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Canadians can exercise their democratic rights to vote and be a candidate

The rights to vote and be a candidate in a federal election are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Elections Canada is mandated with ensuring that Canadians can exercise these rights. A key indicator of Elections Canada's success in this area is the low number of people who reported not being able to exercise their right to vote because of issues with the electoral process.

For the third time following a general election, Elections Canada partnered with Statistics Canada to ask questions about voter participation in the Labour Force Survey. In the November 2019 Labour Force Survey Supplement, respondents were asked whether they voted and, if not, their main reason for not voting. According to the results of the Survey, only 5.4% of non-voters identified issues with the electoral process as the main reason they did not vote, a decrease of 2.1 percentage points from the 42nd general election.

Electors who did not vote for reasons related to the electoral process most often reported that they could not prove their identity or address. In the Labour Force Survey Supplement, approximately 104,100 electors mentioned this as the reason they did not vote in the 43rd general election—a 40% decrease from the 42nd general election. More information is available in Turnout and Reasons for Not Voting: October 21, 2019, Federal Election: Results from the Labour Force Survey Supplement.

To better understand candidates' satisfaction, Elections Canada commissioned a survey to assess whether the nomination process met candidates' needs. Findings in the report demonstrate that candidates' overall satisfaction was high at 74% (69% in 2015). In particular, candidates' satisfaction with the quality of service they received from the agency increased from 74% in 2015 to 82% in 2019. These high levels of satisfaction reflect that candidates felt supported in exercising their democratic right to be a candidate. The full report on the Survey of Candidates can be found on elections.ca.

Key areas of accomplishment

As part of the agency's ongoing work to improve the voting experience, Elections Canada worked to ensure that Canadians could more easily and efficiently exercise their right to vote. The agency also implemented legislative changes that removed barriers to becoming a candidate and improved the nomination process.

In preparation for the 43rd general election, the agency endeavoured to reduce barriers for voters and candidates, including by:

Increasing accessibility of the electoral process

People with disabilities face barriers to participating in elections. Building on initiatives already in place, Elections Canada set out to improve the electoral process and make voting as accessible as possible.

The agency sought expertise from the Advisory Group for Disability Issues to update the Polling Place Suitability Checklist. Changes to this checklist meant that for the first time, returning officers assessed whether a polling place was near a public transit stop, whether there was a defined pathway from the parking lot and whether polling places had automatic doors. Ultimately, the new checklist contributed to ensuring the polling places selected for this election were more accessible than ever before.

In addition, Elections Canada consulted persons with disabilities and other stakeholders on the redesign of the ballot, which improved readability, including for those with visual impairments who use screen readers. Details are available in the Ballot Redesign Focus Groups Final Report.

Findings

Results from post-election analysis indicate that Elections Canada achieved some success in reducing barriers to voting for persons with disabilities:

  • Fewer complaints related to accessibility.

    Overall, the total number of complaints related to the accessibility of polling places dropped from 3,085 in 2015 to 2,878 in 2019. There were fewer complaints regarding exterior pathways, protruding obstacles, doors and door thresholds, and hallways. While Elections Canada was successful in reducing the number of complaints in these areas, the number of complaints related to parking, signage and the location of the voting room (level access) rose slightly from 316 to 335. According to the National Electors Study on the 43rd Canadian Federal General Election: Report on Voter Experience, 85% of voters with a disability who voted in person found it very easy to access the polling place. The Advisory Group for Disability Issues identified gaps in accessibility training for poll workers and issues with the incorrect use and placement of signage.

  • Elections Canada sought expertise from the Advisory Group for Disability Issues on ways to increase the accessibility of polling places. As previously noted, 85% of voters with a disability who voted in person found it very easy to access their polling place. For the 43rd general election, returning officers were asked to secure polling places that met new minimum standards in the updated Polling Place Suitability Checklist. Following the use of more rigorous mandatory criteria, 94% of polling places were identified as fully accessible. As a result, fewer polling places were identified as accessible than in the 2015 general election (96%). The reduced accessibility rate is attributed to infrastructure issues in rural and semi-rural electoral districts, where returning officers identified a shortage of accessible buildings. In areas where selecting an inaccessible polling place was unavoidable, some electors with disabilities chose to use alternative voting options, such as voting by special ballot or obtaining a transfer certificate to vote in another more accessible polling place.

