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Retrospective Report on the 42nd General Election of October 19, 2015

1. Electors' Experience

In administering elections, Elections Canada strives to ensure that each eligible voter who wishes to vote has the opportunity to do so. It provides electors with reliable information on when, where and the ways to register and vote. It offers accessible and convenient services to make casting a ballot easy.

For the 42nd general election, Elections Canada specifically aimed to:

  • enhance electors' awareness of registration and voting information
  • provide more ways for electors to make enquiries and complaints
  • improve the production, distribution and accuracy of voter information cards
  • improve polling place accessibility
  • optimize the quality of voters lists
  • expand the online services available to electors
  • streamline voting operations at the polls to the extent possible within the current legislation

1.1. Elector Awareness

Key Findings

  • The vast majority of electors were knowledgeable about the voting process, including registration, ways to vote, voter identification requirements and, to a lesser degree, the online voter registration service.
  • Electors knew they could vote on election day but were less aware of other voting options, particularly the options to vote by mail or at an Elections Canada office.
  • Electors saw the voter information card as the most important communications piece to facilitate voting.
  • Electors perceived Elections Canada as the primary and most trusted source of information on the voting process.
  • Online channels emerged as Canadians' preferred ways to communicate with Elections Canada. These included social media, the agency's website and the online voter registration service.


Since the 41st general election, significant changes have been made to the electoral process. These needed to be communicated to the public to raise awareness and mitigate potential confusion about registering and voting.

For example, the 2013 Representation Order added 30 new electoral districts, renamed many others and, at times, changed the district in which electors had previously voted.Footnote 2 Amendments to the Canada Elections Act tightened voter identification rules and added a fourth day of advance polls. A new online registration service was available for the first time in a general election. In addition, concerns about fraudulent phone calls in the 41st general election required that electors be vigilant in identifying and reporting activities that might undermine their participation in the 42nd general election.

To provide Canadians with reliable and up-to-date information about when, where and the ways to register and vote, Elections Canada rebranded and updated its Electoral Reminder Program. The program used a wide variety of products, formats and channels, including outreach programs, digital communications, a multimedia advertising campaign, direct mail, news media and a public enquiries service. Canadians were advised about the channels they could use to get information from the agency, ask questions, provide feedback and voice their concerns.

This section discusses electors' levels of awareness based on surveys taken at different points during the election.

Electors' knowledge of when, where and ways to register and vote

The majority of electors were knowledgeable about the voting process, including registration, ways to vote, voter identification requirements and, to a lesser degree, the online voter registration service, according to Elections Canada's evaluation of the Electoral Reminder Program.

The evaluation found that elector knowledge of registration and the voting process increased significantly over the course of the election period. Just after the election call, fewer than half of respondents (44 percent) felt well informed about when and where to vote. In the post-election survey, 86 percent indicated that they were well informed on when to vote, and 81 percent on where to vote. Similarly, electors who said they were not registered to voteFootnote 3 were asked if they knew how to get registered. Just after the election call, 19 percent were able to identify a way to register. This proportion doubled during the election period to reach 38 percent in the post-election survey.

With respect to the various ways to vote, 62 percent of electors felt well informed in the early weeks of the advertising campaign, and this proportion increased to 73 percent in the post-election survey. By the end of the campaign, 91 percent of electors were aware, when prompted, of the option to vote at an advance poll; 55 percent were aware of the option to vote at a local Elections Canada office; and 42 percent were aware of the option to vote by mail.

How electors got informed

In terms of media channels and products used in the communications campaign, electors spontaneously recalled television advertising the most. By the end of the campaign, recall of direct mail, which includes the voter information card and reminder brochure, increased to second-most, followed by newspaper ads. Radio, out-of-homeFootnote 4 and Internet ads were recalled by fewer electors. When prompted, however, the voter information card appeared to be the communications piece that electors recalled the most.

Over 25.8 million electors whose names appeared on the preliminary lists of electors by September 25, 2015, were mailed a voter information card. Subsequently, 715,000 voter information cards were mailed to electors who were newly registered or had updated their name or address. About 300,000 revised voter information cards were also sent to advise electors of changes to polling place information. Of the 300,000 revised voter information cards, around 129,000 reassigned electors to a closer polling place, 114,000 corrected polling place addresses or other administrative errors, and 57,000 reassigned electors to a new polling place because their initial location was no longer available. In the end, about one percent of voter information cards could not be delivered and were returned to returning officers. In most of these cases, there was a problem related to the elector (moved, unclaimed or refused) or with the mailing address. For about 20 percent of these cases, Elections Canada was able to resolve the problem and issue another voter information card.

Centralized Production of Voter Information Cards

For the 42nd general election, Elections Canada introduced a centralized and streamlined approach to the production and delivery of voter information cards.

This faster process allowed the agency to print and send out for delivery 90 percent of all cards four days before the deadline.

This new process also saved $3 million compared with the 41st general election.

Following the election, returning officers provided positive feedback on the new approach.

