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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
on the 38th General Election Held on June 28, 2004

I. Activities, 2000–2004

"The right to vote is only meaningful when you use it."

Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada

Meeting our commitments

The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (known as Elections Canada) is the organization that carries out the specific roles and responsibilities under the mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer, who is responsible for the administration of elections, referendums and other important aspects of Canada's electoral system. The Chief Electoral Officer is appointed by resolution of the House of Commons and reports to Parliament. He is independent of government and of all political parties.

Following the 37th general election in 2000, Elections Canada examined the strengths and weaknesses of every service provided by each of our directorates. We gathered comments from returning officers and members of their staff at post-election meetings and workshops. We conducted an array of public surveys and consultations with electors, political parties, candidates, third parties, parliamentarians, the advisory committee of political parties, the academic community, and other organizations and individuals interested in the electoral process.

Our evaluations indicated that improvements to four areas should be priorities:

  1. the quality of the lists of electors
  2. the voter information cards sent to all registered electors
  3. communications with electors through the advertising campaign
  4. responses to enquiries from the public

The Chief Electoral Officer committed to making improvements in these four areas in Elections Canada's Report on Plans and Priorities for 2001–2002, 2002–2003 as well as 2003–2004. As the following pages show, that commitment has been met.

1) Improving the lists of electors

The National Register of Electors

The National Register of Electors is a permanent list of Canadians who are eligible to vote. It is used to produce the preliminary lists of electors; these are revised in the days leading up to an election to produce the official lists of electors, and are revised again after the election. The preliminary lists are provided to confirmed candidates early in an electoral event, and are used to mail each registered elector a voter information card. The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer also produces updated lists of electors from the Register in October of each year for members of Parliament and political parties, as the Canada Elections Act requires. The Register is increasingly shared with provinces, territories and municipalities to help them produce lists of electors for their elections.

In his report on the 37th general election, the Chief Electoral Officer noted eight areas of improvement for the National Register of Electors and the revision process. They have been addressed as follows.

Improving the quality of the lists of electors and addresses from other sources, including Canada Post Corporation

As a result of continual updates to the Register, it is estimated that more than 95 percent of electors were on the preliminary lists of electors used during the 38th general election, with 83 percent (plus or minus 2 percent) of them at the correct address. This is a marked improvement over the 37th general election (89 percent on the lists and 79 percent at the correct address), and exceeds our list-quality targets (92 percent on the lists with 77 percent at the correct address). The targets were established during the research and feasibility phase of Register development in 1996; they are based on the 1993 general election, where a one-year-old list was used successfully, combined with an enhanced revision process during the electoral period. Information for some 17 percent of electors changes each year, reflecting electors who move, new citizens, young electors and deceased electors.

This improvement results partly from access to new update sources, including Canada Post Corporation's National Change of Address data and data from drivers' licences for the province of Alberta, where an agreement was reached in 2004 with the assistance of the province's Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. O. Brian Fjeldheim.

Improving address and geographic information has been a priority for the Register. Since 2000, the number of electors we can pinpoint on our digital maps using their civic address information has increased from 65 to 87 percent. This greatly increases our ability to assign them to the correct poll. Addresses were updated to ensure conformity with Canada Post Corporation addressing standards. Other updates took into account recent municipal amalgamations and 9-1-1 addressing changes.

These address improvements have made the Register more consistent. In addition, improvements in postal code accuracy have increased the deliverability of voter information cards across the country. Elections Canada will continue to collaborate with its federal, provincial, territorial and municipal partners to develop mechanisms for improving address quality, particularly in rural Canada. Rural addresses are still a challenge: some Register data sources contain only mailing address information, while many others – including those provided by some electors – are incomplete and inconsistent.

Improving the Register's coverage, especially of youth, by adding electors from administrative data sources such as the Canada Revenue Agency

Before 2002, a tax filer was able to consent on his or her income tax return to have name, address and date of birth transferred by the Canada Revenue Agency (formerly the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency) to Elections Canada, but only to update existing information in the Register. Starting in 2002, following changes to the agreement between Elections Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency, eligible tax filers who were not already in the Register could also consent on their income tax returns to be added to it. However, Elections Canada is still required to obtain confirmation of the citizenship of these individuals before adding them to the Register because the question on citizenship is coupled with the question concerning the tax filer's consent to be added to the Register.