    The Polling Place Suitability Checklist is used by returning officers to evaluate the accessibility of potential polling places ahead of a general election. The checklist contains 37 accessibility criteria, 15 of which are mandatory and must be met before a potential site is considered accessible. Returning officers also evaluate whether a potential polling place meets security and technology requirements.

  • More accessible ballot.

    Elections Canada leveraged its ballot redesign initiative to improve the ballot's readability, including for those with visual impairments who use screen readers. This new design, first launched during the December 2018 by-election in Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, was used successfully in the 43rd general election. The background is now grey instead of black, the font sizes are larger and dashes have replaced the dots. The new ballot is also two inches wider than the previous one to improve handling.

Ballot paper, new design, front

New ballot design

Going forward

Elections Canada strives to increase the accessibility of the electoral process so that people with disabilities who face barriers to participating in elections will have an equal opportunity to vote. Going forward Elections Canada will:

  • Simplify poll worker training on the mandatory accessibility criteria and the correct use and placement of signage.
  • Enhance partnerships with provincial governments to use schools as polling places. Using schools, which have relatively high accessibility standards, will help address infrastructure issues in rural areas, where fewer accessible spaces are available. This activity may be postponed or require adjustment to meet health and safety requirements if the next general election is delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facilitating participation of Indigenous electors

Since 1990, the agency has worked to make the federal electoral process more accessible to First Nations, Métis and Inuit electors. Improving elector services in remote Indigenous communities remains a priority for Elections Canada.

Ahead of the 43rd general election, Elections Canada made voting and registration information available to Indigenous communities in multiple languages and formats.

The number of polling stations on First Nations reserves increased for the 43rd general election by more than 20% over the previous general election held in 2015. The Assembly of First Nations worked with Elections Canada to set up a call centre to reach out to band administrators about setting up polling stations. As a result, all 365 First Nations that requested polling stations for the 43rd general election had at least one. This represents an increase to 389 polling stations in 2019 from 366 in 2015.

Findings

While Indigenous electors continue to face barriers to participating in federal elections, analysis shows that Elections Canada made progress in addressing this issue:

  • Better electoral services in remote Indigenous communities.

    As outlined in the statutory report, Elections Canada carried out the Elector Services in Remote Indigenous Communities pilot ahead of the 43rd general election. It targeted remote Indigenous communities in 27 electoral districts and focused on early and sustained outreach as a means of providing improved electoral services. There were no reports of significant wait times owing to polling day registration or issues such as the ballot shortages witnessed in these communities in the 2015 election. The agency also worked with 8 national and regional Indigenous organizations and offered election information products and services in 16 Indigenous languages—up from 12 in the previous general election held in 2015. These languages were Atikamekw, Blackfoot, Denesuline, Gwich'in, Inuktitut, Innu (Montagnais), Michif, Mi'kmaq, Mohawk, Moose-Cree, Nisga'a, Ojibway, Oji-Cree, Plains Cree, Salteaux, Stoney.

  • For the 42nd general election, the Online Voter Registration Service was not accessible for many Indigenous electors living on reserves at non-standard address types (about 25%). For the 43rd general election, Elections Canada added the "I have another address type" option to the Online Voter Registration Service, which successfully assigned the correct electoral district and polling division in 94% of cases. This change allowed electors living at non-standard addresses to confirm their registration status online; however, they are still unable to add themselves to the list of electors or update their address information online.

    Non-standard addresses are those that are incomplete, such as those with only a place or a street name.

Going forward

Elections Canada recognizes the importance of ensuring that Indigenous electors can exercise their right to vote in a federal election and is committed to delivering inclusive electoral services. Going forward, Elections Canada will:

  • Look for new ways to reduce barriers to Indigenous electors' participation in federal elections.
  • Update the Online Voter Registration Service to allow electors with non-standard address types to add themselves to the list of electors and update their address.
  • Promote the Online Voter Registration Service at events directed toward Indigenous electors and in collaboration with the Assembly of First Nations.

