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Returning Officer—Job Description

A federal returning officer (RO) is responsible for the delivery and control of federal electoral events within the electoral district for which he or she is appointed.

Reporting relationship

The federal RO is appointed by and reports to the Chief Electoral Officer.

Key activities

  • Plans and organizes the delivery of access to voting
  • Manages and controls financial, material and human resources
  • Administers the Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Act in his or her electoral district, as well as related legislation, such as the Official Languages Act and the Financial Administration Act
  • Communicates information to the public, candidates, political parties, field liaison officers and Elections Canada
  • Contributes to the improvement of the electoral process


Plans and prepares for an election by carrying out pre-event tasks that include but are not limited to the following:

  • Identifies local suppliers and contracts with them for the rental of furniture and equipment, the purchase of sundry supplies, and printing services
  • Recruits, appoints and trains office staff
  • Locates suitable and accessible space for the returning office and for polling sites and negotiates with landlords
  • Reviews the electoral district's addressing information to ensure that electors are registered at the correct officially designated address
  • Identifies areas for targeted revision, such as new residential developments, high-mobility areas, institutions, etc.
  • Reviews polling division boundaries
  • Ensures that an outreach action plan is created for each of the target groups represented within the electoral district

Plans and organizes the delivery of access to voting:

  • Publishes statutory public notices
  • Appoints and directs the work of hundreds of election officers
  • Administers oaths
  • Implements security measures as required for the protection of information, assets, staff and the general public at the returning office and at polling sites
  • Coordinates the preparation and mailing of voter information cards to all registered electors
  • Establishes polling stations and distributes notices as required by the Canada Elections Act
  • Requests a list of recommended revising agents, registration officers, deputy returning officers and poll clerks from political parties or candidates, as the case may be; recruits from other sources if lists provided are insufficient to fill all available positions
  • Assigns election officers to polling stations, trains them and issues their supplies
  • Arranges for the distribution of the lists of electors to candidates
  • Manages the revision and the printing of the lists of electors
  • Coordinates, validates and reports on the results of the vote
  • Manages the judicial recount process, if necessary
  • Coordinates the return of election documents, furniture, equipment and telephone apparatus

Manages and controls financial, material and human resources:

  • Manages the available budget for staff, essential services, supplies, materials and equipment
  • Develops a plan for allocating resources
  • Establishes expense accounts and ensures proper recording and monitoring of expenditures
  • Ensures staff and election officers are payroll-processed
  • Ensures that employees are trained in procedures and understand their roles and responsibilities
  • Ensures election officers and staff respect confidentiality guidelines issued by Elections Canada
  • Ensures compliance with the instructions of the Chief Electoral Officer
  • Negotiates for and leases accommodation space and essential services
  • Determines office requirements (floor space, furniture/equipment, office supplies), conducts search, finalizes arrangements and acquires supplies
  • Establishes a floor plan and supervises set-up of office
  • Manages the inventory, supply and distribution of materials

Administers the Canada Elections Act:

  • Ensures the adherence by staff and election officers to all legal requirements of the Canada Elections Act and related legislation (such as the Official Languages Act and the Financial Administration Act)
  • Ensures that registration and voting processes are conducted in compliance with the Canada Elections Act
  • Ensures the maintenance of peace and good order throughout the electoral process

Communicates information to the public, candidates and political parties:

  • Ensures that systems are in place and working efficiently and accurately within the returning office to respond to the needs of personnel and inquiries from the public
  • Complies with Elections Canada directives with respect to media inquiries
  • Ensures that candidates and political parties are provided with all documentation and material to which they are entitled
  • Responds to requests and suggestions from candidates and political parties
  • Responds to daily questions from Elections Canada for the Event Management System
  • Responds to requests and questions from the Elections Canada Support Network and field liaison officers

Communications with Elections Canada personnel:

  • Ensure all communications are professional, respectful and provided in requested time

Contributes to the improvement of the electoral process:

  • Completes administrative report the Returning Officer's Report of Proceedings
  • Participates as requested in event post-mortems and consultations
  • Continuously seeks more efficient ways of administering the electoral process within his or her electoral district
  • Engages in consultations with Elections Canada that contribute to procedural, organization and/or technical improvements to increase the efficiency of the returning office