the public environment and respond to questions from electors in the electoral district. Most questions from the public were answered with a referral to specific information on the website, the toll-free phone number or the online complaints form.

The by-election website received 94,000 visits during the election period. Two online services helped electors find the information they needed to be ready to vote. The Voter Information Service showed electors when and where they could vote and provided information on the accessibility of their polling place. The Online Voter Registration Service allowed electors to check if they were registered and provided instructions about how to register online. The website also provided information about eligibility and identification requirements, and a variety of shareable information tools such as videos and infographics.

Finally, live election results were published on the website as soon as the polls closed. The election results section received over 17,000 visits on election night and 22,000 visits the next day.

Direct mail

The agency mailed 75,243 VICs to electors whose names appeared on the preliminary lists of electors. The VIC gave electors personalized information on when, where and the ways to vote, the accessibility of their polling place and how to contact their local returning office.

Following the discovery of a printing error, which affected the polling place information on all VICs, steps were taken to prevent the delivery of the incorrect VICs to electors. However, because there was no guarantee that all VICs could be intercepted, replacement VICs were issued to all electors. The new card was marked "Replacement Card" and included the correct polling place information; electors received it by Wednesday, October 12, 2016, prior to the advance polls. A news release, posts on the agency's Facebook and Twitter accounts and messages posted prominently on the website were issued quickly to notify electors. The incident had no impact on electors' ability to vote, and the agency is taking steps to prevent such an incident from happening in the future.

On October 11, 2016, an information brochure was mailed to all 31,324 households in the electoral district. It provided residents with information about voter eligibility, registration, identification requirements (including the list of accepted identification) and ways to vote. It also prompted electors to contact Elections Canada if they did not receive a VIC or received one with errors.

Community relations and outreach

Two community relations officers were hired to liaise with and provide information to youth and Indigenous electors. They set up kiosks, made presentations, hosted discussion groups, distributed information products and liaised with the administrators of relevant organizations or facilities.

Elections Canada headquarters also informed members of the Advisory Group for Disability Issues (AGDI) about the accessible services and alternate format products (e.g. Braille, large-print, audio or accessible digital formats) available to electors with disabilities. AGDI members were asked to share this information with their stakeholders in the electoral district.

1.2. Voter Registration Services

The National Register of Electors

Elections Canada maintains the National Register of Electors, a database of Canadians who are eligible to vote in federal elections. It is regularly updated between and during elections, using administrative data received through agreements with federal, provincial and territorial agencies. When an election is called, the Register is used to produce the preliminary lists of electors, which are shared with the returning officer, political parties and candidates, and are used to mail VICs to electors.

Coverage, accuracy and currency

The quality of the Register is key to ensuring that all electors receive a VIC. It is also important to the political entities that wish to engage electors. Quality estimates are measured in terms of coverage, accuracy and currency:

Revision period

During the revision period from September 21 to October 18, 2016, the preliminary lists of electors were updated for use at advance polls and on election day. The local returning office offered registration services in person and over the phone. Revising agents were sent out to verify the accuracy of the lists of electors in high-density, highly mobile or new residential neighbourhoods. Throughout the by-election, electors could also go online to check whether they were registered, update their address or complete their registration. Elections Canada provided the preliminary lists to registered political parties that requested them and the returning officer provided the lists to candidates.

When the writ was issued on September 18, 2016, there were 76,124 electors on the preliminary lists, representing 91.4 percent of all eligible electors in the electoral district. Over the course of the revision period, 3,768 people were added to the lists of electors or had their information updated. A total of 1,591 electors, or 4.6 percent of those who voted, registered at their polling place on election day. This compares with 3,579 electors, or 7 percent of those who voted, for this electoral district in the 2015 general election. In all, the final lists of electors included 77,608 names,Footnote 3 representing a net increase of 1,484 over the preliminary lists.

Table 2 in Appendix 2 compares registration statistics for the 2016 by-election and 2015 general election.