Ensuring voting services and information were available in both official languages

Ahead of the 43rd general election, Elections Canada implemented measures in response to the July 2015 and May 2019 audit reports completed by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. The agency also used the 2016 census data to improve its understanding of the linguistic realities in each electoral district.

As well, the agency implemented a rapid response mechanism that allowed returning officers to quickly adjust services and respond to official languages complaints filed with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and Elections Canada.

Findings

As was the case in the 42nd general election, virtually all (99%) voters in the 43rd general election were satisfied with the official language in which they were served. According to the National Electors Study, over three quarters of survey respondents who voted in person (76%) said they were served in English, 20% said they were served in French and 3% said they were served in both of Canada's official languages.

With a well-trained workforce at the ready, returning officers successfully reinforced policies and procedures, adjusted and corrected situations and quickly resolved complaints.

While successful in providing voting services in English and French, Elections Canada faced certain challenges:

  • According to the Survey of Election Officers, about two thirds (68%) of recruitment officers surveyed said they had needed to hire poll staff who were bilingual or spoke the minority language in their electoral district. Among these, 31% had difficulties finding and recruiting individuals who spoke the second official language. In post-election analyses, returning officers also reported that absenteeism was a recurring problem and had an impact on the quality of services offered in both official languages at some polling locations.

    The agency requires returning officers to provide services of equal quality in both official languages in the polling divisions where at least 5% of the population speaks the minority official language.

  • Services not always available in both official languages.

    According to the Survey of Election Officers, 96% of poll staff did not encounter any difficulties providing services to electors in English or French. Though returning officers were able to meet their bilingual recruitment and training objectives in the majority of electoral districts, in some cases election workers were unable to provide the quality of services expected by the public.

  • Inconsistencies in application of official languages procedures.

    During and after the election period, Elections Canada received 238 official languages complaints from electors. Of these, 116 were received through the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages' new online complaint form, which allowed the public to report problems as they occurred. The remaining 122 complaints were submitted through Elections Canada's online complaint form and incident reports from election officers. The majority of the complaints came from areas in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. The nature of these complaints involved a partial or complete lack of service in the elector's official language, or the incorrect or inconsistent application of official languages policies and directives.

Going forward

Elections Canada recognizes the challenges it faces in providing services to voters in the official language of their choice at polling places across the country and is committed to improving its services. Specifically, Elections Canada will:

  • Continue working with key stakeholders to implement outreach activities with official language minority communities to promote Elections Canada activities and job opportunities.
  • Work to improve and diversify tools to better support returning officers in planning and carrying out official languages activities.
  • Collect more data on absenteeism and resource reallocation of bilingual staff to better understand and address recruitment and retention issues.
  • Optimize the complaint process to obtain better data and ensure continuous improvement and faster resolution of issues.

Accepting the voter information card as proof of address

The voter information card is issued using information from the National Register of Electors. The Register gets updated regularly using data from driver's licence bureaus, the Canada Revenue Agency and Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees Canada.

By law, eligible voters must be 18 years of age or older and be a Canadian citizen. Voters must prove their identity and address in order to vote. However, meeting the identification requirements can be difficult for some, creating significant barriers to voting and impacting the most vulnerable citizens in society.

To reduce the proof-of-address barrier, amendments were made to voter identification requirements in the Canada Elections Act in 2018, which allowed the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize the voter information card as proof of address when presented with another piece of accepted identification.

Findings

The voter information card is likely the most accurate and widely available government document and is one of the only documents issued by the federal government that includes address information.

Elections Canada successfully leveraged the voter information card to improve the accessibility of voting services for Canadians by reducing the proof-of-address barrier:

  • Majority of electors aware of the voter identification requirements.

    Elections Canada used its national Voter Information Campaign to provide Canadians with information about the identification required to vote. According to the National Electors Study on the 43rd Canadian Federal General Election: Report on the Voter Information Campaign and Elector Awareness, almost all electors were aware of the identification requirements: 97% were aware that voters have to present proof of identity and 91% were aware that voters have to present proof of address.