Electors saw the voter information card as the most important communications piece to facilitate voting, according to the Electoral Reminder Program evaluation. Some 90 percent of electors recalled receiving a voter information card (compared to 91 percent in 2011 and 89 percent in 2008), according to the Survey of Electors. Of those, almost all (97 percent) indicated that their name was correct, which is the same as in 2011 and 2008. A similar proportion (98 percent) said their voter information card had their correct address (unchanged from 2011 and 2008). Additionally, among electors who received a voter information card and voted, 89 percent brought it with them when they went to vote, up from 83 percent in both 2011 and 2008.

While the main source of information about the electoral process remained the voter information card and traditional media (e.g. television, radio and newspapers), electors also took advantage of the new opportunity to interact with Elections Canada on social media in both official languages.

Elections Canada's Facebook posts reached over 13 million users, its Twitter messages earned over 17 million impressions, and its YouTube videos were viewed around 700,000 times. Electors sent over 23,000 messages to Elections Canada on social media, and the agency posted some 4,600 messages. Social media activity was primarily information driven–Elections Canada answered questions from electors, referred them to the website or the toll-free public enquires line for more information, or directed them to the online complaint form to register a formal complaint.

Electors perceived Elections Canada as a key source of voting information, and that perception increased steadily throughout the communications campaign. Recognition of Elections Canada as the top-of-mind source for information on the voting process rose from 34 to 45 percent during the election, marking a significant improvement over the 30 percent observed following the 41st general election. Electors' perceptions of Elections Canada as the most trusted source of information about the electoral process also rose from 60 to 70 percent throughout the campaign.

1.2. Voter Registration

Key Findings

  • Most electors were already registered on the preliminary lists of electors. As a result, most acknowledged receiving a voter information card that confirmed their registration and gave them the information they needed to vote.
  • Younger electors benefited from outreach efforts aimed at ensuring they were registered to vote before election day. Despite the success of reaching out to this population group, youth aged 18 to 34 remain under-represented on voters lists when compared to other age groups.
  • Canadians' response to online voter registration was positive, particularly among younger electors.
  • A percentage of electors continue to rely on the convenience of registering and voting at the polls, as indicated by the modest reduction in election day registrations between 2011 and 2015 (6.2 to 5.8 percent of all election day voters).


Producing accurate voters lists that include all of the eligible population is a core component of electoral management. Accurate lists greatly improve plans for voting day services. By knowing how many electors will potentially vote at each polling station, returning officers are able to adjust staffing and supplies to meet demand. Larger polling divisions may be split in two (or more) to improve services and avoid lineups. Likewise, voting day supplies, ranging from ballots to registration forms, are allocated based on the number of electors on the preliminary lists.

Poll workers rely on the lists to verify that electors are duly registered when they show up at the polls. Accurate lists decrease the risk of administrative errors that can occur when electors are manually registered at the polls, which is a more complex procedure. As well, voters lists are used by political parties to connect with electors before and during elections.

Registration is also an opportunity to engage younger Canadians in the electoral process and make it easier for them to participate, given the absence of systematic youth registration in Canada. Legally, Elections Canada cannot obtain or store data on Canadian citizens until they turn 18 and become eligible to vote. This means the agency must increase its efforts to register younger electors just before and during elections, so they receive a voter information card with all the basic information needed to vote.

Leading up to the 42nd general election, Elections Canada sought to maximize the quality of voters lists and reduce last-minute registrations by:

  • taking full advantage of external data sources to make regular updates to the National Register of Electors and improving registration and revision services
  • increasing outreach to youth so they could register and fully participate in the election, many for the first time

The 42nd general election was also the first in which electors could register online. While the service had been available in a limited number of by-elections, it had never before been used simultaneously from coast to coast during a general election.

National Register of Electors

Elections Canada uses the National Register of ElectorsFootnote 5 to produce the preliminary lists of electors at the start of an election. The quality of the Register has steadily improved since its creation in 1997. Elector information is continually updated between elections via regular data exchanges with authorized federal and provincial sources, such as the Canada Revenue Agency; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; provincial and territorial vital statistics registrars; most driver's licence bureaus; and provincial and territorial election agencies with permanent registers.

As the 42nd general election approached, and for about a month into the campaign, Elections Canada made significant efforts to maximize the quality of data in the Register. The agency incorporated elector data from recent provincial and territorial elections; sequenced its data intake from external sources and online registration to reflect recent changes, such as summer moves; and asked returning officers to review elector information locally.

The early election call impacted this process, but the Register continued to be updated during August and early September. Information for over 500,000 new electors and updates for approximately 1.9 million others were transmitted to local returning officers for their review and approval. These changes reflected the single largest improvement to list quality during the election period.

Between 2011 and 2015, Elections Canada also sent some 1.76 million letters to potential electors, inviting them to register or to confirm their name and address in the national database. In September 2015, a mailing was sent to some 52,000 unregistered 18-year-olds, inviting them to register using the online voter registration service. Some 21 percent of recipients did so.

