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Compliance Review: Final Report and Recommendations


The identified systemic problem of election officer non-compliance has no single solution. Multiple interlinked causes underlie the serious procedural errors polling staff now make at every voting location in a federal election on Election Day. Likewise, multiple parallel solutions are needed to improve compliance levels and eliminate "irregularities".

Review participants indicated a general consensus that Canada must adopt a new voting services model that adds the requirement for compliance into the design and delivery of Election Day registration and voting procedures. Redesign is needed to develop robust, efficient registration and voting procedures. The slow, additive formation of current requirements for administering Election Day has become an equation too difficult to satisfy. The 200,000 members of the public, who provide their services once every few years to serve as election officers, need and deserve more modern, streamlined and logical arrangements.

It is simply not practicable to fully implement a new voting services model for the next general election. However, since current voting arrangements may need to serve for a number of future elections yet, and because it is so vitally important to reduce rates of serious error as soon as possible, concerted efforts are needed to address the compliance problems within the current model.

For this reason, recommendations from this review focus mainly on what to do to minimize serious errors in the current "polling division" model for the next general election. These are essential to maintain public trust in the electoral process and to give all political stakeholders confidence that only eligible electors are voting, that qualified voters are not being disenfranchised by administrative error, and that procedural safeguards protecting against duplicate voting and impersonation are enforced consistently and vigorously.

To substantially improve rates of compliance with Election Day registration and voting procedures in the 2015 general election compels modest amendments to the Canada Elections Act. To allow time for implementation, such amendments should be passed into law no later than spring 2014.

Coupled with the legislative changes, Elections Canada should also give priority to a range of administrative modifications as it prepares for the 2015 general election. All of the administrative changes recommended here are worthy of pursuit whether or not Parliamentarians agree to the legislative changes required. However, administrative changes alone cannot be expected to reduce the level of "irregularities" to the desired minimum. Footnote 33 At best, they might close the existing compliance gap by half.

The recommendations that follow are a "short list" prioritized and selected from the many useful suggestions articulated by review participants over the past six months. They reflect a balance between the practical limits of Elections Canada's organizational capacity, the time needed to structure and implement legislative change, and what will best improve compliance in the short and the longer terms.

Each major recommendation is objective-based and is supplemented with suggested strategies for achieving compliance improvements. Elections Canada must decide whether or not to accept each individual recommendation, and for those it accepts, which specific strategies it will use to improve compliance.

To improve election officer compliance with election rules and procedures, for the 2015 general election and elections that follow, the Reviewer concludes that Elections Canada should accept, adopt and develop an action plan for implementing the following 12 recommendations:

1. Minimize the need for registration and vouching on Election Day

  1. Investigate ways to reduce the number of voters who must register or re-register at the time of voting, for instance by:
    1. Undertaking a significant voter registration update campaign immediately prior to the scheduled general election, using both online and manual registration and update methods.
    2. Giving Registration Officers access to a wider voters list (beyond the polling division level, perhaps at the electoral district level) so details of registered voters who have simply moved can be updated on-site, rather than forcing already registered voters to re-register on Election Day.
    3. Improving the accuracy of procedures for capturing new registrations and updates to data made on Election Day into the National Register of Electors, by providing field offices more time for processing and by assigning experienced Revision Officers to supervise this work to ensure mistakes or omissions do not result in these electors having to re-register.
  2. Investigate ways to reduce the number of voters who must have their identity and address of residence vouched for on Election Day, for instance by:
    1. Improving and extending the pre-vote advertising campaign that encourages electors to bring appropriate identification to the polling site with them.
    2. Widening use of the Voter Information Card as a valid piece of address identification for all voters.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada agrees that further reducing the number of voters who rely on registration (975,000, or eight percent of voters during the 2011 general election) and vouching procedures (120,000, or one percent) on election-day in order to vote would help reduce administrative errors.

For 2015, we plan to conduct pre-election registration drives aimed at groups with low registration rates, such as students. We will assess these plans in light of the reviewer's recommendations.

