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Compliance Review: Final Report and Recommendations

Executive Summary

This document is a final report and list of recommendations following a six-month review of the problem of “non-compliance” with rules and standards set out for election officers to follow in federal elections.

Elections Canada commissioned an independent electoral management consultant to lead the review and to author this report. This report is delivered to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada to fulfil the commission mandate.   Its contents and recommendations are expected to be given due consideration from senior management at Elections Canada as they set priorities and develop plans to prepare for the 42nd general election, scheduled for October 19, 2015, and for the elections that follow.

All Canadian citizens, 18 years of age or older, have the right to vote in the federal electoral district in which they reside. The Canada Elections Act provides a wide range of procedural safeguards designed to protect the integrity of the electoral process. A subset of these safeguards requires voters to demonstrate eligibility (identity, citizenship, age, and residency) before they can receive a ballot. 

For the vast majority of electors that are already registered at their correct address, Election Day procedures involve a simple, efficient check of a single piece of photo ID to confirm identity and address of residence. However, for any persons who are not registered, or do not possess acceptable identification documents at the time of voting, election officers must administer special "exception" procedures prescribed in legislation.

Ensuring voter eligibility through the administration of these special "exception" procedures is an expected part of election officers' duties. Errors that involve a failure to properly administer these procedures are serious. The courts refer to such serious errors as "irregularities" which can result in votes being declared invalid.

Concerns about election officers not properly administering the special "exception" procedures used during voter registration and identity vouching were first raised in a legal dispute regarding the conduct of the May 2011 election in the electoral district of Etobicoke Centre. Errors in administering eligibility safeguards, identified in ten selected polls in that district, were deemed so serious that the Ontario Superior Court declared the election "null and void".

The Supreme Court of Canada subsequently reversed that decision, finding that the evidence did not meet the test for annulling an election set out in the Canada Elections Act. Nevertheless, the case revealed that election workers had made a significant number of serious errors amounting to administrative "irregularities" in the course of their duties. While the case was underway, Canada's Chief Electoral Officer publicly committed to Elections Canada taking measures to improve compliance with procedures and standards on voting days.

Throughout the Etobicoke Centre court case there was judicial agreement that, despite the presence of "irregularities", there was no evidence of fraud or ineligible voters being provided ballots. However, the core integrity of the electoral process was publicly questioned as a result of media coverage indicating election officers had not properly applied procedural rules prior to issuing ballots.

As part of the compliance review, a national audit of poll documentation was undertaken. Results showed that problems associated with compliance in the Etobicoke Centre riding were not unique. The audit made clear that most Canadian election officers struggle to administer complex rules for "exception" procedures they must conduct as part of their temporary Election Day roles.

An estimated 15 percent of voters need some type of "exception" process to be administered before they can be issued a ballot. While administering "regular" voting procedures is usually straightforward, the audit showed that errors are made in the majority of cases that require the use of non-regular processes. Serious errors, of a type the courts consider "irregularities" that can contribute to an election being overturned, were found to occur in 12 percent of all Election Day cases involving voter registration, and 42 percent of cases involving identity vouching.

Overall, the audit estimated that "irregularities" occurred for 1.3 percent of all cases of Election Day voting during the 2011 federal election. More than 12 million Canadian citizens cast ballots on May 2, 2011 and the audit indicates that the applications of specific legal safeguards, in place to ensure each elector is actually eligible to vote, were seriously deficient in more than 165,000 cases due to systemic errors made by election officials. Averaged across 308 ridings, election officers made over 500 serious administrative errors per electoral district on Election Day.

Obviously, this is unacceptable. Aside from legal concerns, public trust in proper administration of the electoral process is at serious risk if these error rates are not addressed. Establishing what causes these errors, and identifying practical steps that can be taken to address those causes, have been the primary objectives of this compliance review.

The review has established that there are multiple causes of error: complexity; supervision; recruitment; training; updating the list of electors; and historical, cultural and jurisdictional factors all play contributing roles in the errors made by election officers on Election Day. The reality of election work must be considered in order to properly understand this problem; more than 200,000 election officers need to be recruited and trained, most often for a single day's work that happens only once every few years.