1.3. Voting Services

Polling places

To identify a polling place's accessibility, the agency uses 35 criteria, 15 of which are mandatory. The VIC informs electors of their polling place's level of accessibility; this information is also available on Elections Canada's website. For the 2016 by-election, 98.4 percent of polling places met all 15 mandatory criteria (which includes level access), while 1.6 percent provided level access, but did not meet one or more of the other criteria and could not be modified to comply. Of the 64Footnote 4 polling places, 63 met Elections Canada's mandatory accessibility criteria.

The returning officer set up 17 advance polling stations at 13 polling places from October 14 to October 17, 2016. On election day, 195 polling stations were located at 57 polling places. A total of 10 mobile polling stations visited 26 establishments on election day.

Voting

Election day and advance polls

Casting a ballot at a polling station on election day was the choice of the majority of electors during the by-election. A total of 27,443 electors voted this way, representing 79.9 percent of electors who voted, while 5,717, or 16.7 percent, voted at advance polls. In this electoral district in the 2015 general election, 41,224 electors voted on election day, representing 81.2 percent of those who voted, while 8,122, or 16 percent, voted at advance polls.

Voting by mail or at a returning office

Under the Special Voting Rules, electors can vote by mail or at any returning office. As well, Canadians temporarily outside the country can apply online for a special ballot voting kit. Regardless of which electoral district a by-election is held in, Elections Canada communicates with its partners at the Department of National Defence (for Canadian Armed Forces electors), Correctional Service Canada and Global Affairs Canada to disseminate information and registration materials to various groups of electors whose address of ordinary residence is in the electoral district. In all, 1,106 electors voted by special ballot. Table 3 in Appendix 2 provides a breakdown of special ballot voting by category.

Voter turnout

Voter turnout was 44.2 percent of registered electors in Medicine Hat–Cardston–Warner. This compares with 65.1 percent for this electoral district in the 2015 general election. Table 4 in Appendix 2 compares turnout in 2015 and 2016 in greater detail.

Adaptation

The Chief Electoral Officer may, for the sole purpose of enabling electors to exercise their right to vote or enabling the counting of votes, adapt the Act under subsection 17(1) to address an emergency, an unusual or unforeseen circumstance, or an error. Adaptations only apply during an election period or within 30 days after polling day.

As described in Section 1.1, a printing error caused some electors to receive a VIC with the incorrect address for their polling place. Replacement VICs were mailed and an adaptation was made to the Act so that electors who may have gone to the wrong polling place could still exercise their right to vote. Procedures were in place on election day to ensure that these electors would receive a transfer certificate to vote. No electors required a transfer certificate. The table below describes this adaptation in more detail.

Adaptation of the Canada Elections Act pursuant to subsection 17(1) of the Act
Statutory Provision Explanatory Notes
Section 158
  • Purpose: To allow the issuance of transfer certificates to electors who went to the wrong polling station because of an erroneous voter information card.
  • Explanation: Due to a printing error, certain electors in the electoral district of Medicine Hat–Cardston–Warner received a notice of confirmation of registration (voter information card) which indicated the address of a polling station that was not their own. Sections 158 and 159 of the Act allow for a transfer certificate to be issued to an elector to vote at a polling station other than their own in certain specified situations. However, they do not cover the situation where an elector receives a voter information card with the wrong polling station location on it. Subsection 158(4) of the Act was thus adapted to make sure that electors who would have gone to the wrong polling station because of an incorrect address on a voter information card could receive a transfer certificate and vote there.

1.4. Concluding the By-election

Election results

Glen Motz, Conservative Party of Canada, was elected. Table 5 in Appendix 2 lists the number of valid votes obtained, by candidate.

There was no recount initiated after the by-election. The validation of results was completed on October 27, 2016, and the writ was returned on November 3, 2016. The official voting results were published on Elections Canada's website at elections.ca > Resource Centre > Reports > Elections Canada's Official Reports > Official Voting Results.

