open Secondary menu

Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 37th General Election Held on November 27, 2000

Special ballots and the Special Voting Rules

Parliament has sought to make voting accessible to every Canadian elector, no matter where he or she might be. This desire for accessibility has a long history: the advance poll, for example, was created many years ago to allow people who planned to be travelling on election day to vote. Similarly, mobile polls have existed for some time, allowing residents of institutions for seniors or persons with a physical disability to vote without leaving their residences.

In hospitals, the ballot box is transported from room to room. Electors who are unable to read can ask friends, relatives or the deputy returning officer to help them vote. And an elector who has a physical disability that prevents him or her from completing a ballot, and who is unable to go to the local office, may call the returning officer and ask to vote at home.

The special ballot is possibly the most significant of the recent voting tools. Extended to general use in 1993, it enables citizens to vote by mail or in person at the office of the returning officer, using a special system of envelopes to preserve the secrecy of the ballot. This system is useful for persons with illnesses or disabilities who would have difficulty getting to a polling station. Electors who live in isolated communities also use it, as do prison inmates, travellers and Canadians who are abroad at election time. The Canada Elections Act's provisions governing special ballots are known as the Special Voting Rules.

Voting by special ballot

From the elector's point of view, there were three significant facts about special ballots in this election. The elector had to make sure his or her application to register was received by Elections Canada before 6:00 p.m. on November 21, find out who the candidates were in his or her riding, and make sure that the completed ballot reached Elections Canada in Ottawa by 6:00 p.m. on election day, November 27 (or the returning officer, by the close of the polls in the electoral district, for the elector voting by special ballot in his or her own riding). Early in the campaign, we issued news releases with information about the special ballot for Canadians abroad and for Canadians in Canada who did not wish to vote at the advance or ordinary polls, and about the deadline for special ballot registration. Ten days before election day, we sent another reminder to the media on the impending deadline for registering to vote by special ballot.

Applying to vote by special ballot

Before and during the election, application forms and guides were available across the country, through Canadian High Commissions, embassies and consular offices around the world, and on our Web site. Electors could request the applications in person from a returning officer, or by telephone, fax, e-mail, courier or regular mail, or could download the form and guide in English or French from our Web site. During the election, some 39 400 special ballot application forms were downloaded.

A formal application served two purposes: it gave the person's consent to be added to the National Register of Electors if the elector had not yet registered (or to update the person's information if he or she was already registered), and it allowed election officers to issue a voting kit containing a ballot. An application by mail or by fax had to be accompanied by a photocopy of proof of identity and residence. Once the kit was issued, the appropriate officer would strike through the person's name on the voters list and mark it with an S, to indicate that the person could not vote again at a polling station.

An elector within his or her riding (a local elector) had to return the application to the returning officer for that riding in person or by fax, courier or mail. All applications from local electors were processed by a coordinator in the local office. If the elector appeared in person with his or her completed application or completed an application in the office, he or she only had to show the identification documents to the coordinator, rather than providing photocopies.

An elector absent from his or her riding, either in Canada or abroad (a national elector), could return the application to any returning officer or directly to Elections Canada in Ottawa, either in person or by fax, courier or mail. As with local electors, a national elector appearing in person with his or her completed application only had to show identification documents to the election officer; otherwise, applications from national electors had to be accompanied by a photocopy of proof of identity and residence. Applications received by a returning officer by fax, courier or mail were forwarded to Ottawa for processing.

An elector residing outside Canada (an international elector) used the same application form as a national elector, but with one difference in voting eligibility if he or she was actually living outside Canada, rather than simply travelling temporarily. The elector must not have been living outside Canada for more than five consecutive years since the last visit to Canada, and must intend to resume residence in Canada. The five-year limit does not apply to federal or provincial public servants, people working for an international organization of which Canada is a member and to which Canada contributes, or to someone who lives with an exempt person.

Local and national voting

Once the application and identification were verified, the elector was issued a special ballot voting kit, either in person or by mail. The kit consisted of a special write-in ballot, three envelopes and an information folder. The voter was instructed to write the name of the candidate of his or her choice on the ballot, seal it in the unmarked inner envelope, and seal the inner envelope in an outer envelope that the voter signed and dated, declaring that he or she had not previously voted, and that he or she would not attempt to vote again. The outer envelope was also marked with an individual bar code, which was checked electronically before the ballot could be counted, to ensure that nobody voted twice. The voter then enclosed the outer envelope in a pre-addressed return envelope.

The local elector who wanted to vote before the regular ballots were printed, or who wanted to take a ballot home, used the special ballot, writing in the name of the candidate of his or her choice. The voter then returned the ballot (sealed in the envelopes) to the local returning officer by mail, courier or in person; the ballots were deposited in a sealed ballot box until election day, when they were counted.

Anyone who voted in person in the local office after the regular ballots had been printed received a regular ballot with the names of the candidates printed on it, marked the ballot then and there, sealed the ballot in the envelopes and deposited it in the same sealed ballot box as the write-in ballots.

After the polls closed, all the local ballots were counted together in each riding. Across Canada, 149 223 local electors requested ballots under the Special Voting Rules. Of those, 138 065 returned their ballots before the prescribed deadline.

A national elector could receive his or her special ballot voting kit either by mail or in person from any returning officer to whom the elector submitted the application, and could vote immediately or later. In either case, it was the voter's responsibility to make sure that Elections Canada in Ottawa received the ballot before 6:00 p.m. on election day. The ballots were counted at Elections Canada, and the results sent to the appropriate returning officers to be included in each riding's totals.

Elections Canada issued special ballots to 33 679 national electors, and 25 963 returned them by the deadline; 2 422 ballots came in after the deadline.