Registration during the election

The vast majority of electors (88 percent) knew that they needed to be on the voters list prior to voting, according to the Survey of Electors. During an election, electors can register at their local Elections Canada office, use online registration, respond to Elections Canada's targeted revision efforts or simply register when they vote. Of those who reported having to register for the 42nd general election (3 percent), the vast majority (88 percent) were satisfied with the registration method they used.

Local offices and targeted revision

As in previous elections, electors could register with their local Elections Canada office in person or over the phone. Returning officers also sent revising agents to conduct targeted revision in high density, highly mobile or new residential areas, focusing primarily on areas where greater numbers of registrations and revisions had been observed in the 41st general election. Some 503,000 electors' information was added to the voters lists or updated using local office services, including around 166,500 through targeted revision.

Online registration

For the 42nd general election, Elections Canada promoted its online voter registration service, which was launched in 2012. The popularity of the online service grew exponentially after the call of the election. Online transactions accounted for 301,000 (or 37 percent) of all registration updates completed during the revision period. This included some 107,000 new registrations. Of these new registrants, 55 percent were electors aged 18 to 24 and 30 percent were aged 25 to 44. Transactions also included 193,000 changes of address, resulting in increased accuracy of the lists. An additional 14,000 Canadians made other corrections to their elector information. Those who were visited by revising agents during the targeted revision efforts were also able to register or update their name and address.

Some electors experienced difficulties with the online registration service if they had unconventional address types. This included people on reserves, where civic addresses are not always used. As well, new electors could not use the service to register for the first time, unless Elections Canada had already received their name and address from one of its data-sharing partners. Among those who could not complete a registration transaction online, 77,000 downloaded a registration certificate to allow for faster registration at their polling place.

Use of the online registration service, especially by electors aged 18 to 44, demonstrated Canadians' growing comfort with online services.

Electronic Signatures

Until early 2015, the online registration service was unavailable to electors who had not already explicitly consented to be added to the Register because the Canada Elections Act required their signature. This affected younger electors in particular.

After the passage of Bill C-23 in December 2014, electronic signatures became legally valid for voter registration transactions. As a result, many more electors could register using the agency's online registration service.

Election day registration

In the 42nd general election, despite efforts to improve the quality of voters lists in advance, some 777,000 electors registered or updated their information at their polling place on election day. The proportion of registration transactions completed on election day decreased by a modest 0.4 percentage points between 2011 and 2015 (from 6.2 to 5.8 percent of all election day voters). This indicates that many electors continue to prefer the "one-stop-shop" approach of registering and voting at the same time. The significant increase in participation–particularly among groups that are traditionally less engaged–likely also contributed to the registration rate on election day.

Quality of the final lists of electors

Overall, 2.5 million revisions were processed during the election, including election day registrations. This is about 1 million more revisions than in the 41st general election. The quality indicators for the final lists of electors improved during the 42nd general election, as illustrated below. CoverageFootnote 6 increased by two percentage points, from 91.4 percent to 93.5 percent; currencyFootnote 7 increased by three percentage points, from 85.5 percent to 88.3 percent; and accuracyFootnote 8 increased by two percentage points, from 91.4 percent to 93.5 percent.

Preliminary and Final Lists of Electors Quality Indicators (2011–2015)
Text version of graph "Preliminary and Final Lists of Electors Quality Indicators (2011–2015)"

The following graph compares the number of electors on preliminary and final voters lists by age. It reveals that Canadians aged 18 to 34 benefited the most from registration and revision activities during the election. It also indicates that, despite successful outreach to this age group, youth aged 18 to 34 remain registered at a lower rate than older electors. For example, among 18-year-olds, registration rates went from 27 percent at the call of the election to 65 percent on election day, an increase of 38 percentage points. That said, only a little over 60 percent of 18-year-olds were registered on the final voters lists, compared to levels that exceed 90 percentFootnote 9 for other age groups.

Registered Electors by Age, Preliminary and Final Lists (2015)
Text version of graph "Registered Electors by Age, Preliminary and Final Lists (2015) "

Preferred ways to register

When looking at the various ways people registered, some interesting patterns emerge across age groups. Registration through returning officers, which includes additions and updates during the revision period, was the most common channel for all age groups, particularly among older electors. Younger electors were more inclined to register either on election day or online, two methods that were less predominant among older groups. Registering at the advance polls was the least popular method, particularly among the youngest groups, but was still more popular than online registration among the two eldest groups (65 and older combined). It should be noted that only 3 percent of electors who voted at an advance poll registered at the same time.

Advance Poll Turnout (2011–2015)
Text version of graph "Ways to Register by Age Group (2015)"

1.3. Voting Experience

Key Findings

  • For the vast majority of electors, voting in the 42nd general election was straightforward and administered without any difficulties.
  • Canadians' use of advance polls exceeded Elections Canada's forecasts as electors increasingly turn to alternative voting methods.
  • Voters encountered longer voting times at advance polls and were less satisfied with their experience than those who voted on election day. A combination of factors, including higher than anticipated turnout and complex administrative requirements at advance polls, contributed to this situation.
  • Electors with disabilities continued to encounter challenges with physical access to the polls. Some found that the tools and aids offered were insufficient to permit independent voting.
  • Some electors continued to have difficulties proving their address, which affects their right to vote.