Elections Canada has used a variety of methods to confirm the citizenship of these potential electors. Some 496,000 potential electors were added through matching to provincial lists of electors. An additional 275,000 new electors were added as a result of a registration mailing to 2.2 million potential electors in the fall of 2003. Elections Canada also confirmed the electoral status of 305,000 youth by matching them to older electors at the same address with the same family name, in a procedure referred to as family matching. These registrations have contributed to improvements in the Register's coverage of electors. The advisory committee of political parties was consulted before and during implementation of these measures.

The Chief Electoral Officer continues to work with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on modifying the income tax form to include a separate tick box for confirming citizenship. This would allow Elections Canada to add new electors directly, especially young electors. According to the CRA, the Income Tax Act apparently would have to be amended to make this change.

The registration of young electors remains a priority for Elections Canada. In February 2004, we wrote to some 1.1 million young Canadians who had turned 18 since the 37th general electionThe registration of young electors remains a priority for Elections Canada. In February 2004, we wrote to some 1.1 million young Canadians who had turned 18 since the 37th general election, to remind them of their right to vote and ensure that they were registered to vote in upcoming federal elections. This group included 300,000 young electors who were not in the Register; they received a registration kit. Of these, some 50,000 young people consented to be added to the Register. Those who did not respond before the issue of the writs were sent a notice soon after the start of the election to encourage them to register locally to vote. We estimate that some 75 percent of young electors (aged 18 to 24) were on the preliminary lists, an improvement of more than 16 percent since the 37th general election.

Improving the currency of the preliminary lists produced from the Register by refining the update cycle

The Register's process to integrate updates from administrative and electoral source data has been improved, allowing the production of successive lists of electors more quickly. This maximizes the use of update sources, such as provincial lists of electors.

Introducing regular reviews of the Register by returning officers, particularly of geographic information and addresses

Returning officers conducted extensive pre-event list reviews in 2002 and 2003. New software allowed returning officers to correct addresses, revise polling division boundaries and assign electors to polling divisions. In 2002, some 2.3 million address improvements were made; some 18,400 polling divisions were adjusted to reflect resulting boundary changes and renumbering. In 2003, the emphasis was on ensuring that electors were assigned to the proper electoral district, in accordance with the 2003 Representation Order.

Before the election, returning officers also received and revised a list of areas where the Register tended to be of lower quality, allowing them to target the revision for their respective electoral districts.

Incorporating the ability to record elector moves between ridings into the REVISE computer system used in the field during elections

A new version of REVISE – the computer application used to revise the lists of electors during an election – was developed in partnership with CGI, a consulting company, following the 37th general election. Several system innovations facilitated the revision of elector information and improved the accuracy of the lists of electors. The most important feature of the new version is the transfer of data for individuals who have moved between electoral districts. Another feature is the ability to accept electronic updates from the National Register of Electors during elections. Once the writs were issued, the Register continued to process data updates. Some 335,000 elector updates were provided to returning offices during the 38th general election.

Simplifying and improving revision and targeted revision

To assist returning officers in targeted revision, Elections Canada set up a central registry of high-mobility addresses and carried out a demographic analysis of Register coverage to identify areas with low registration rates. Returning officers received this information for addition to their lists of dwellings for targeted revision.

Studying the feasibility of secure on-line registration and verification

In 2002, Elections Canada commissioned CGI Systems to perform a study on the feasibility of developing and implementing an on-line voter registration system. In March 2003, the On-line Voter Registration Feasibility Study concluded that on-line voter registration offers benefits for electors, would improve Elections Canada's service to electors, and would empower electors to take a more active role in the voter registration process. It would also facilitate more robust, integrated service that would offer electors convenient access to voter registration by a variety of means. On the other hand, there would be security and privacy issues to resolve, and legislation to amend. (An executive summary of this study appears on the Elections Canada Web site.) The pursuit of on-line voter registration remains a priority for Elections Canada.

Continuing to work with provincial electoral agencies to share Register data

Our collaboration with provincial, territorial and municipal agencies remains a core component of the Register program, particularly as more provinces are working with Elections Canada and on their own to establish permanent registers of electors. Twice a year, the Advisory Committee to the National Register of Electors (which includes representatives from all the provincial and territorial electoral agencies, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, and the Vital Statistics Council for Canada) meets to discuss topics related to voter registration, Register maintenance and enhancing data sharing. Recent discussions have dealt with mechanisms to improve registration among special voter populations, on-line registration, and registration success in elections in the various jurisdictions.

These efforts allow all agencies to improve data quality, minimize duplication of effort, save money and, most importantly, better serve the electorate. Since 2000, Elections Canada has shared Register data and/or collaborated on registration initiatives with provincial electoral agencies in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island, and with municipal electoral agencies, including that of the City of Winnipeg.

