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

Voting on election day

At 8:30 a.m. on November 27, the election day polls opened in most of Newfoundland – while it was still 4:00 a.m. in British Columbia. Managing a national election across six time zones made it a long day at Elections Canada, where help desk specialists, managers and enquiries officers were on high alert for the 15 hours that polls were open somewhere in Canada. Returning officers and their staff in the ridings faced an even longer day, because the polls were open for 12 hours non-stop, and they still had to count the ballots afterward.

Voting hours staggered by time zone across the country were instituted at the 1997 general election, so that the polls would close, and the results be known, at approximately the same time nationally. The returning officers of 11 ridings in four provinces and Nunavut had to choose which voting hours they would observe, because their ridings cover more than one time zone.

Homeless voters

A new feature of election day was the special effort to make registration easier for homeless electors. Normally on election day, unregistered voters have to show proof of identity and residence to register. When someone has no permanent residence, the Act provides that the person's temporary quarters at registration time – a shelter, a hostel or other place that provides food, lodging or social services – may be considered the place where the person is ordinarily resident. But for a homeless person, providing proof of identity that also shows the address of the temporary quarters could be an insurmountable difficulty.

We wanted to eliminate this barrier for electors who had no homes, and we were able to do so by creative administrative measures. Our arrangements followed consultations with national and local organizations providing services to the homeless, and with the Advisory Committee of Political Parties, chaired by the Chief Electoral Officer.

A week before election day, returning officers or the 22 liaison officers for homeless electors contacted the administrators of shelters providing accommodation in their ridings. They asked them to inform homeless persons using the facilities that if they wanted to vote on election day, they could put their names on a list, which the polling station staff would use on election day. The list would then be their proof of address. They gave administrators a bright yellow poster that told the occupants where they could go to vote on election day, and reminded them to bring identification with their names and signatures (such as health cards). The day before election day, local office staff picked up the lists and gave them to the appropriate registration officer or deputy returning officer.

On election day, so long as the homeless elector had a valid identification document with his or her name and signature, and his or her name appeared on the list from a shelter, he or she could register and vote. Staff and candidates were aware of the special measures, and the lists of names from the shelters were protected as election documents.

Visitors program

At Elections Canada, our first Visitors Program – held from November 23 to 27 – proved to be a success. The new Canada Elections Act allowed the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize observers to be present in a polling station on election day, and we arranged a program that would offer election officials from Canada and abroad the opportunity to participate in Canada's election process. Sixteen observers took part, including provincial and territorial Chief Electoral Officers, election officials from Australia, Mexico, Hungary and the United States, representatives from the United Nations Development Programme and the Organization of American States, and Canadian academics.

The program consisted primarily of information sessions on the role of Elections Canada during an election period, demonstrations of our Event Management System, visits to offices of returning officers, observing polling stations at work, round-table discussions with academics and representatives of the political parties, and meetings with senior officials from Elections Canada. The participants stated they had benefited from the experience and expressed a high level of satisfaction with the program, which will likely become a permanent feature of future elections.

Monday morning, November 27

At the start of election day, 20 370 921 electors were on the official voters lists. These lists were established after the end of the revision period six days earlier, on November 21. By comparison, there were 19 248 159 electors on the official lists for the 1997 general election, and 19 663 478 on the final lists, after the 415 319 voters who registered at the polls on election day were added. For this election, we expected an increase of 50 percent in election day registrations, and returning officers had extra resources in place, ready for 1 million registrations, if necessary.

The official lists were the ones used on election day in the 56 822 polling stations, 883 mobile polls and 17 340 polling places across the country. Every riding had an average of 188 polling stations, each serving a polling division with an average of 358 electors. Polling stations for neighbouring polling divisions were usually grouped together into a central polling place.

People who registered to vote by special ballot had until election day to deliver their completed ballots to Elections Canada. In this election, 191 833 voters cast valid special ballots, compared to 138 618 in 1997. These totals include all categories of special ballots.

Our Web site was ready to publish all the voting results as they were received from the ridings, starting at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time – that is, after the last polling stations in the country closed on the West Coast and in the Yukon Territory, at 7:00 p.m. Pacific time.

Late opening of some polling stations

On election day, out of the 56 822 polling stations, some 120 stations in 14 ridings opened late. Most of these opened within an hour of the appointed time. In the riding of St. Paul's, Ontario, however, several remained closed longer, although still allowing seven or more hours of voting time. The Chief Electoral Officer immediately asked the 14 returning officers for reports on why some poll workers did not arrive, and on other factors that contributed to the delays.

In 10 of the 14 ridings, the returning officers provided full, detailed reports on the events, including the names of election officers who did not present themselves for duty: three ridings in Quebec (Ahuntsic, Mercier and Saint-Bruno–Saint-Hubert), five in Ontario (Brampton West–Mississauga, Haliburton–Victoria–Brock, Ottawa–Vanier, Trinity–Spadina and Vaughan–King–Aurora) and two in British Columbia (Surrey North and Vancouver Quadra). In a further three ridings, the reports provided by the returning officers did not allow us to determine with precision the extent of the problems and the individuals involved: Saint-Laurent–Cartierville and Westmount–Ville-Marie, both in Quebec, and Ottawa Centre in Ontario.

In the riding of St. Paul's, Ontario, 71 out of 211 polling stations opened late. We have determined after investigation that this situation arose as the result of multiple factors.