In April 2012, Elections Canada launched a new online voter registration service that enables electors to confirm that they are properly registered on the voters list and to update their address if they have moved. During an election, electors will be able to update their address only if they have moved within their electoral district. Constraints in the Canada Elections Act, related to documentary proof of identification prevent us from allowing electors to update their address if they moved between ridings or to register as new electors.

In 2010, we recommended changes to the legislationFootnote 4 that would allow us to offer and promote a full online voter registration service. Implementing this change would reduce the number of voters needing to register on election-day as well as improve the quality of the voters lists.

Registration officers are currently provided a voters list covering the voting site, which usually contains several polling divisions. We will consider extending this to the electoral district level but this may not be feasible until the new model is in place, when the national voters list would be accessible in real-time via technology implemented at the polls.

For 2015, we plan to revise our voter identification policy to permit the Voter Information Card (VIC) to be used as proof of address for all electors when it is accompanied by another approved piece of identification. We will also look at simplifying the list of acceptable pieces of identification. These measures should improve access, simplify the process for electors and election workers and reduce the requirement for vouching.

Footnote 4 Responding to Changing Needs, recommendation I.10, "Registration of Electors by Internet". This recommendation was supported by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

2. Implement quality control mechanisms at polling sites

  1. Ensure there is a supervisor in charge at every voting site, that their authority is clear, and that each supervisor has the power to ensure polling staff comply with legally required procedures.
  2. Request modification to the Canada Elections Act to give legal status to these new powers of supervision, using the following types of provisions:
    1. Modify the "Central Poll Supervisor" and "Deputy Returning Officer" titles in legislation and replace them with "Poll Supervisor" and "Voting Officer" respectively.
    2. Provide clear authority, decision making, and dispute resolution powers to the Poll Supervisor. Make it clear that all other staff at the voting site report to the Poll Supervisor, and that the Poll Supervisor reports to the Returning Officer.
    3. Require that a Poll Supervisor be present at every voting site and that the Returning Officer has discretion to appoint one or more Assistant Poll Supervisors where this is needed for effective supervision.
    4. Allow the Poll Supervisor in very small voting sites to also act as an Information Officer and/or Registration Officer.
  3. Develop training focused on the core elements of a Poll Supervisor role including expertise in all types of "exception" processes, in dispute resolution methods, in standard problem escalation procedures, and in accessing the support mechanisms available.
  4. Develop simple-to-use tools, such as a quality assurance checklist, to help Poll Supervisors monitor election officers' compliance with procedures.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada agrees with the recommendation to improve quality control at polling sites by ensuring there is a staff member at each site who has clear authority to act in a supervisory role.

The enactment of our 2010 recommendation for legislative changeFootnote 5 would provide flexibility for Returning Officers to appoint supervisors to polling sites wherever it is considered necessary. The authority and role of supervisors can be clarified through revised internal guidelines and training.

While we agree that the role and authority of supervisors could be clarified in the legislation, the new voting service model for 2019 would revise the roles and responsibilities of all polling site staff, including supervisors.

Footnote 5 Responding to Changing Needs, recommendation I.3, "Additional Election Officers for Polling Sites". This recommendation was supported by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

3. Reduce procedural complexity associated with registration and voting

  1. Undertake a comprehensive review, in the context of the legal framework established for the 42nd general election, to critically reassess and redesign Election Day registration and voting procedures, placing priority on simplification, streamlined processing and ease-of-understanding for voters and election officers alike.
  2. To further support the simplification of procedures for polling staff, request the following amendments to the Canada Elections Act:
    1. Reduce, as much as possible, the number of verbal oaths required from electors. Where legal formality is warranted to ensure procedural integrity, instead require signed declaration forms.
    2. Allow Candidate Representatives to be appointed to monitor an entire voting location, to remove the need to be specifically appointed (with redundant paperwork) to oversee each individual polling station at that site;
    3. Allow the Statement of Electors Who Voted ("bingo sheet") to be completed only once every hour, instead of every half hour.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada agrees to make changes to registration and vouching procedures, within the scope of the existing legislation, in order to help reduce rates of error in the administration of these procedures during the 2015 election.