There was no change to the distribution of seats in the House of Commons after the by-election.

House of Commons seat distribution after the 2016 by-election
Party At the call of and after the 2016 by-election
Liberal Party of Canada 182
Conservative Party of Canada 97
New Democratic Party 44
Bloc Québécois 10
Green Party of Canada 1
Independent 1
Vacant 5

Complaints

Electors were able to provide feedback on all aspects of their voting experience during the 2016 by-election. Complaints on a range of matters,Footnote 5 including accessibility issues, could be lodged with Elections Canada using an online form, by telephone, by email or by regular mail. Electors also had the option of lodging a complaint at a local office or at their polling place. The agency proactively asked electors to provide their feedback on accessibility and other issues.

Elections Canada received 23 complaints related to the by-election:

Two of these complaints related to a potential offence under the Act and were referred to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for further investigation.

Cost of the by-election

The estimated cost for the October 2016 by-election in Medicine Hat–Cardston–Warner is $1.2 million, or $16.16 for each registered elector. This includes $55,000 projected to be paid to candidates for the partial reimbursement of their election expenses and the subsidies to candidates' auditors.

Overall, the cost for this by-election is 33 percent higher than the historical average. While there are many factors that affect the cost of a by-election, this increase is predominantly driven by an increase in the schedule of fees paid to election workers, following a re-evaluation of various functions, and the addition of a fourth day of advance polls, both in effect only since the 2015 general election.

The following table provides the cost breakdown of the by-election.

Estimated cost of the 2016 by-election1
Activity Estimated costs
($ thousands)
Conducting the by-electionIncludes expenses related to fees and allowances to returning officers and election staff, printing ballots and lists of electors, leasing local offices and polling places, shipping election material, running communications campaigns, hiring temporary staff and deploying IT infrastructure and telecommunications 1,188
Reimbursing election expenses to candidates and subsidies to candidates' auditors 55
Total 1,243

1 Estimated cost as at March 2017. Actual cost will not be known until Elections Canada has received and processed all outstanding invoices for goods and services, and received and audited all candidates' election expenses reports.

Poll worker compliance with voting day procedures

The Act requires Elections Canada to arrange for an independent audit of poll workers' performance for each election. Following a competitive procurement process, the Chief Electoral Officer commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) to conduct the audit and report on whether certain categories of poll workers (deputy returning officers, poll clerks and registration officers) performed the duties and functions imposed on them under specific sections of the Act. PwC was also tasked with determining the degree to which the established administrative controls, including manuals and training material, supported poll workers in performing their duties. The audit sample included polling places designated as urban or rural dispersed across the electoral district and resulted in PwC auditing approximately 200 electoral interactions.

The audit's findings are in line with those in the Retrospective Report on the 42nd General Election of October 19, 2015. The audit concluded that election staff properly exercised their powers and properly performed their duties when processing the 85 percent of electors who arrived at the polls already registered and with documentary proof of identity and address. The audit reached the same conclusion regarding election staff's processing of the 15 percent of electors who required special procedures, such as those who registered at the polls or had to take an oath. However, for the latter group, it noted that some of the administrative procedures (e.g. record keeping) were not performed consistently. The audit also concluded that training programs and their delivery were effective. The report recommends further enhancements to the training program with a focus on special procedures.

The PwC report can be found in Appendix 1.


Footnote 1 Some workers filled more than one position.

Footnote 2 Accuracy of the electoral lists is derived by dividing the currency estimates by the coverage estimates.

Footnote 3 Final lists are available on the Elections Canada website at elections.ca > Resource Centre > Reports > Elections Canada's Official Reports > Official Voting Results.

Footnote 4 Six of the advance polling places were also used for election day polling places, resulting in a total of 64 polling places.

Footnote 5 The agency defines a complaint as an expression of dissatisfaction in regard to the products or services provided by Elections Canada, the way in which services were provided by Elections Canada, or the inappropriate conduct of a person or group in the electoral process.