  • Voter information card used with another piece of identification to establish proof of address.

    The independent audit report noted that the voter information card was used as proof of address in combination with a second piece of identification in 10% of the sample of 10,000 voter interactions observed. According to the National Electors Study, voters who used two documents to meet the identification requirements most often used the voter information card to establish proof of address. Based on the Survey of Election Officers, most poll workers (96%) agreed that the voter information card facilitated the identification of electors.

  • Even when not used as identification, voter information card facilitated voting. While the vast majority of voters presented a single piece of government-issued identification with their name, photo and address as proof of eligibility, a significant portion (91%) of electors who received the voter information card and voted in person brought their voter information card to the polling place, according to the National Electors Study. This facilitated the voting process even when it was not presented as identification. Across all in-person voting methods, electors with a voter information card reported spending less time casting their ballot than those who did not bring their card with them. Those who brought their voter information card to the polling place took 7 minutes to vote on average, compared to 8 minutes for those who received a voter information card but did not bring it. Those who did not receive a voter information card reported an above average voting time of 11 minutes.

Going forward

To ensure that Canadians can exercise their democratic right to vote, Elections Canada will continue to leverage the use of the voter information card as proof of address when the elector has another piece of identification.

Simplifying in-person voting procedures and products at advance polls and on election day for poll workers

Despite the increased uptake in special ballot voting options, in-person voting at both advance polls and on election day remains the most popular voting method.

While the majority of voters continue to vote in person on election day, Canadians increasingly took advantage of early voting services: more than 4.9 million electors voted at advance polls, an increase of 33% from the 42nd general election.

Findings

The agency achieved success in its efforts to refine voting processes and enable a faster and smoother in-person voting experience. However, evidence suggests that Elections Canada's service model at polling stations, while currently meeting the needs of Canadians, remains labour intensive and complex to administer for election day workers.

  • Satisfaction with in-person voting remained high.

    In the National Electors Study, results show that of those who voted in person, 98% said they were satisfied with the services provided. This proportion is similar to the 42nd general election, when 97% were satisfied.

  • Average voting times considerably reduced.

    According to the National Electors Study, voters reported that it took on average 8 minutes to cast their ballot in the 43rd general election, representing a 4-minute improvement from the 12-minute average reported for the 42nd general election. More specifically, on election day, the average reported time to vote was 7 minutes, versus 9 minutes in the 42nd general election. Improvements to processes were most effective at advance polls, where the average reported time was 8 minutes, versus 21 minutes in the 42nd general election. Ultimately, 95% of voters said the time it took for them to vote was reasonable, up slightly from the 42nd general election (92%). Voting at advance polls improved the most in this regard, with 93% of those who voted at advance polls in the 43rd general election saying the time it took to vote was reasonable, up from 80% in the 42nd general election. Note that all times are as reported by electors in the survey rather than independently measured times for voting.

  • Voters satisfied with the distance to their polling places.

    Nearly everyone (98%) said the polling place was located at a reasonable distance from their home, with 88% saying the distance was very reasonable. This is similar to 2015, when 97% said the polling place was a convenient distance from their home. In the post-election survey of the National Electors Study, over half (54%) of in-person voters said it took them only 5 minutes or less to get to the polling place. One quarter (25%) of voters said their travel time was 6 to 10 minutes, and 19% said it took them more than 10 minutes. For both election day and advance polls, the average time voters spent travelling to the polling place was 9 minutes.

    Table 1: Percentage of electors' residences that are within a given road distance of their assigned polling place
    Type of polling division Distance (%) objective (%) outcome
    Urban Within 3 km on election day 95 93.2
    Urban Within 6 km for advance polls 95 95.6
    Rural Within 15 km on election day 95 95.7
    Rural Within 30 km for advance polls 95 94.2
  • Election worker absenteeism led to late opening of some polls.