Convenient and accessible ways to vote help Canadian citizens aged 18 and older exercise this fundamental right. Elections Canada aims to reduce barriers, especially for groups that may experience particular challenges, to ensure that every elector who wishes to vote can do so.

Elections Canada was mindful of a number of socio-demographic trends in the lead-up to the 42nd general election. These included the aging of the general population; the high mobility of Canadians, which results in many being away from home on election day; and the fact that a growing number of electors are limited in their daily activities due to a disability.Footnote 10 In addition, and as discussed in its evaluations of the previous two general elections, the agency remained concerned that voting presents more difficulty for some groups of electors than for the general population, particularly because of the requirement to prove address.

Given these considerations, Elections Canada sought in the 42nd general election to:

  • improve the accessibility of Elections Canada offices and polling places
  • implement the fourth day of advance voting introduced by recent amendments to the Canada Elections Act
  • clarify the voter identification rules

This section discusses electors' overall voting experience; the different ways electors voted; accessibility of polling locations, including ongoing challenges related to physical access and independent voting; electors' experience with meeting voter identification requirements; and their satisfaction with services in Canada's two official languages.

Overall experience

Almost all voters (96 percent) were satisfied with their voting experience (with 81 percent being very satisfied and 15 percent being somewhat satisfied), according to the Survey of Electors. Comparisons to previous elections are not available for this specific metric.

Almost all voters (95 percent) said that it was convenient for them to vote. The vast majority of voters (97 percent) indicated that they found it easy to vote, compared with 99 percent in both the 41st and 40th general elections. The vast majority (97 percent) were satisfied with the services provided by poll workers, in line with 98 percent observed in both the 41st and 40th general elections.

Preferred way to vote

The majority of voters (76 percent) cast their ballot on election day, while 21 percent voted at advance polls and three percent voted by special ballot (either by mail or at an Elections Canada office). Voting on election day remains the most common way to vote, though it continues to follow a downward trend as voting at advance polls increases significantly. Over the last five elections, the proportion of votes cast at advance polls compared to other voting options has more than doubled, from 9 percent in 2004 to 21 percent in 2015.

Trend in Turnout by Voting Methods (2004 to 2015)
Text version of graph "Trend in Turnout by Voting Methods (2004 to 2015)"

Absentee voters and special ballot offices

For the 42nd general election, Elections Canada opened offices in select institutions across the country to make voting by special ballot more accessible to certain target groups, including youth and Aboriginal electors. The Special Voting Rules Expansion (SVRE) pilot project had three main objectives:

  • to improve accessibility of the voting process by physically locating voting services closer to electors
  • to increase electors' awareness of their voting options
  • to measure how well the service format would integrate into the current electoral process

Elections Canada opened 71 additional assistant returning offices at 39 post-secondary institutions, 13 Friendship Centres and two community centres from October 5 to 8, 2015. A total of 70,231 electors used these offices to vote either within or, for the most part, outside of their electoral district (78 percent). This turnout accounted for about 9 percent of the total targeted population, which compares well with similar initiatives by provincial election agencies.

As evidenced in feedback from various sources, this initiative was well received. The vast majority of voters who completed an exit survey reported that these offices offered a more convenient way to vote. Many students commented that Elections Canada should make this service available during every general election. Overall, returning officers and other stakeholders considered the SVRE initiative to be worthwhile. They recommended expanding the service to more offices, over more days, in the next election. As a result, Elections Canada will examine various scenarios for expanding the initiative and make recommendations for future implementation.

Time it took electors to vote

On average, voters estimated that they spent around 12 minutes at their polling location, according to the Survey of Electors. Significant variations were observed by voting method: on average, electors reported spending 9 minutes at a polling place on election day, 21 minutes at an advance poll, and 19 minutes at a local Elections Canada office. These first-time results provide a baseline to measure the impact of future improvements.

The vast majority of voters (92 percent) who cast their ballot at a polling place felt that the wait time was reasonable, compared with 97 percent in 2011. Advance poll voters were less satisfied with the wait times (80 percent were satisfied), compared with those who voted on election day (96 percent) or at a local Elections Canada office (91 percent). Candidates surveyed after the election also mentioned the long lineups at the polls as one of their main sources of concern.

It should be noted that each voting method involves different procedures and requirements. These contribute to the time it takes to vote and, consequently, to wait times during peak hours. For example, before the regular ballots showing the names of all candidates are printed, people voting at an Elections Canada office have to write the full name of their chosen candidate on a special ballot. During advance polls, poll workers need to write down each elector's name and address on a record and have the elector sign it before issuing a ballot. They also tick a box on the record once the elector has voted.

As well, because overall attendance during advance polls is much lower than on election day, fewer advance polls are set up. Each advance poll has the potential to serve over 10 times more electors than election day polls. For instance, advance polls in urban and rural areas may serve up to 6,000 and 3,500 electors respectively, whereas polls on election day serve between 400 and 325 electors respectively. Elections Canada had observed the growing trend of advance voting in past elections and planned accordingly for 2015. However, attendance at advance polls was still significantly higher than anticipated.