We agree that it is necessary to simplify procedures election officers are required to follow when administering vouching and other oaths. However, we do not believe that the legislation should be changed to reduce the number of oaths because these oaths provide an important means to respond to exceptional circumstances under the current voting model, for example requiring an elector to confirm an apparent error in their details on the voters list before issuing a ballot. The difficulties with oaths can be addressed administratively in 2015 by making them simpler and, in the longer term, through specialized functions under a new voting model.

In 2010, Elections Canada made a recommendationFootnote 6, also made by the reviewer, to enact a provision allowing for the appointment of candidate representatives to polling sites, rather than to individual polling stations. Implementation of this recommendation would reduce unnecessary paperwork and the administrative burden placed on candidate representatives, and on election workers, allowing them to concentrate on core tasks.

Elections Canada agrees that the current provision requiring the Statement of Electors Who Voted ('Bingo Sheet') be made available half hourly, upon request, can impact the quality and timeliness of service to voters. The new voting model that we intend to propose includes an ability to provide real- time, electronic access for candidates and parties about who has voted, replacing the current paper-based process. In the meantime, for 2015, we do not intend to seek modification to legislation. We will however revise policies and guidelines requiring Returning Officers to engage locally with candidates to tailor provision of 'who has voted' information to specific, agreed-upon requirements.

Footnote 6 Responding to Changing Needs, recommendation I.5, "Candidates' Representatives: Appointment, Administration of Oath and Movement While Ballots Are Counted". This recommendation was supported by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

4. Simplify written instructions for all election officers

  1. Reduce, consolidate, standardize and simplify all written procedures, forms and other printed materials that election officers use based on:
    1. Using plain language targeted to the audience.
    2. Keeping terms consistent and simple.
    3. Providing examples of good practice in the instructions, such as showing properly completed forms.
    4. Including pictures, colour and other effective instruction aids.
    5. Ensuring all instructions are consistent across supplies, forms, manuals and training materials.
  2. Introduce "quick-reference" instruction summaries for each type of voting "exception" process, which the appropriate election officers can quickly check as they administer such exceptions.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada agrees with this recommendation and we will review and revise election officer instructions prior to 2015 in order to make them simple and consistent for the target audience, i.e. members of the public who work for as little as one day with minimal training.

5. Adopt a user-centric approach to designing and testing procedures, materials and training

  1. Make the perspective and actual experience of "real" first-time users a key component of the design and testing of all major changes to registration and voting procedures and materials, for instance by:
    1. Consulting front-line poll staff to help inform the practical design of new procedures and materials.
    2. Seeking specialist communications expertise to design materials for use by electors and election officers.
    3. Using "real life" simulations to thoroughly test any changes, using ordinary citizens as voters and poll staff before implementation; then responsively take feedback to adjust procedures, materials and training approaches as necessary.
    4. Surveying front-line poll staff immediately after elections to identify issues that may have an impact on procedural compliance, and establish what improvements could be usefully made to procedures, materials or training content.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada agrees with the reviewer's recommendation to prove, through rigorous testing involving actual users, that procedures, materials and training are simple for election officers and voters to use, before using these products in an election.

We intend to involve a representative cross-section of front-line election officers and members of the public in the re-design and testing of procedures, materials and training that will be used during the 2015 general election. Rates of compliance with procedures by election workers will be one of the important criteria used during testing to measure the effectiveness of re-designed products.

We agree to implement mechanisms, including revising our post-election staff survey, to obtain more direct feedback from front-line election workers about the quality of procedures, materials and training and in particular any issues that may impact upon rates of compliance.

6. Improve working conditions for polling staff

  1. Request an amendment to the Canada Elections Act to make the Chief Electoral Officer responsible for updating, publicizing and otherwise managing and being accountable for all aspects of the elections fee tariff, including establishing and regularly reviewing the fee rates.
  2. Modify the elections fee tariff to meet or exceed the average compensation rates provided to provincial, territorial and local government election officers holding equivalent responsibilities.
  3. Compensate election officers who must travel long distances, or pay parking fees, to attend training or attend their assigned voting location on Election Day.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada accepts the reviewer's finding that working conditions contribute to current rates of error among election officers.