    A number of changes were introduced between the 42nd and the 43rd general elections to enhance services to electors and candidates. Some of the changes negatively impacted recruitment and the working environment for poll workers. While 70% of returning officers were able to recruit the required number of poll workers, approximately 10,000 poll workers failed to show up for work. As a result of so many unexpected dropouts, 83 polls opened late on election day, and adjustments were required in the 97 electoral districts that experienced absenteeism rates exceeding the recommended 10% contingency of standby poll workers. Despite this, in the Returning Officers' Report of Proceedings Summary, 81% of returning officers reported timely and proper opening and closing of the polls,. More details on recruitment and retention challenges are available in the recruitment and retention section of the present report.

Going forward

To ensure that Elections Canada is able to provide satisfactory services at advance and ordinary polls Elections Canada will:

  • Improve training and processes within the framework imposed by the Canada Elections Act.
  • Review and refine polling station operations and staffing models, including implementing a single poll worker model.
  • Look for opportunities to leverage technology to streamline registration and voting procedures.
  • Ensure better information sharing and coordination with stakeholders to facilitate staffing:
    • Share applicant information, where possible, between electoral districts that had sufficient and insufficient staffing at different milestones.
    • Improve recruitment by leveraging best practices from provincial electoral management agencies and coordinating to share lists of potential workers, where possible.
    • Support returning officers' outreach to school boards to recruit 16- and 17-year-old workers, where appropriate.

The agency has also proposed a number of temporary legislative measures related to delivering an election in a pandemic. Information on the impact of COVID-19 is available on elections.ca.

Making it easier for Canadians to present themselves as candidates

The right to run in a federal election is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Through multiple communication channels, Elections Canada worked to provide Canadians with authoritative information on how to become a candidate and ensured that the nomination process met their needs.

Substantial changes were made to the nomination process for candidates and the Candidate Services program, including:

  • the option to submit nominations electronically through the Political Entities Service Centre (PESC) portal
  • a redesigned Nomination Paper
  • the option to appoint a campaign delegate
  • a new requirement for candidates to present identification documents

These changes were made to comply with new legislation following the passage of the Elections Modernization Act and to enhance existing processes.

Findings

Through these changes, Elections Canada was able to make even more candidate transactions accessible and easy to use. Key findings also reveal that Elections Canada had moderate success with its electronic service offerings to candidates.

  • Majority of candidates found it easy to comply with nomination requirements.

    The agency's Inspire Democracy program launched Your Step-by-Step Guide to Running in a Federal Election to support potential candidates. According to the Survey of Candidates, 78% of candidates felt it was easy to comply with the nomination requirements. Candidates who were the incumbent, elected or from a party represented in the House of Commons were more likely to say the process was very easy compared to others. Criticisms among those dissatisfied with the process included issues with obtaining the required number of elector support signatures, the complexity of the paperwork and unclear procedures.

  • Lower than expected uptake of the PESC portal.

    Elections Canada launched its PESC nationally for the 43rd general election. This secure online portal offered political entities and candidates the option of accessing electoral products and submitting candidate nomination papers electronically. Over 2,600 unique users representing 67% of campaigns logged into the portal. Of the candidates who were elected, 91% of their campaigns had a PESC account. However, most candidates (over 90%) still preferred to submit their nomination by paper rather than through the portal for this election. Of the 2,146 confirmed candidates, only 183 used the portal's e-nomination process. In the Survey of Candidates, over half of the candidates who reportedly used the portal said that they primarily used it to download election materials. Most candidates who used the portal agreed that it was easy to create an account and that the portal contained useful information and made submitting nomination papers convenient. Satisfaction with the portal by those who used it was moderately high at 65%. Of those candidates who did not use the portal, 11% felt it was not easy to use, 10% simply preferred dealing with Elections Canada in person, 9% preferred working with paper and 9% did not know about the portal or how to use it.

Going forward

Elections Canada's work ensures that the electoral process is inclusive so that Canadians can exercise their democratic right to be a candidate. Moving forward Elections Canada will:

  • Continue to offer both paper and electronic options to accommodate the needs of candidates.
  • Provide more information to potential candidates, as well as to electors who may wish to become candidates, on the nomination process and the legislative requirements and challenges of running in an election.
  • Seek input from stakeholders and subject matter experts to increase the number of tools available through the portal and continually improve on those currently available.