Elector Services in Remote Indigenous Communities (ESRIC) – 43rd General Election
During the 2015 federal general election, some remote Indigenous communities experienced ballot shortages and long wait times due to higher-than-expected voter turnout. To address this situation and improve elector services in remote Indigenous communities that were served the least, Elections Canada piloted the Elector Services in Remote Indigenous Communities (ESRIC) project. The pilot took place during the 18 months leading up to the 2019 federal general election. Based on service criteria defined after the 2015 federal general election, Elections Canada identified Indigenous communities in 26 electoral districts and provided the returning officers in those regions with access to additional time, opportunity and tools to engage with those communities earlier in the election cycle. ESRIC aimed to strengthen relationships between participating communities and local Elections Canada staff in order to better understand and respond to the needs of these remote communities.
The pilot resulted in some notable achievements in reducing barriers to information and access for remote Indigenous communities as well as several lessons learned. For example, most returning officers (19 out of 26) reported that relationships with the Indigenous communities they served were stronger. In addition, the number of polling places provided in ESRIC Indigenous communities increased for the 2019 federal general election; and indicators on the convenience of polling places also showed slight increases. While the project did not result, as hoped, in improved registration rates before election day, there was some evidence that the gap in registration rates on election day between ESRIC and non-ESRIC communities may have narrowed since the last election—which would suggest an improved voting experience in those areas. Unfortunately, due to data collection difficulties, Elections Canada could not verify whether Indigenous electors in those communities felt their voting experience was improved.
The lessons learned from the ESRIC project will inform the agency's future efforts regarding complex issues of this kind, which require an agency-wide approach. The successful elements of the pilot have been integrated into Elections Canada's general service offering and, as such, the pilot will not be continued. Key initiatives of the pilot that will be carried out across all electoral districts include: early engagement with local leaders; greater efforts to recruit community members in the delivery of elections; and stronger information-sharing about the ways to register and vote. The goals of the ESRIC pilot remain essential to the agency's mandate, and Elections Canada continues to work with Indigenous electors to identify and test ways to meet the needs of Indigenous electors in remote communities.