We believe that a new voting services model has the potential to substantially improve working conditions. One important feature of the new model is that election officers will be dedicated to administering specific tasks within a polling site, such as checking identification, rather than being responsible for all processes and exceptions as is the case currently. This change is expected to provide more flexibility to rotate staff, facilitating better working conditions such as proper meal breaks.

While re-design of the voting services model offers opportunity for substantial improvement, we agree that steps must be taken now to help improve working conditions for election officers for the 2015 election.

Elections Canada agrees that the Federal Elections Fees Tariff needs to be revised in order to better reflect current rates of compensation.

Whether or not Parliament agrees to place direct responsibility for the tariff of fees with the Chief Electoral Officer, as recommended by the reviewer, we intend to review rates of compensation for election officer roles and anticipate proposing adjustments to the elections fee tariff prior to the 2015 general election. This will help to attract and retain qualified election workers.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs recommended an increase to fees following our advice in 2010. Implementing this recommendationFootnote 7 would help facilitate fairer compensation for election officers.

Footnote 7 Responding to Changing Needs, recommendation IV.6, "Updating the Rules Respecting the Tariff of Fees". This recommendation was supported by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

7. Modify the approach for recruiting election workers

  1. To ensure that Returning Officers have the maximum time practicable to successfully recruit quality staff:
    1. Request an amendment to the Canada Elections Act to remove all authority for candidates to nominate election officers (which now affects timely staff recruitment); require instead that each Returning Officer recruit and hire election officers solely on merit.
    2. Instruct Returning Officers to hire sufficient recruitment officers before the Writs of Election are issued, for fixed election dates.
  2. Introduce new measures to widen the pool of applicants for election officer roles, such as:
    1. Developing a database to capture information about election workers. Use it to communicate directly with these staff about Election's Canada's appreciation of their contributions, and about opportunities to work at future events.
    2. Collaborating with provincial and territorial election management bodies to use the ongoing database as a shared repository of experienced, qualified election workers.
    3. Targeting younger staff (e.g. 16  18 year olds) as election officers. Give them an opportunity to increase experience and responsibility over successive elections.
  3. Develop mechanisms for ensuring all those considered for hire as an election officer in the 2015 general election have minimum skill levels, for example by introducing literacy and numeracy screening tests.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada accepts the reviewer's finding that legislative provisions granting candidates the authority to nominate election officers no longer provide an effective check and balance at polling sites and impact the timely recruitment of qualified election officers.

We agree that the legislation should be amended to remove these provisions so that all election officers may be recruited directly. Elections Canada has previously indicated to Parliament that these provisions adversely impact the recruitment and training of election officers.

We note that removal of these provisions would not necessarily preclude partisans from applying and being appointed to election officer roles, however they would do so through a consistent, transparent and merit-based hiring process. Should this recommendation not be accepted, it would be important to implement our 2010 recommendationFootnote 8 to advance the cut-off date for receiving nominations and transferring this authority to parties or electoral district associations.

We will aim to design the new voting services model in such a way that proper checks and balances are ensured at polling sites through the use of well-designed procedures, effective supervision and new technology.

We agree with the reviewer that new measures are needed to improve recruitment of election workers. While we already share lists of names of election workers, with their consent, with our provincial and territorial colleagues this process should be more rigorous and formalized and we will work towards doing this. We will also consider improving our engagement with staff from previous federal, provincial and municipal elections to encourage them to serve during the 2015 election.

We also believe that online recruitment tools hold significant potential to further assist in the recruitment and training of election officers. Indeed, during the 2011 election some 130,000 election officers (72%) were recruited by applying on the Elections Canada website. We intend to explore further uses of the internet to improve our recruitment and training practices.

Elections Canada agrees to develop measures, such as screening tests or evaluations during training, to ensure that election officers have the required skills to perform their role. We will also continue to encourage returning officers to hire 16 and 17 year-olds as election workers and will consider new initiatives to re-enforce this.

