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Appendix B – Detailed report – Independent audit report on the performance of the duties and functions of election officers – 43rd General Election

Executive summary

Background

In response to section 164.1 (S.164.1) of the Canada Elections Act (CEA or "the Act"), PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) was engaged by Elections Canada (EC) to perform an independent, statutory audit and report on whether deputy returning officers (DRO), poll clerks (PC) and registration officers (REGO) have, for the 43rd general election, on all days of advance polling and on ordinary polling day, properly exercised the powers conferred on them, and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them, under sections 143 to 149, 161, 162 and 169 of the Act (hereinafter referred to as 'the relevant sections of the Act').

PwC performed the first audit of this nature for the 42nd general election and issued an audit report on February 16, 2016. On December 13, 2018, Bill C-76 received Royal Assent, which amended S.164.1, so that the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) must engage an auditor to perform an audit and report on whether election officers have properly exercised any of the powers conferred on them under this Act, or properly performed any of the duties imposed on them under this Act, that are specified by the CEO.

Audit Scope

In addition to other roles required to prepare for and support advance and ordinary polling days, each returning officer (RO) is responsible for appointing a DRO, a PC and a REGO (collectively referred to as "election officers") to perform election-related duties at a polling site. One DRO and one PC are required per polling station and typically, one REGO is assigned to each central polling site/place. It is the duties of these specific election officers that were included in the scope of this audit under S.164.1 of the Act.

The scope of the duties of election officers, as prescribed in the relevant sections of the Act, require election officers to register electors, request and examine each elector's proof of identity and address, as well as administer and complete prescribed certificates and forms on all days of advance polling (held October 11-14, 2019) and on election day (held on October 21, 2019).

Prior to the start of the election, the CEO invoked his discretion to indicate that the scope of the audit should be consistent with that of the 42nd general election with the addition of observing the use of the Voter Information Card (VIC) as a form of identification (ID), given that this was new for the 43rd general election. The CEO further requested that a comparison between the audit results of the 42nd and 43rd general elections be undertaken as part of the scope of the audit.

Specifically, the scope of the audit included:

  • reporting on the effectiveness of the administrative controls established by EC, including manuals, training material and optimized certificates and forms, to support election officers in the exercise of their powers and performance of their duties and functions in accordance with the CEA;
  • offering recommendations that may assist EC and Parliament in identifying possible areas for improvement;
  • using the audit results of the 42nd general election as a basis of comparison, assessing and reporting on the impact of EC's implementation of legislative changes and recommendations made by PwC following the 42nd general election and subsequent by-elections (where applicable), as well as other changes made with the objective of improving administrative controls and processes; and
  • providing insights into one (1) specific element of the voter interaction, specifically, the use of the VIC as a form of identification, as this was a new acceptable piece of ID for the 43rd general election. This included documenting the number of times it was used, in combination with another piece of accepted ID, to prove identity and address.

Any Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years of age as of election day may vote in the electoral district (ED) in which they reside. The CEA provides procedural safeguards designed to protect the integrity of the electoral process, one of which requires electors to prove eligibility (identity and address) before receiving a ballot. For most electors who are already registered at their current address and therefore included on the List of Electors, election day procedures involve a simple, efficient check of one or more pieces of acceptable ID to confirm identity and address of residence. Based on our sample of electors observed, approximately 89% of electors voted in this manner. The remaining 11% of electors tested required special administrative procedures prior to being issued a ballot.

Election officers must administer special procedures for all electors whose identity and address are going to be vouched for, who are not on the List of Electors and require registration, whose name has been previously crossed off the List of Electors in error or who require minor corrections to their information. Depending on the circumstance, special procedures include initiating the appropriate certificate or form and requiring a declaration to be made by the elector and/or their voucher.

It is our understanding that EC has improved the forms, records and guidance and training materials since the 42nd general election as a result of the recommendations from our previous audit report and from other inputs. We are also aware that EC is challenged when recruiting optimally qualified temporary resources across all EDs in the short window of time before an election. We took these considerations into account when developing our audit strategy.

Our audit did not validate election results or assess whether election officers other than DROs, PCs and REGOs performed their specific legislative duties. Further, it did not assess performance of legislative duties that are not specifically referred to in the relevant sections of the Act, nor did it assess the administrative controls of EC beyond those implemented for the purposes of supporting election officers in the conduct of their duties under the relevant sections of the Act.

Our audit findings and conclusions are presented at an aggregate level. Our results are not attributed to any specific ED, polling site, polling station or election officer. Our observations are described below and our recommendations are included in Appendix C to this report.

We performed our audit in accordance with the Canadian Standards on Assurance Engagements 3001: Direct Engagements (CSAE 3001).

Audit criteria

For this audit, the principal criteria and therefore our audit mandate are prescribed in the relevant sections of the Act described above, specifically those sections identified prior to the changes introduced by Bill C-76. For the purpose of this audit, given the operating environment of EC, we defined what would represent a significant deviation in the exercise of powers and the performance of the duties and functions of election officers. Consistent with the audit of the 42nd general election, we agreed on two levels of controls, procedures and reporting thresholds. Key controls and procedures are those performed by election officers, which establish a person's qualification and entitlement to vote. Secondary controls are those which support/reinforce the elector's established qualification/entitlement to vote and are typically more record-keeping in nature.