Responding to the needs of electors with disabilities

In early 2014, Elections Canada established its Advisory Group for Disability Issues with a mandate to provide subject matter expertise on accessibility and feedback on projects and service improvements for the 42nd general election. Members were asked to document their election experience in a journal and share their feedback after the election. They reported being satisfied with many accessibility improvements, particularly efforts to make polling places more accessible. Members noted that further improvements to support independent voting for electors with disabilities remained a key priority for them.

In the run-up to the 42nd general election, Elections Canada requested that returning officers secure polling places with level access and other accessibility features. In 2015, the new accessibility checklist featured 35 accessibility criteria, 15 of which were mandatory.Footnote 11 The accessibility details of each polling place were available online during the election and were summarized on the voter information card mailed to every registered elector. In addition, improved accessibility services and tools were available at polling places to assist electors with disabilities in voting.Footnote 12

As indicated in Elections Canada's first report on the 42nd general election, 96 percent of polling places met all 15 mandatory criteria (which includes level access). Another 1.7 percent provided level access, but did not meet the other 14 criteria and could not be modified. These efforts were complemented with improved training for election workers and modernized accessibility feedback mechanisms for electors and workers alike. Elections Canada further committed to using polling places that had an automatic door opener or, where the location did not have such a device, having a staff person at the door during voting hours.

Among electors with disabilities, 43 percent were aware of the accessibility services and tools that were available to them, according to the Survey of Electors. Five percent indicated that they visited the Accessible Voting page on Elections Canada's website during the election, and two percent indicated that they had used the Voter Information Service on the website to check the accessibility of their polling place. Feedback from electors with disabilities who took part in the Electoral Reminder Program evaluation indicated that the accessibility of information could be further improved.

Just under two thirds (63 percent) of electors with disabilities indicated that their voter information card was useful in checking the level of accessibility at their designated polling place, while 14 percent did not find the voter information card to be useful in that respect.

Anecdotal evidence from various sources indicated that accessibility information on the voter information card was not always entirely accurate, resulting in situations where electors' accessibility requirements were not met.

Candidates' Views on Polling Place Accessibility

The majority of candidates (64 percent) were satisfied with the locations chosen for advance polls and election day, according to the Survey of Candidates. This is slightly lower than the 67 percent satisfaction rate observed in both the 41st and 40th general elections. Dissatisfaction was mainly related to distance, accessibility problems and an insufficient number of advance polling places.

While fewer candidates (20 percent) reported problems with the accessibility of election day polling places in 2015 than in previous elections (32 percent in 2011 and 41 percent in 2008), their assessment for advance polls remained stable.

Overall, voters with disabilities felt that Elections Canada staff was sensitive to their needs when they voted (84 percent), and those who needed assistance (14 respondents) were in general satisfied with the level of support they received. However, about one third of voters with disabilities (32 percent) who visited a local Elections Canada office or a polling place stated that signs with a wheelchair symbol were not visible. Some focus group participants, as part of the Electoral Reminder Program evaluation, reported receiving poor service from Elections Canada staff when they went to vote. Examples included staff not providing appropriate direction to blind voters and not allowing sufficient privacy when voters were casting a ballot. Participants ascribed these experiences to election workers not having received adequate training on accessibility services.

Polling locations

Virtually all voters (99 percent) reported no difficulty in reaching their polling location, regardless of the way they voted, compared with 98 percent in 2011. In 2015, this proportion was 96 percent among voters with disabilities. Of the few voters (32 respondents) who reported difficulties in reaching their poll, the most common issues were finding the polling station itself, the physical accessibility of the polling place or its imprecise signage. Participants who took part in focus groups to evaluate the Electoral Reminder Program identified similar concerns, as well as the need for chairs to accommodate people who are unable to stand for long periods of time.

Almost all voters (97 percent) who cast their ballot at an advance poll, on election day or at an Elections Canada office indicated that the polling location was a convenient distance from their home, which was the same in 2011 and 96 percent in 2008.

Despite these high satisfaction rates, Elections Canada is aware that some polling places were less than conveniently located for some electors. This will be considered in the planning for future general elections.

Voter identification at the polls

In preparing for the 42nd general election, Elections Canada reviewed its voter identification policy to both clarify the rules for electors and help poll workers implement them. As part of this exercise, the Chief Electoral Officer authorized additional pieces of identification that electors could use, mainly in response to challenges certain groups encountered with identification requirements in previous elections.

The vast majority of electors (97 percent) were aware that they needed to prove their identity to vote, according to the Survey of Electors. This was unchanged from 2011 and similar to 2008 (94 percent). However, fewer knew about the requirement to prove their address (88 percent). This is consistent with the previous two general elections. The Electoral Reminder Program evaluation revealed that electors' knowledge of the need to prove one's identity and address increased significantly over the course of the campaign.