Elections Canada also conducted these initiatives to improve the National Register of Electors following the 37th general election:

Working with parliamentarians and other partners

As a result of our data-sharing initiatives, maintaining the Register has become a much more collaborative effort. The Chief Electoral Officer has emphasized that political parties and members of Parliament share responsibility for maintaining the accuracy of the Register.

For example, while distributing the annual lists of electors to members of Parliament and registered political parties in October 2002 and 2003, the Chief Electoral Officer asked to be advised of any issues regarding the lists of electors that had come to the attention of the political parties or members of Parliament.

The October 2003 lists included indicators to highlight the nature of any changes made to elector information since the previous year's lists. This marked an important step in improving the usefulness of the lists for stakeholders. Other suggestions for improvements, which would require changes to the Canada Elections Act, will be noted in the Chief Electoral Officer's report recommending legislative changes following the 38th general election.


As of April 1, 2004, the National Register of Electors was reconfigured to assign some 22 million electors to the corresponding electoral districts and polling divisions, in accordance with the 2003 Representation Order, which increased the number of electoral districts from 301 to 308. With the assistance of returning officers, all but 65,000 electors were reassigned to the new electoral districts. At the beginning of the election, Elections Canada wrote to the electors who had not been reassigned, to obtain complete residential address information and register them to vote. Some 47,000 of them contacted their local returning office to provide updated address information.

Targeted revision

In preparation for the 38th general election, Elections Canada made great strides in creating a detailed targeted revision strategy for returning officers. Targeted revision is the process of going door to door in areas where a high percentage of eligible voters may not have been included on preliminary lists, in order to register these electors. This helps to maximize both list coverage and currency of information.

Before the election, returning officers received (in CD-ROM format) a list of areas where the Register tended to be of lower quality. It included specific addresses, as well as streets and polling divisions that might require targeted revision: areas of high mobility, college and university residences, Aboriginal reserves, long-term care facilities, new housing developments, shelters and under-covered demographic groups. Such areas could be found in both urban and rural districts.

On reviewing this data, returning officers could modify and add to their lists as necessary, and then establish a targeted revision strategy for their electoral districts. The results were entered into a comprehensive general database.

Cost savings

The Register saves taxpayers a significant amount of money. Preliminary estimates indicate that $30 million net was saved, compared with what door-to-door enumeration would have cost at the 38th general election. The Register has also become central to our ongoing partnership with provincial and territorial electoral agencies. The cumulative cost avoidance attributable to use of the Register at March 31, 2004, is estimated at some $40 million over and above the savings identified in the original business case for the Register at the federal level. In addition, the Register has generated some $31 million in savings at the provincial and municipal levels.

Electoral geography

Elections Canada's National Geographic Database is a computerized database of Canadian streets, developed and maintained jointly with Statistics Canada for use by both agenciesA good geographic database contributes to improving the lists of electors. Elections Canada's National Geographic Database is a computerized database of Canadian streets, developed and maintained jointly with Statistics Canada for use by both agencies. Elections Canada uses the database for electoral mapping, for locating electors inside an electoral district and assigning them to a polling division ("geocoding"), and for readjusting electoral boundaries after a decennial census.

By April 1, 2004, we had georeferenced (that is, linked to a point on the computerized map) 87 percent of elector addresses, up from 65 percent before the 37th general election. This is a result of improvements made to the National Geographic Database and to our records of elector addresses. Also, by April 1, 2004, Elections Canada made revised maps and atlases available to returning officers, members of Parliament and political parties. For the 38th general election, we produced 69,752 original maps with geographic documents; from these, we produced more than 546,803 copies for use in the electoral districts.

We have given the political parties computer-readable versions of all of our maps, as well as access to a Web application, GeoView. This better serves their needs and reduces the amount of paper used. We expect a continuation of the trend away from paper and toward the use of digital maps.

In October 2004, Elections Canada received an APEX Award in the Leadership in Service Innovation category. Elections Canada was recognized for its participation in the GeoBase portal project led by Natural Resources Canada. With GeoBase, federal, provincial and territorial governments have agreed to work together to provide access to high-quality unique data, and to make it available to all users at no cost and with no restrictions.

2) Improving the voter information card

The voter information card (VIC) is an essential tool for reaching electors and transmitting important information to them. Early in the election period, the personalized card is sent to each elector. It confirms that the elector is registered on a preliminary list of electors at the address on the card, and provides information on polling dates, times and locations, and voting options.

