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Consultations: Conducting an election during the pandemic

Elections Canada has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and its ongoing impact. As part of its ongoing readiness planning, the agency is developing a new operational approach to deliver an election in the context of a pandemic.

We are in the process of consulting stakeholders on their views with respect to the adapted electoral services to be offered if an election is called during the pandemic. The results from these consultations will be factored into the agency’s decision-making.

The health and safety of all participants in the electoral process is of paramount importance: this includes electors, thousands of election workers and candidates and their workers. As a result, Elections Canada reviewed its procedures and internal capacity in order to prepare for the delivery of an accessible, safe and secure election.

The Canada Elections Act contemplates elections where electors are offered a range of voting options, including voting on election day or at an advance poll, and voting by mail or at an Elections Canada office. While these options will remain available, the pandemic will have an impact on how they can be delivered.

Following careful internal analysis, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and his team have approved a series of administrative changes that Elections Canada is progressively implementing as they become operationally ready. Those changes aim at maintaining the safety and integrity of the electoral process.

The changes and measures already in the works include but are not limited to:

  • Implementing physical distancing and other public health guidelines at polling places and local Elections Canada offices.
  • Procuring masks and single-use pencils to be provided to electors should they be necessary. Electors will also have the option to bring their own mask or their own pen or pencil.
  • Changing the polling stations’ model of operations to reduce the number of workers needed, and therefore facilitating physical distancing.
  • Increasing the capacity of the existing vote-by-mail system in order to meet a potential increase in demand for this service. A potential increase in volume of mail-in ballots may result in a delay in the release of election results.
  • Providing pre-paid postage for vote-by-mail kits for domestic and international electors.
  • The Vote on Campus services will not be offered as most colleges and universities are primarily delivering programs online.
  • Expanding virtual training for election workers in order to limit the number of in-person interactions.

In order to facilitate the conduct of an election and make voting more accessible in a pandemic, the CEO also plans to make recommendations to Parliament for a limited number of legislative measures that would vary provisions of the Canada Elections Act. These could include:

  • A two-day weekend polling period (Saturday and Sunday) instead of the usual polling day (Monday). This would facilitate distancing of voters, give access to a range of polling locations that would otherwise be unavailable, such as schools, and help recruiting poll workers.
  • Provide returning officers with greater flexibility to safely serve electors in long-term care facilities by increasing the number of voting days and working with each facility to tailor the approach to their situation.
  • Mail-in ballots sent before the deadline could continue to be accepted until the day following the two week-end polling days.

Formal recommendations will be made to Parliament in September following consultations with stakeholders.