Virtually all voters (99 percent) felt that it was easy to meet the identification requirements, according to the Survey of Electors, compared to 97 percent in both 2011 and 2008. Almost everyone who voted (99 percent) said they had the required identification with them when they went to vote. This proportion was unchanged from 2011 and was 98 percent in 2008.

Among the three options for proving identity and address at the polls, the vast majority of voters (93 percent) said they used a single piece of identification showing their name, address and photograph. Most voters (91 percent) reported using a driver's licence, compared with 90 percent in 2011 and 2008.

About 3 percent of the general population used the second option of showing two documents, both with their name and at least one with their address. Less than 1 percent used the third option, which involved showing two documents with their name and having another elector attest to their address.

Candidates' Views on the Voter Identification Process

Twenty-five percent of candidates witnessed problems related to the voter identification requirements in 2015, according to the Survey of Candidates. This compares with 26 percent in 2011 and 37 percent in 2008.

The top three problems reported were an inconsistent interpretation of the rules or staff confusion about what identification to accept; electors having trouble proving their identity; and electors not being able to vote as a result of the voter identification requirements.

As in the previous two elections, problems with voter identification at the polls were more often related to proof of address. The Labour Force Survey after the 42nd general election asked non-voters why they did not vote. In terms of reasons related to the electoral process, the inability to prove identity or address was the main reason cited (2.7 percent) and was more often cited among those aged 18 to 24 (4.6 percent). Based on estimations from the survey, that amounts to approximately 172,700 electors. Among them, some 49,600 (28.7 percent) said they went to the polling station, but did not vote because they were not able to prove their identity and address. Approximately 39 percent of that group were aged 18 to 34. Election officers' feedback confirmed these findings, as 10 percent reported problems in verifying electors' identity and almost twice as many (19 percent) in verifying address.

In the 41st general election, Elections Canada accepted the voter information card as a piece of identification at polling stations in seniors' residences, long-term care facilities, First Nations reserves and on-campus student residences. Legislative changes introduced prior to the 42nd general election prohibited the use of the voter information card as identification. Nevertheless, some voters continue to believe that they can use it and report having used it as a piece of identification (11 percent in 2015, compared to 14 percent in 2011 and 3 percent in 2008). This is likely because electors are encouraged to bring the card with them to the polling place and show it to workers when they arrive so they can be directed to the right table. The Chief Electoral Officer provided clarification on this topic during a news conference in September 2015 and on other occasions.

Of all formal complaints received by Elections Canada during the 42nd general election, 5.5 percent were related to identification requirements at the polls. More specifically, some electors complained that poll workers would request specific pieces of identification (typically a driver's licence or other photo identification). Other electors, among whom were students, seniors and people with disabilities, reported difficulties satisfying identification requirements. Still others were frustrated that their voter information card or another document would not be accepted as valid identification.

Official languages

Elections Canada is committed to providing high-quality service to electors in both official languages. The agency made significant efforts before and during the 42nd general election to implement measures that responded to the audit report of the Commissioner of Official Languages, which was released in July 2015.Footnote 13

Looking at all voting methods combined, 78 percent of voters were served in English and 21 percent were served in French, according to the Survey of Electors. This ratio was 75 to 25 in 2011. Virtually all voters (99 percent) were satisfied with the language in which they were served, which is comparable to 2011 and 2008.

During the election period, 134 complaints were filed in relation to official languages. Of these complaints, 109 (81 percent) were received through Elections Canada's online complaint form or incident reports from election officers. The other 25 complaints (19 percent) were lodged with the Commissioner of Official Languages. The majority reported a lack of services, signage or availability of documents in French at Elections Canada offices or polling places.

Elections Canada reviewed each complaint to determine whether or not the agency was in compliance with the action plan that it made in response to the audit.Footnote 14 In the majority of cases, the agency determined that returning officers had complied with policies, but that procedures were not always well executed by poll workers. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages shared its investigation reports in August 2016, and Elections Canada is taking steps to address the proposed recommendations.


Key Findings

  • As a result of expanding its feedback channels, centralizing its complaints management framework and widely promoting how electors could communicate with Elections Canada, the agency received 17,200 complaints during the 42nd general election. This amounted to about six per 10,000 electors–a significant increase over the 41st general election.
  • Overall, 45 percent of complaints were related to services at the polls, with the top three categories being lineups at the advance polls, the application of voting procedures and the voter identification requirements.
  • Another 18 percent of complaints related to accessibility issues.
  • Elections Canada improved its capacity to respond to complaints from electors. Complaints were triaged and those impacting the right to vote were generally addressed the same day; all others were responded to within five months.

In 2015, complaints could be lodged with Elections Canada headquarters using an online form, by telephone, by email or by regular mail. Electors also had the option to lodge a complaint at a local office or at their polling place. The agency actively encouraged electors to provide feedback, especially in light of integrity concerns after the 41st general election.

Volume of complaints

Elections Canada received some 17,000 complaints in relation to the 42nd general election, which represents about 6 complaints per 10,000 electors.