The establishment of a threshold for reporting purposes was critical during the planning of the audit. The reporting thresholds were agreed upon with management and reflected the relative importance of the control and were consistent with those used during the 42nd general election. For key controls, a deviation of 5% or more was considered a major finding. For those same key controls, a deviation of 2%–4.9% was considered an 'other observation'. For secondary controls, a deviation of 11% or more was considered as an 'other observation'.

Approach

In order to provide reasonable assurance as to whether election officers performed their duties and functions as prescribed by the CEA, we selected a sample of EDs from across Canada and gathered sufficient and appropriate evidence to conclude on the audit objective. Evidence gathering techniques were comprised of direct observation, inquiries and inspection of election documents (representing the certificates, forms, reports and other paperwork required to serve an elector and document the audit results).

In order to assess whether DROs, PCs and REGOs properly performed the duties imposed on them under the relevant sections of the Act, we determined that it was necessary to perform audit procedures on-site at polling stations on all days of advance polls and on election day. Our sample included polling stations in nine Canadian provinces and territories and resulted in PwC auditing over 10,000 electoral interactions (our 'sample'). An 'electoral interaction' is defined as all the activities undertaken by the election officer(s) for an individual elector from the time they approach the election officer(s) until they have cast their ballot or left the registration desk or polling station. Activities performed at the polling station involving a single voter constituted one interaction involving the activities of both the DRO and PC. Activities at the registration desk constituted a distinct interaction from those at the polling station even if the elector interaction was also sampled at the polling station.

We evaluated the design and implementation of specific administrative controls – specifically, the training of election officers and associated guidebooks/other materials. This included an in-depth review of the content of the training programs, attendance at a sample of training sessions and interviews with ROs, recruitment officers and training officers (TO). During advance polls, as well as on election day, we posed a series of questions to election officers to obtain their perspective on their training experience and supporting materials.

Summary of findings

We concluded that:

  1. On all days of advance polling and on election day, election officers properly exercised the powers conferred on them and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them under the relevant sections of the Act with respect to regular electors and electors requiring special procedures. As such, no major findings were identified during our audit.
  2. Overall, while there were some inconsistencies identified in the completeness of documentation and execution of administrative procedures, these errors were not pervasive and were therefore considered 'other observations'.
  3. The administrative controls have been notably improved to support the election officers in undertaking their functions and duties. This included streamlining and simplifying the certificates and forms, improving the training content and guidebooks, and increasing the support role of the central poll supervisor (CPS) (note the role of the CPS is not in scope for this audit). Feedback from election officers was consistently positive about the changes and only limited opportunities were identified to continue to improve on these controls for future electoral events.

EC asked us to report on any other relevant observations that we captured during our work that might assist them to improve or enhance their processes. In this context, we did not identify additional notable observations other than those already noted in our reports on the 42nd general election and subsequent by-elections.

As noted above, EC requested that we provide insights into one (1) specific element of the voter interaction, specifically, the use of the VIC as a form of ID used in combination with another piece of ID to prove identity and address, as this was a new acceptable piece of ID for the 43rd general election. While a significant portion of voters brought their VICs to the polling stations to facilitate their voting process, most voters continued to provide a single piece of government-issued ID with a photo, name and address as their form of ID. The results of our audit demonstrated that the VIC was used as proof of address in combination with a second piece of ID in 10% of the total sample of electoral interactions tested (i.e. 10,000 electoral interactions).

Our comparison of the results between the 42nd general election and the 43rd general election revealed that there were notable improvements in the performance of duties and functions of election officers. However, there were specific areas that require further improvement, including two observations related to the declaration for correction forms and not ticking "voted" at the time the elector submits their ballot. For many of the duties and functions tested, there were notable decreases in the prevalence of errors from our sample tested with several error rates no longer meeting the reporting threshold.

Summary of recommendations

Three (3) recommendations are being proposed for consideration by the CEO. It should be noted that certain of the recommendations, if implemented, could eliminate the need for others. In some cases, implementation of the following recommendations may require legislative changes. Each recommendation should be fully evaluated, and if management decides to proceed in implementing a recommendation, the remediation should be carefully planned, assessed and tested prior to implementation. The proposed recommendations are summarized as follows (full recommendations, as well as EC's responses, are presented in Appendix C to this report):

  1. Explore opportunities to further enhance the training program and tools provided by EC to prepare election officers for their duties by delivering the content of the training through a combination of individual and classroom work, in order to address the time constraints of the in-person training session and to ensure that essential content for serving electors and documentation are adequately integrated, including introducing each special procedure and prioritizing the practice scenarios.
  2. Explore the opportunity to establish tools, such as a Quick Reference Sheet, for election officers to efficiently identify the applicable special scenario they are faced with and the associated certificates and forms required.
  3. Consider further enhancements to the certificates and forms in order to simplify the voting process while ensuring adequate documentation is maintained.