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

II. The 38th General Election in June 2004

"The right to vote stems from the intrinsic value, the fundamental equality of every individual."

Jean-Pierre Kingsley
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada

The run-up and launch

The Event Management Framework

Elections Canada’s Executive Committee
received daily reports on activities in the field.Delivering an electoral event in a 36-day time frame imposes a demanding schedule. The master plan for a general election outlines over 800 activities to be accomplished. It takes tested procedures and the experience of expert staff to meet the many deadlines set out in the calendar. Nevertheless, during every general election, unexpected events occur. Elections Canada responds as soon as issues arise – in a way that addresses the needs of the electorate, the candidates, the parties and the democratic process.

For the 38th general election, Elections Canada established the Event Management Framework, a new governance model that provides our Executive Committee with a comprehensive daily report of activities in the field and a means of dealing with issues as quickly as they are reported and before they can escalate.

The Executive Committee also benefited from briefings from internal task forces created to support its work. Drawn from specialized experts across the organization, these teams were responsible for detecting risks and problems, researching the causes and identifying solutions – and analyzing every detail for feasibility, impact and risk. Emerging news stories and media trends were also responded to and analyzed.

Refined reporting

For the 2004 general election, improvements were made to the Event Management System, which draws information from several computer applications in Ottawa as well as from information provided by returning officers and various field applications. The resulting presentations to the Executive Committee included action items, spreadsheets, charts, graphs, reports on completed tasks, exceptions, issues and other types of management information.

We also improved performance measurement tools used to assess the work done in the field, and improved field reporting applications, including exception reporting capabilities. Exception reporting helped to focus the Executive Committee meetings on critical aspects of the election and helped to focus attention on strategic and tactical aspects, including trend analysis and the interdependence of critical events.

To keep everyone informed, returning officers were provided daily statistical feedback on their progress with the revision process, their volume of requests to the Elections Canada Support Network, and the volume of toll-free calls made to their offices.

Field liaison officers

As a major element added to the management framework for the 38th general election, Elections Canada retained the services of field liaison officers.

Working in the field with the returning officers, field liaison officers were able to provide insight into the conduct of the election at the local level. The field liaison officers gave a qualitative assessment of the progress of the election, complementing the statistical feedback received through the Event Management System.

During the election, field liaison officers had four responsibilities within their respective regions:

  • providing the returning officers with functional leadership
  • enhancing the quality and timeliness of the performance of key duties within each electoral district
  • identifying problems at the electoral district level and helping the returning officers resolve them
  • acting as media representatives when required

Field liaison officers were, in turn, supported by specialists who responded to over 4,100 queries from the liaison officers during the election.

Field liaison officer reports were presented each day to the Executive Committee. Over the 36-day election period, field liaison officers identified a total of 164 risks and problems; all were resolved promptly.

The issue of the writs

On May 31, 2004, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Chief
Electoral Officer of Canada, signed the writs
instructing the returning officers of Canada’s
308 electoral districts to conduct an election for
the House of Commons.The 38th general election began on May 23, 2004, when the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada instructed each returning officer in Canada's 308 federal electoral districts to conduct the election of a member of the House of Commons. Election day was set by the Governor in Council for Monday, June 28, 2004.

The preliminary lists of electors are drawn from the names in the National Register of Electors, a permanent database of Canadians eligible to vote. On the day the election began, 22,238,485 Canadians were registered on the preliminary lists, which reflected the 308 electoral districts under the 2003 Representation Order. Of the registered electors, an estimated 19 million (four out of five) were listed at their current addresses.

First steps locally

At the call of the election, returning officers began hiring staff and taking steps to open their offices and accomplish each task in the 36-day election calendar. Each returning officer would need to retain an average of 629 election officers and staff by the end of the election, filling an average of 50 different types of positions.

By June 4, 2004, some 550 tonnes of election
supplies were shipped to the offices of returning
officers throughout the country.Eventually, each office would receive an average of nearly two tonnes of supplies. By June 4, 2004, some 550 tonnes of election supplies – ballot boxes, forms, signs and equipment, as well as 3,000 computers (stored in regional locations) – were on the way or had been delivered to the offices of the 308 returning officers.

In pre-event exercises, returning officers identified potential locations for their offices and polling stations. Within 48 hours, most electoral districts had opened offices that were accessible to the public and had issued a formal Notice of Election, notifying the public of important election information. Immediately following the opening of each office, its address and contact information were posted at

The returning office uses many automated systems: for updating the lists of electors, event management, event results, payment, supplies, electronic forms and manuals. Some of these systems must interface with upwards of 40 electronic systems in Ottawa. For this reason, the automation coordinator for each of the 308 electoral districts, whose responsibilities include overseeing technical support for all automated systems in the returning office, was provided with training in Ottawa in January or February 2004.

Elections Canada distributed approximately 4,824,000 sheets of special paper to print ballots and 75,000 ballot boxes. (In 2000, we distributed 3,631,000 sheets of paper and 64,000 ballot boxes.) By the end of the election, approximately 170,000 people filling approximately 194,000 positions were working in the electoral districts. As in the 37th general election, returning officers each had a training officer to help train deputy returning officers, poll clerks, central poll supervisors, registration officers and information officers.

Activating systems

Almost every administrative aspect of the election is automated. Lists of electors, payments to workers and suppliers, reports and telecommunications are some of the ways that technology streamlines the delivery of electoral events, for electors and for staff in Ottawa and in the field. In October 2001, we updated much of our communications infrastructure and provided a home computer to each returning officer so that he or she could complete various pre-writ assignments and easily communicate with Elections Canada in Ottawa.

Once the writs were issued, more than 6,800 local telephone lines were ordered and installed for the 308 returning offices and 96 additional offices; despite some delays in installation, all were operational within 10 days. Nevertheless, this was later than anticipated, and we need to evaluate the procedures for this activity. Approximately 1,125 toll-free lines were also activated so that the public could contact both the returning offices and a national call centre. For the first time, in 2004, technology was available to monitor calls going to returning officers' offices and to alert them via e-mail if the volume exceeded staffing levels.

The computer hardware for managing the election was delivered to each of the 308 returning offices and installed within five days – a process greatly assisted by the use of Canada Post Corporation staging centres across the country. Automation coordinators then installed software on the computers to help manage the returning offices and to transfer data to and from Elections Canada in Ottawa. Data for these systems were then downloaded to databases in each returning office. A problem with the installation disk slowed this process in many electoral districts, but it was resolved within the planned time frame for installation.

Returning office staff spent the next few days confirming and preparing leases for their polling sites and preparing camera-ready templates of the voter information cards to send to printers. Addresses of polling stations were transmitted for publishing on the Web.

During and after the election, computer applications were used to collect and process information to pay election workers, suppliers and landlords, and to generate forms and other documentation. Data were transferred to Ottawa, where worker payments were processed by an outside payroll service provider and Public Works and Government Services Canada.

Expanded staff in Ottawa

In Ottawa, the number of Elections Canada employees doubled to approximately 600 almost overnight. In preparation, we conducted competitions from which eligibility lists were created before the call of the event and we solicited the help of our provincial counterparts to recruit experienced electoral staff for the Elections Canada Support Network.