The volume of elector complaints was significantly higher than in the 41st general election, which drew 3,800 complaints. Elections Canada had anticipated and prepared for such an increase as a result of encouraging electors to provide feedback, including on social media.

Elections Canada's Definition of a complaint

Elections Canada 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
  • the inappropriate conduct of a person or group in the electoral process
Nature of complaints

The majority of electors (75 percent) who filed complaints reported issues with the services they received. Of those complaints, 45 percent related to services at the polls and 18 percent related to accessibility for electors with disabilities. The latter complaints are detailed in the first report on the 42nd general election.Footnote 15 Another 12 percent of complaints related to central services provided by Elections Canada headquarters, such as communications (telephone and website), voter registration, special ballot voting and the voter information card.

Complaints by types (2015)
Text version of graph "Complaints by types (2015)"

About 12 percent of complaints related to the electoral legislation or potential offences. Seven percent had to do with political entities' activities, such as campaigning methods (e.g. by telephone or unsolicited emails), campaign sign location and campaign activities taking place on election day. Lastly, four percent touched on administrative matters, most commonly about poll worker employment.

Complaints were given the highest priority when an individual's right to vote was at stake. In order to maximize the chances that complainants would be able to vote, the triage unit often replied to high-priority complaints immediately by providing the address of the polling place or the telephone number to contact the returning officer.

Complaints related to a potential offence under the Canada Elections Act were referred to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for further investigation. Complaints related to potential offences involving voter contact calling services were referred to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

It took approximately 5 months in total to respond to all complaints in 2015, compared to approximately 11 months in 2011. This marks a significant step in service improvements.

1.4. Voter Participation

Key Findings

  • Voter participation in the 42nd general election was at its highest in 20 years.
  • Increases in voter participation among the youngest electors and those living on First Nations reserves were approximately double that of the population as a whole.
  • The gap in participation rates of electors living on First Nations reserves and the population as a whole has been decreasing since the 2008 election.
  • Electors' reasons for not voting have remained constant over the last three elections, with reasons related to the electoral process being a distant third behind everyday life issues and political issues.


Voter participation is a key indicator of the overall health of the federal electoral process. This section provides information on voter turnout, voting trends, turnout on First Nations reserves and reasons for not voting.

Overall voter turnout

Voter turnout was at its highest in 20 years, with 68.3 percent of registered electors casting a ballot. This is an increase of seven percentage points over the 41st general election, and 10 percentage points over the 40th general election.

Turnout in Canadian Federal Elections (1988–2015)
Text version of graph "Turnout in Canadian Federal Elections (1988–2015)"

Voting trends by age group

While voter turnout went up among all age groups in 2015,Footnote 16 the largest increases were observed among youth under 35. For the youngest group, aged 18 to 24, turnout went from 39 percent in 2011 to 57 percent in 2015 (an increase of 18 percentage points). Among those aged 25 to 34, it went from 45 percent to 57 percent over the same period (an increase of 12 percentage points).Footnote 17

Estimated Voter Turnout by Age Group (2004–2015) (Based on electoral population)
Text version of graph "Estimated Voter Turnout by Age Group (2004–2015) (Based on electoral population)"

Turnout on First Nations reserves

Voter turnout in 2015 for electors living on reserves was estimated at 62 percent, compared with 66 percent among the general population.Footnote 18 This represents an increase of 14 percentage points on reserve from 2011, compared with six percentage points for the general population. This participation gap is the smallest observed in recent history between turnout on First Nations reserves and the national turnout rate in federal elections.

Trend in Turnout on Reserves (2004–2015) (excludes votes cast by special ballot)
Text version of graph "Trend in Turnout on Reserves (2004–2015) (excludes votes cast by special ballot)"

Reasons for not voting

Of those who reported not voting, most mentioned reasons that had to do with everyday life issues or political issues, according to the Survey of Electors. Reasons related to the electoral process arrived at a distant third. The distribution of reasons for not voting appears relatively stable over the past three elections.

Everyday life issues include being too busy, out of town, ill or limited by a disability. Political issues include not being interested in politics; not liking the candidates, parties, leaders or campaigns; or a lack of information about campaign issues. Electoral process issues include not being able to prove identity or address, transportation problems, a lack of information about when and where to vote, not being on the voters list or issues with the voter information card.

Reasons for Not Voting (2008–2015)
Text version of graph "Reasons for Not Voting (2008–2015)"

As in 2011, Elections Canada also included a few election-related questions in Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey following the 42nd general election. This was done to take advantage of the study's very large sample and its ample coverage across the country. One of the questions asked about the reasons for not voting. The results confirmed the general trend found in the Survey of Electors: everyday life issues came in at 48 percent, political issues at 40 percent and electoral process issues at 8 percent.

1.5. Conclusion and Next Steps

Overall, the vast majority of Canadians who used Elections Canada's services were satisfied. No systemic issues related to registration or voting were identified during the election or by the agency's post-election assessments. On the other hand, elector feedback indicates a clear need to automate and modernize the electoral process so it responds and adapts to shifts in service demands and local conditions. While the physical accessibility of polling locations was enhanced, the increasing presence of disability issues and concerns within the Canadian population indicate a need to further facilitate the participation of electors with disabilities.