International voting

To reach out to Canadians abroad, we published notices of the election in 12 widely read newspapers in the United States and Europe, and signed an agreement with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for the Department to act as a partner of Elections Canada outside Canada.

Diplomatic missions and consular offices provided information about the right to vote and the electoral process, distributed registration forms and guides, responded to enquiries about registration and voting procedures, made the names of confirmed candidates available to electors, and received completed registration forms and completed special ballots for forwarding to Ottawa.

A Canadian abroad could ask a diplomatic mission to send the completed registration form to Elections Canada by fax, could use the mission as the delivery address to receive a special ballot voting kit, and could ask the mission to notify the elector of its arrival. After November 8, the Department's headquarters sent the list of confirmed candidates for all ridings to each mission. Electors could call or visit the missions to obtain the list of candidates.

Out-of-country voters were entitled to return their completed ballots to any Canadian High Commission, embassy, consular office or Canadian Forces base in time for them to reach Elections Canada in Ottawa no later than 6:00 p.m., Ottawa time, on November 27. Diplomatic missions sent the ballots to Ottawa as they received them by the next diplomatic classified bag; missions not served by the diplomatic classified bag service were given diplomatic courier runs for forwarding ballots. Consular offices headed by honorary consular officers forwarded the ballots by commercial courier to their supervising missions, which forwarded them to Ottawa.

We issued special ballots to 19 230 international electors, and 7 700 ballots were returned on time; 1 598 special ballots arrived after the deadline.

Canadian Forces voting

Members of the Canadian Forces – including teachers and administrative support staff at Canadian Forces schools outside Canada – voted in the general election by special ballot wherever they were stationed. When they enrol, members of the Canadian Forces are asked to complete a form called a Statement of Ordinary Residence. The address given on the form determines the federal riding in which the member's vote is counted, and the military elector information is maintained in a permanent register by the Department of National Defence.

Voting from afar

Because of the remote postings of women and men in the Canadian Forces, even getting the election material to them wasn't always easy. The diplomatic bag containing special ballot voting kits for service members stationed in the Middle East, for example, still had not arrived at the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv after 11 days in transit. The opportunity to send a second set of kits arose when the Speaker of the House of Commons and other dignitaries boarded a Canadian government jet to attend the funeral services for Mrs. Leah Rabin, widow of the former Israeli Prime Minister, in Israel. The Canadian military attaché in Tel Aviv met the plane to ensure prompt dispatch of the kits to some 275 electors serving in various United Nations units and with the Multinational Force and Observers in the Middle East.

As part of our regular communication activities, in May we sent out a pamphlet to every member of the Canadian Forces explaining the Statement of Ordinary Residence and how to update it. Once the election was called, we distributed a second pamphlet explaining the special ballot voting process. Instructions for voting were posted at the polling station set up in each unit, which had to be open for a minimum of three hours a day for not less than three days, between November 13 and 18. A deputy returning officer appointed by the commanding officer was on hand to issue voting kits (containing the special ballot and envelopes) and to receive the sealed ballots.

Before receiving a ballot, voters had to complete and sign a declaration on the outer envelope, stating that their names were as shown on the envelope and that they had not voted previously in the election. The unit's deputy returning officer then sent the ballots to Elections Canada in Ottawa, unless a voter chose to mail his or her own ballot.

There were 57 082 registered electors in the Canadian Forces, serving in 1 201 units both in and outside Canada. They cast 19 080 ballots; 50 special ballots arrived after the deadline.

Voting in acute care hospitals

Elections Canada adopted procedures to enable patients hospitalized in acute care facilities, either inside or outside their ridings, to exercise their voting rights conveniently. The special ballot was the most effective way of reaching patients, although it was difficult to estimate the number of electors who would vote while hospitalized. Some would have voted at an advance poll or by special ballot at the office of a returning officer, and some would be able to vote on election day.

We first sent a letter to the administrators of Canada's 823 acute care hospitals in 253 ridings, explaining the procedures for voting and asking for their co-operation in helping patients to vote. We also sent a memorandum to each returning officer, recommending that he or she arrange for special ballot voting with the hospital administrators in the riding. Each returning officer was responsible for making sure that acute care patients in the riding were given the opportunity to vote, and designated one hospital special ballot coordinator for every group of 200 acute care beds.

On November 19, the hospital special ballot coordinators distributed notices to patients in each acute care bed, announcing that they would be visiting on November 20 and 21 to register every eligible patient who wished to vote. They dealt with two categories of hospitalized electors: those in facilities located in their own ridings (local electors), and those hospitalized outside their own ridings (national electors).

A total of 6 487 hospitalized national electors took the opportunity to register, and they submitted 6 330 ballots.

Voting in correctional institutions

Every incarcerated elector serving a sentence of less than two years was eligible to register and to vote under the Special Voting Rules. A liaison officer in each of 198 correctional institutions coordinated elector registration by distributing applications for registration, and posting notices about the election in prominent locations throughout the institution. Registration took place from November 14 to 16.

To determine the elector's riding, the application recorded the elector's address of ordinary residence: that is (in this order), the elector's last address of residence before incarceration; or if not known or available, the residence of the spouse, the common-law partner, a relative or a dependant of the elector, or a relative of the elector's spouse or common-law partner, or a person with whom the elector would live if not incarcerated; or the place of arrest; or the last court where the elector was convicted and sentenced.

A polling station was set up in each institution, and inmates voted on November 17, from 9:00 a.m. until everyone who wanted to had voted, but no later than 8:00 p.m. Each voter handed the ballot sealed inside the inner and outer envelopes to the deputy returning officer, who put it in a mailbag that was couriered to Elections Canada in Ottawa for counting.

Of the 23 116 incarcerated persons in Canada who were eligible to vote, 5 521 registered to vote by special ballot, and 5 194 of those cast ballots.