Following suggestions from electors, political parties and returning officers, Elections Canada made improvements to the VIC – and to the strategies for delivering it. The revised VIC now displays the eligibility criteria for voting and the Elections Canada Web site address, in addition to the information prescribed by the Canada Elections Act (the election date and contact information for Elections Canada). Cards were addressed to "electors" instead of "occupants." In the case of an elector who had moved, Canada Post Corporation was instructed not to forward the card to the new address, but rather to leave it at the address indicated. Potential electors who were not already listed, or needed to be moved from a previous list, would thus receive information about registering and about how to contact the returning officer for the correct polling station locations, dates and times.

For the 38th general election, Elections Canada also introduced a generic reminder card, sent one week after the VICs were delivered. This Important Reminder to Voters card, introduced in 2002 and tested during subsequent by-elections, reminded electors to act without delay if they had not received a VIC or had received one containing errors. It included a telephone number for Elections Canada; elector calls were redirected to the local returning officer.

3) Improving communications with electors

Communications with Canadians at all levels of involvement – electors, representatives of special groups, and those who inform about or are directly involved in the electoral process – is vital to both the transparency and effectiveness of elections. Elections Canada is committed to providing intuitive, rapid and comprehensive ways for electors to learn about their voting rights, the electoral process and election results.

The Elections Canada Web site

With its Web site, Elections Canada has sought to provide to electors the best possible information tool – one that takes full advantage of expanding technological possibilities, and that meets or exceeds the expectations of Canadians.

Electors who log on to the Web site to find information are greeted with more information than ever before; almost all Elections Canada publications – from official reports to our Electoral Insight magazine – are reproduced on the Web, as are forms, manuals, information sheets explaining the changes resulting from Bill C-24, instructional videos and electronic software to help political entities file returns. By the time of the 38th general election, the site had grown to 7,000 pages and included sections on electoral legislation and enforcement, and the new electoral boundaries; special information for political parties, candidates, registered associations, nomination contestants, leadership contestants, third parties, young people and the media; electoral district information; a general election module; backgrounders; research reports; and links to related sites.

On February 6, 2004, the Chief Electoral Officer launched the new Young Voters Web site in Bedford, Nova Scotia.The revamped "Young Voters" section of the Elections Canada Web site is a key component of our outreach. Launched in February 2004, the young voters' gateway was integrated with the Elections Canada site. The gateway is now more interesting visually and gives young people ways to engage in the electoral process. The launch followed consultation with youth focus groups, which demonstrated the value of retaining the same look and feel as the Elections Canada site, providing a youth focus to it. Monthly visits to the site increased from 4,500 before the launch to 18,000 during it and 8,000 afterwards.

Other work carried out before the 2004 election included development of an election night results application that was easier to use and did not require prior configuration by the user; an updated list of frequently asked questions that reflected legislative changes; and new Voter Information Service material to help electors locate their polling stations. Elections Canada also created a new portal to provide information about the 308 new ridings under the 2003 Representation Order, and added a tool with which electors could find out whether their electoral districts had changed since the 37th general election.

From year to year, visits to the Elections Canada Web site have sharply increased. In 2001 the number of visits was 463,391, an average of 8,911 weekly; the figure rose by 46 percent in 2002 to 675,654, or 12,993 weekly. There was a further 72 percent increase in 2003, when visits numbered 1.16 million, or 22,329 weekly.


With the experience of the 37th general election, Elections Canada planned an advertising campaign featuring clear, easily understood messages that informed Canadians on how to register and vote, and that encouraged them to participate in the electoral process.

Cossette Communication Group conducted research for Elections Canada in 2002 using discussion groups to identify attitudes about the electoral process and voting. Research results were presented to the advisory committee of political parties on September 27, 2002, and on December 15, 2003, the theme of the advertising campaign was introduced to the same committee. The Chief Electoral Officer also informed the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that Elections Canada was reviewing its advertising campaign. In early 2003 we developed and tested creative concepts and key messages. Television and radio ads were based on a common theme, described in Part II of this report.

4) Improving responses to enquiries

As part of our new Voter Information Service, recent developments in telephone system technology – including voice-response and text-to-speech technologies – were introduced to serve electors calling Elections Canada for information during the 2004 general election. Bell Canada's application was chosen to respond to our needs.

Callers to Elections Canada's national toll-free number were greeted by a sophisticated Voice Response System, which recognizes what callers are asking for and then finds the answers in a comprehensive database. The Voter Information Service is available 24 hours a day. It is connected to the same database that supports Elections Canada's Web site and call centre agents, ensuring consistency of information through all channels. To ensure caller satisfaction, the service allows callers the option of being transferred to an information officer.

During the election period, there were 734,954 calls to the Voice Response System.