Stakeholders involved in the review process identified many potential solutions that could help improve compliance for the 2015 election. However, there was a widespread consensus among participants that fully addressing the compliance problem requires a fundamental redesign of the voting process. Redesign, through simplification and rationalization, is necessary in order to reduce the risk of errors so that the administrative burden that is now placed on election officers is manageable. Such redesign will involve extensive amendment to the framework of electoral legislation.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to implement a new voting services model nationwide in time for the next federal election. However, if Parliamentarians give permission, Elections Canada could prepare a new model for pilot implementation before or during the 42nd general election in 2015. This new approach could then, potentially, be legally defined and nationally implemented in time for the 2019 federal election.

For 2015 it is recommended that a series of modest legal amendments, along with substantial administrative modifications, be given priority to address non-compliance. These recommendations focus on the changes required to minimize the number of serious errors "irregularities" that will otherwise occur.

Legislative change within the next year is essential if the recommendations detailed in this report are to be made effective. It is recognized this presents a significant challenge for the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada. Without amendments to the Canada Elections Act, procedural compliance cannot be significantly improved in the 42nd general election.

Compliance within the current structure of election rules presents great difficulties for the members of the public who are temporarily hired to administer the voting process on Election Day. That problem can be remedied, but only with the cooperation of Parliamentarians who must begin a process of modernizing electoral laws both in the immediate short term, and over the longer term.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

The Compliance Review has highlighted the vital role that accuracy in electoral administration plays in public confidence in our electoral system and the results it produces.

Elections Canada agrees with Mr. Neufeld's finding that significantly improving rates of accuracy among election officers administering procedures on election-day requires a fundamental redesign of the current voting services model.

We are in the process of developing a new model for voting services, broadly based on the approach proven successful in New Brunswick provincial and municipal elections. The new model would fundamentally change the way services are delivered, including re-structuring the functions and roles of election officers and introducing technology into polling sites, for example an electronic voters list that can be updated in real-time and automated tabulation of results.

To date Elections Canada's objectives in developing this new model have been to deliver more convenient and responsive services to voters, to increase overall efficiency by simplifying the tasks and related training of election officers and to improve their working conditions. As a result of Mr. Neufeld's review, we acknowledge a need to make compliance a greater focus during the design and testing of the new model.

Mr. Neufeld notes, and Elections Canada agrees, that there is insufficient time to fully implement a new voting services model for the 2015 general election, assuming that Parliament were to agree to a new model. The magnitude of change required would pose significant risk and extensive testing will be essential to demonstrate that the new model works before adopting it on a national scale.

We will begin to engage parliamentarians and various stakeholders later this spring on details of the new voting services model and a proposed pilot. In 2014 we will seek Parliamentary approval to proceed with the pilot, which we intend to conduct by January 2015, during an electoral event. We plan to roll out the new model throughout Canada after the 2015 general election.

While a new voting services model would address fundamental compliance issues by 2019, we agree with Mr. Neufeld that improvements to existing programs are required immediately for the 2015 election, even though we expect these improvements will reduce, but not in themselves resolve, the non-compliance problem.

Elections Canada agrees with Mr. Neufeld's recommendations to overhaul administrative practices in time for the 2015 general election, including: introducing new initiatives to reduce the need for registration and vouching on election-day; improving quality control at polling sites; simplifying procedures; clarifying written instructions; improving recruitment practices; modernizing training; and measuring levels of compliance on an ongoing basis.

We note that many of the improvements that Mr. Neufeld recommends for implementation during the 2015 general election have the potential to be carried forward into the new voting services model, to be used during subsequent elections.

In 2010 Elections Canada recommended a number of amendments to legislationFootnote 1, largely supported by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsFootnote 2, which would reinforce administrative changes we plan to implement in order to improve compliance during the 2015 general election.

I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Neufeld and to the many individuals and agencies that generously gave their time and energy to this review, expressed their candid views on the nature of the compliance problem, and shared their suggestions for improvement. These stakeholders included elections field staff and front-line election workers, political party representatives and provincial, territorial and international electoral agencies. I look forward to further engagement with all stakeholders as we develop our plans to implement changes arising out of this review.

A detailed response to each of Mr. Neufeld's recommendations can be found in the Recommendations section of this report, including a summary of legislative amendments, drawn from Elections Canada's 2010 Recommendations Report, which we will be seeking prior to the 2015 general electionFootnote 3.

Marc Mayrand
Chief Electoral Officer

Footnote 1 Responding to Changing Needs Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the 40th General Election

Footnote 2 Response to the Chief Electoral Officer's Recommendations for Legislative Reforms Following the 40th General Election

Footnote 3 Chief Electoral Officer Of Canada's Response to Recommendation 11 of this report