In more specific terms, electors were aware of when, where and the ways to vote during the 42nd general election. Elections Canada was the primary and most trusted source of information on registration and voting. The agency's multimedia advertising campaign was effective in informing electors across all demographic groups, and the agency will maintain its multimedia communications approach going forward. It will refine its efforts to reach specific population groups more effectively, particularly students and new voters, who remain among the least knowledgeable about the voting process. In addition, it will improve its presence on social media, given its initial success in communicating with Canadians through these platforms.

Canadians aged 18 to 34 remain under-represented in the National Register of Electors compared with other age groups. Under the current legal framework, Elections Canada cannot obtain and store data on Canadian citizens before they turn 18 and become eligible to vote. This contributes to a persistent lag in young electors being included in the Register. Consequently, lower numbers of young people appear on the voters lists, and more young Canadians have to manually register at the polls. Elections Canada will request legislative changes to allow for the registration of youth as they approach voting age, which is a practice already adopted in other Canadian jurisdictions and around the world.Footnote 19

Over a third of all registration updates during the election were completed online by electors themselves, confirming the popularity of digital self-service options. Elections Canada will make the online voter registration service universally available and more user-friendly for the next general election.

The vast majority of electors were able to vote without any difficulties. The agency remains concerned that some 172,700 electors were not able to meet identification requirements, especially with regard to proof of address. This is an impediment to their right to vote. Elections Canada remains of the opinion that adding the voter information card to the list of authorized pieces of identification, and allowing it to be used in combination with another authorized piece, is a way to reduce the proof-of-address barrier for some of these electors.

Elections Canada will continue working with the disability community to better understand disability trends within the Canadian population and identify service strategies that take these trends into consideration. It will test optical character recognition technology that can be used by electors with a visual impairment to verify their vote. It will keep working to improve the accessibility of local offices and polling places.

The rate of voter participation, particularly at advance polls, surpassed the agency's planning projections. Elections Canada will adapt its scenario planning to take better account of potential surges in turnout. As well, the agency will continue to improve its service to electors in the official language of their choice, in accordance with its commitments following the 2015 audit by the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Fundamentally, the 42nd general election confirmed that Canadians' voting behaviours are evolving in response to changing lifestyles, personal and family situations, and service preferences. Elections Canada's modernization strategy for the next general election is focused on enhancing the elector's registration and voting experience. It aims to make the electoral process simpler, more efficient and more flexible, while also making it easier for election officers to serve electors.

Footnote 2 For more information on the redistribution of federal electoral districts and the 2013 Representation Order, see

Footnote 3 A total of 14 percent of respondents at the start of the campaign said that they were not registered, a proportion that dropped to 7 percent in the post-campaign survey.

Footnote 4 This refers to ads on public transit, campus digital screens and Tim Hortons TV screens.

Footnote 5 Details about the National Register of Electors can be found at > Voters > Voter Registration > Description of the National Register of Electors.

Footnote 6 Coverage is the proportion of eligible electors (Canadian citizens aged 18 and over) who are registered.

Footnote 7 Currency is the proportion of eligible electors who are registered at their current address.

Footnote 8 Accuracy is the proportion of registered electors who are listed at their current address.

Footnote 9 Over-coverage (registration rates exceeding 100 percent) observed among older electors typically occurs because of a lag between the death of some electors and the removal of their names from the list.

Footnote 10 An estimated 3.8 million adult Canadians reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability in 2012, according to the Canadian Survey on Disability, Statistics Canada, 2012.

Footnote 11 More information on the accessibility checklist is available at > Voters > Information for People with Disabilities.

Footnote 12 More information on accessible voting tools and services is available at > Voters > Information for People with Disabilities.

Footnote 13 The Commissioner of Official Languages' audit report is available at

Footnote 14 Elections Canada's action plan is part of the Commissioner of Official Languages' audit report.

Footnote 15 See section 2.4 in the Report on the 42nd General Election of October 19, 2015 at > Resource Centre > Reports > Elections Canada's Official Reports.

Footnote 16 The numbers presented in the figure below are based on the population of eligible electors, as opposed to the population of registered electors that is used to calculate the official voting results. This explains the gap between the official voter turnout of 68.3 percent for all of Canada in 2015 and the overall voter turnout of 66.1 percent presented in the figure.

Footnote 17 For more information on youth voting behaviour in Canada, including access and motivational barriers and different information needs, see the report of the 2015 National Youth Survey at > Resource Centre > Research > Post-election Evaluations > 42nd General Election Evaluations.

Footnote 18 Turnout calculations for 2015 and 2011 exclude votes cast by special ballot (618,802 votes in 2015 and 285,034 votes in 2011).

Footnote 19 Currently, the collection and retention of information on Canadian citizens under the age of 18 for registration purposes is allowed in six Canadian jurisdictions: Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Yukon. Similar provisions also exist in nearly 20 states in the United States, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Wales, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Italy and France.