Footnote 8 Responding to Changing Needs, recommendation I.2, "Appointment: Deputy Returning Officers, Poll Clerks and Registration Officers". This recommendation was partially supported by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

8. Improve the quality of training provided to election officers

  1. Take steps to minimize variances in the training approach across different districts, ensuring a minimum nationwide standard of curriculum that includes all the critical knowledge each election officer requires to prevent serious errors.
  2. Implement best-practice adult teaching methods for election officer training, emphasizing experiential learning opportunities, such as practicing specific election procedures, using forms and materials, and scenario role-playing.
  3. Enable field training staff to focus on practical exercises at class training sessions, by imparting general background information outside of the classroom; for example, by introducing self-directed online (or take-home video) pre-training sessions.
  4. Consider including an evaluation component for the pre-training that requires each applicant to demonstrate a basic knowledge of their role before attending a class training session.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada agrees that modernizing our training program - using proven adult learning principles, requiring consistency of core messages and incorporating technology - is vitally important to reduce errors by election officers. We accept that this requires a fundamental change of approach to training.

Building on best practices from provincial and territorial election agencies, we intend to introduce, for the 2015 general election, new online pre-training modules and to comprehensively redesign class training so that it focuses on reinforcing learning through hands-on activity. We also intend to impose new standards requiring trainers to deliver, as part of class training, a number of fundamental, key messages in order to ensure consistency in the application of standards and rules on election day.

9. Measure and report on compliance at every election

  1. In order to build public trust, undertake an audit of national registration and voting compliance rates after each election using a random sample of voting sites, and:
    1. Apply methods and techniques developed during the compliance review.
    2. Make compliance measurements part of the standard public reporting that accompanies every election.
  2. Aim to develop a "compliance by design" culture within the organization, in particular when seeking to build and implement any future changes that affect front-line service delivery, for example, by requiring staff to demonstrate how proposed changes will maintain or improve compliance.
  3. Consider implementing a "random audit" system to allow Returning Officers to efficiently evaluate registration and voting process compliance at their own electoral district level, and to report results with their formal election close-down documentation.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada accepts the reviewer's finding that measuring and reporting on compliance with voting day procedures for future elections will help us understand rates of accuracy going forward and to measure the effect of further improvements.

We agree to conduct further audits and introduce new measures to enable a better understanding of rates of compliance with procedures, and to make findings from audits a component of the public reporting that accompanies future elections.

We agree to take steps to reinforce compliance as one of the priorities to be considered by Elections Canada personnel when developing systems, procedures and materials going forward, much like we do for privacy and accessibility.

10. Incorporate compliance requirements into the redesign and testing of a new voting services delivery model

  1. Incorporate compliance principles into Elections Canada's current efforts to "re-engineer" a voting service delivery model, such as:
    1. Designing procedures and instructions to be simple, logical and very difficult to do wrong, so that staff find it easy to conform to rules and standards.
    2. Ensuring "regular" voting is streamed, in a series of stages, to direct each elector to the next available staff member per stage.
    3. Permitting staff that deal with "regular" cases to focus on doing a simple range of tasks quickly and accurately.
    4. Arranging to filter "exception" cases to a small number of staff who are specialized in dealing with more complex procedures.
    5. Allowing individual election officers to be replaced by other trained officers with equivalent expertise during the day, as required.
    6. Ensuring that numbers of staff at a voting site are permitted to be increased or decreased based on expected voting service demands.
    7. Incorporating methods for easily measuring whether procedures are being followed correctly into the core design of the model, both to resolve issues on the spot and for post-election audits of compliance.
  2. Assuming that Elections Canada plans to seek Parliamentary approvals to conduct a pilot implementation of a re-engineered voting services model (based on the model used in New Brunswick) before or during the 2015 general election, it should carefully consider how the pilot will prove that high levels of compliance can be delivered within the new model, for example by:
    1. Demonstrating that the new model is built to facilitate compliance with Election Day procedures as an integral element of the design.
    2. Ensuring the pilot implementation accurately measures key elements of compliance (to be compared to the "polling division" model). This should be automated, to the maximum extent possible, and fully incorporated into the procedural design.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada has begun work to redesign the voting services model and, subject to approval by Parliament, intends to be ready to conduct a pilot of the new model by January 2015.