Elections Canada was advised, seven days before the election, that the returning officer had not received the names of sufficient people to act as deputy returning officers and poll clerks. These names were to be provided by the candidates representing the parties that came in first and second in the riding in the 1997 general election. There was an urgent need to hire and train more people before election day. Elections Canada provided assistance as required. We placed advertisements and announcements to recruit some 300 additional election officers. On November 23, we arranged paid advertisements in four daily newspapers covering the Toronto area, seeking election workers for five ridings, including St. Paul's: The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Toronto Star and The Toronto Sun. Several radio stations serving the Toronto area ran public service announcements on November 23 and 24. Recruiting, training and assigning such a large number of people in just a few days proved unmanageable.

Consequently, 71 polling stations opened late on November 27, most of them within an hour or so of the scheduled time. Thanks to the assistance provided by the staff of a neighbouring riding and Elections Ontario, the last seven polls were open by 2:00 p.m. that day. Electors did have more than seven hours to cast their votes, but this remains an unacceptable situation that we are addressing through a detailed review of relevant hiring, training and operating procedures.

The floating ballot box

About mid-afternoon on election day, an elector in the Nova Scotia riding of Pictou–Antigonish–Guysborough left a note in the polling station at Pictou Landing, grabbed the ballot box and fled. An off-duty police constable waiting to vote pursued the man, who threw the box containing 125 marked ballots into a waste-treatment lagoon. The constable apprehended him, and later the RCMP and the chief of the local First Nations band launched a rescue mission by boat to retrieve the box, improbably still floating in the lagoon. By that time, the returning officer (thinking that the box was lost forever) had contacted the 125 voters and asked them to vote again; 76 did so. The coated cardboard of the ballot box, we learned from this episode, is much more weatherproof than we realized. The perpetrator was charged with theft of goods with a value of less than $5 000 under the Criminal Code, appeared in court the next day, and was convicted on February 14. Sentencing is expected to take place on March 28.

Counting the ballots

At Elections Canada, staff conducted the last counts of the special ballots that had arrived during the day. A module of the Event Results System was used to tabulate and distribute the results of the special ballots received from national, international, Canadian Forces, and incarcerated voters. After the polls closed in each of the time zones, the results were sent to the returning officers, who incorporated them into their Event Results System databases to be added to the other results for each riding.

Once the deputy returning officers had counted the votes at each polling station, they (or the central poll supervisor if one was appointed for a central poll location) called the results in to the returning officer. Data-entry staff then input the results into the Event Results System, which transmitted the full results to journalists at the media consortium and to Elections Canada and our Web site.

Rejected ballots

The deputy returning officer could reject a ballot if he or she did not supply it, the ballot was not marked or was marked for more than one candidate, the ballot was marked or written on in such a way that the voter could be identified, or it was marked in an area other than the circle. Although candidates' representatives could object to a particular ballot, the deputy returning officer alone decided whether a ballot was to be rejected. That decision was final, subject to change only by a judge at a judicial recount.

Nationally, 139 412 ballots were rejected, or barely over one percent of the 12 997 185 cast – fewer than in the 1997 general election, when 188 824 ballots were rejected, or slightly over 1.4 percent of the 13.1 million cast. In the 2000 general election, more ballots were rejected in the riding of Repentigny, Quebec (2 525), than in any other riding, and fewest in the riding of Yukon (53). Of votes cast, the riding of Joliette, Quebec, had the highest proportion rejected (4.9 percent), and Calgary West, Alberta, the lowest (0.2 percent).

Whether or not a rejected ballot represented a deliberate act of electoral protest is difficult to determine, but one group left no doubt of its intentions. The Edible Ballot Society, which originated in Alberta with the slogan "Don't vote, it just encourages them," urged electors to eat their ballots as an anti-election protest. Under paragraph 167(2)(a) of the Act, it is an offence to destroy a ballot.

Premature transmission of election results

Late on election night (but while polls were still open in some areas), partial election results were disclosed prematurely on Internet sites, through e-mail lists available to the public by subscription, and by satellite television where local programming was available in other communities. Following a complaint, the Commissioner of Canada Elections is reviewing the matter.

Section 329 of the Act states that "No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district." The Act does not draw any distinction among different ways of transmitting election results to the public. Some courts have found that Web sites are a type of transmission to the public.

Section 329 is a continuation of a provision first adopted in 1938 that prohibits premature transmission of results "in any manner." The underlying aim of the prohibition was to ensure that no electors would be influenced by results from elsewhere in Canada when they cast their ballots, and that all electors had access to the same information when they voted.

Results on election day

Based on preliminary results, by late Monday evening, Canadians knew that they had returned the previous government with a large majority, although with the lowest national voter turnout in recent Canadian history – 61.2* percent, compared to the 1997 turnout of approximately 67 percent (itself the lowest proportion since the general election of 1925). The riding of Cardigan, Prince Edward Island, had the highest participation rate (79.2 percent), and Brampton West–Mississauga in Ontario, the lowest (47.6 percent).

The final results would not be known until the validation of the results, which had to take place not later than seven days after election day. Some results were also subject to change because of judicial recounts, undertaken either automatically when the margin between the top two candidates was less than one one-thousandth of the votes cast, or at the request of a candidate when the margin of winning was very slight.

The turnout of 61.2% in 2000 was adjusted to arrive at the final turnout of 64.1%, after our normal maintenance of the National Register of Electors to remove the names of deceased electors and duplicates arising from moves. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada explained the adjustment during his appearance before the Subcommittee on Electoral Boundaries Readjustment on October 6, 2003, and his appearance to discuss the 2004 Main Estimates before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on March 5, 2004.