We agree with the reviewer's recommendation to incorporate compliance requirements into the design and testing of the new model.

The pilot will set out to demonstrate that the model leads to improved compliance in the administration of procedures in order to safeguard the integrity of the voting process, while at the same time increasing efficiency, improving working conditions and improving the quality of services for voters.

In 2010 we recommended changes to legislationFootnote 9 authorising Elections Canada to conduct pilots of new services during by-elections or general elections, notwithstanding any contrary provision in the Act and with prior approval of the House of Commons committee that considers electoral matters. Implementing these changes would give Elections Canada greater flexibility in the way that it conducted testing of new voting services.

Footnote 9 Responding to Changing Needs, recommendation I.1, "Authority to Conduct Pilot Projects". This recommendation was supported by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

11. Assist legislators in renewing the electoral legislative framework

  1. Pursue the objective of redefining the legal mechanisms to improve procedural compliance, and to modernize voting services, in three stages:
    1. First, work through the Canada Elections Act amendments agreed necessary for improving procedural compliance during the 42nd general election.
    2. Second, develop a shared understanding regarding the proposed re-engineered voting services model, and obtain formal permission to conduct a pilot implementation.
    3. Third, subject to a successful pilot implementation, establish the legislative provisions needed to permit a full national implementation of the redesigned service delivery model.
  2. Provide guidance to legislators and staff of Parliamentary Committees designated responsible for reviewing any proposed modifications to electoral legislation in a collaborative, transparent and non-partisan way.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada agrees that a program of legislative reform is necessary to address the issue of non-compliance by election officers with election-day procedures. A limited set of legislative amendments, drawn from the 2010 Recommendations Report, would facilitate improving compliance for 2015:

  • Changes allowing Elections Canada to offer a full online voter registration service.
  • Changes providing flexibility for Returning Officers to appoint supervisors to polling sites, wherever it is considered necessary.
  • Changes allowing for the appointment of candidate representatives to polling sites, rather
    than to individual polling stations.
  • Changes making the Chief Electoral Officer directly responsible for the tariff of fees for
    election officer roles.
  • Changes enabling Elections Canada to recruit all election officers directly, rather than
    receiving nominations from candidates.
  • Changes providing Elections Canada with greater flexibility in the way it would pilot
    new voting services.

A more rigorous and effective solution would result from a redesigned voting services model which, subject to approval by Parliament, we intend to pilot for 2015 and implement nationally for the following election. Consultation and discussion with parliamentarians, and other key stakeholders, is central to any proposal to reform electoral legislation.

12. Engage stakeholders in a continued discussion regarding electoral process evolution

  • Engage with key stakeholder groups, using mechanisms already in place or tested during the compliance review, to:
    1. Review, test and collaborate to define the evolution of the re-engineered voting services model and establish how compliance can be made easy, and easily measured.
    2. Develop a shared understanding regarding public expectations for increased voting convenience and ease of ballot access, and establish agreement on appropriate methods for implementing procedural safeguards that protect the integrity of the voting process.
    3. Monitor internet voting developments and agree on compliance standards required to ensure security, privacy and transparency before pilot implementation testing begins.

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada's response

Elections Canada consults key stakeholders on an ongoing basis. During this review political parties, returning officers and front-line election workers, and provincial and territorial electoral agencies were consulted, all of whom play an important role in maintaining confidence and trust in our electoral system. We will continue to engage these stakeholders on proposed changes to the electoral system.

Footnote 33To address compliance levels, Elections Canada hired 95 Onsite Conformity Advisors (OCAs) to monitor election officer performance and advise Central Poll Supervisors of required procedural corrections during by-elections in November, 2012. OCAs were assigned in the districts of Victoria and Durham. However, post-election audits measuring compliance actually achieved during these by-elections indicate that systematic improvement is unlikely using only administrative levers. See Annex C for a summary of the audit results. Note that the by-election in the riding of Calgary Centre did not use OCAs. It was a "control" district to establish a comparison for the audit.