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


Special ballots and the Special Voting Rules

The Special Voting Rules give electors an alternative to voting at the polls on election day or at the advance polls. Electors, other than those who were incarcerated or in the Canadian Forces, could vote at any time during the election by special ballot. To do this, an elector had to:

  • make sure his or her application to register for a special ballot was received by a returning office or Elections Canada before 6:00 p.m. on June 22, 2004 (section 232, Canada Elections Act)
  • find out who the candidates were in his or her electoral district
  • make sure that his or her completed ballot reached Elections Canada in Ottawa by 6:00 p.m. on election day, June 28, 2004 (or the returning officer, by the close of the polls in the electoral district, in the case of an elector voting by special ballot in his or her own electoral district)

To assist these electors, we issued news releases on the first and second days of the election period, with information about the special ballot. Ten days before election day, we sent another reminder to the media about the impending deadline for registering to vote by special ballot.

Airports across Canada displayed
information on voting by mail.As part of our outreach efforts to Canadians temporarily residing outside Canada, we introduced an e-mail service providing information about registering and voting by special ballot. The text was supplied to 102 multinational corporations, 79 non-governmental organizations, the Canadian International Development Agency (110 employees), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (250 funded students) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (600 funded students). These companies and organizations could copy the message to Canadian citizens known to them who were based outside of the country.

In addition, the "I'm Mailing My Vote!" flyer (which explains voting by special ballot) was included with 135,000 federal government cheques sent to Canadians living abroad. Through co-operative arrangements with 23 airport authorities, the "I'm Mailing My Vote!" poster and flyers were displayed in high-traffic areas in airports across the country, with the aim of informing Canadians travelling inside or outside Canada about the option of voting by mail.

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 the Elections Canada 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 the Web. During the election, 29,971 special ballot application forms were downloaded.

Local and national voting

Voting in isolated places

The flexibility of the special ballot allows Elections Canada to accommodate electors in some of the most remote and isolated places in Canada.

  • In British Columbia, a special ballot coordinator flew to 23 lighthouses to help electors working there to register and vote.
  • In Alberta, special ballot coordinators flew to several fire lookout stations accessible only by helicopter to register and allow electors to vote on location.
  • In Labrador, two election officers flew into the Voisey’s Bay Project for two days so that more than 150 construction workers could vote where they were by special ballot. This was also done for two diamond mines in the Northwest Territories and a gold mine in Nunavut.
  • We co-operated with shipping companies in the Great Lakes to enable more than 346 crew members, who were in transit during the campaign, to register and vote by special ballot. After the application form and the lists of candidates were sent to ships electronically, crew members completed the applications and faxed them to Ottawa with the proper identification documents. Once the applications for a particular ship were processed, we packaged special ballot voting kits and sent them to the ship. Crew members then completed and returned the ballots.

Across Canada, 191,469 electors requested ballots under the Special Voting Rules in their own electoral districts. Of those, 189,654 returned their ballots before the prescribed deadline.

Elections Canada undertook a youth-oriented initiative in co-operation with Canada Post Corporation. This involved identifying 158 post offices near university campuses, and arranging for assistance to be available to electors who wished to complete application forms for special ballots. Applications were sent daily, by courier, to the Special Voting Rules Administrator in Ottawa. After approving the application for registration, we sent a special ballot voting kit to the elector's mailing address indicated on the application form. The number of young electors who used this service fell short of expectations; one reason may be that the election fell at a time when the student population had dispersed for the summer. We will assess the cost-effectiveness of conducting this initiative in the future.

Elections Canada issued special ballots to 31,005 national electors (people away from their own ridings), and 21,236 returned them by the deadline. Additional resources were deployed to contact electors who did not provide proof of identity or required information with their application for registration and special ballot. This resulted in a substantial decline in the number of ballots received after the deadline, to 495. In comparison, of the 33,679 national electors who had requested special ballots in the 37th general election, 2,422 returned their ballots after the deadline.

International voting

On January 8, 2004, we sent a letter and a notice to more than 14,000 electors temporarily residing outside Canada whose names were already in the international register of electors, requesting that they verify the information on file for them. This was done to ensure that electors would receive a special ballot voting kit promptly and at the correct mailing address when the election was called. As a result of this initiative, only 391 of the 11,719 ballots issued were received after the deadline, compared with 1,598 of the 19,230 ballots issued at the 37th general election.

Since 1993, as a partner of Elections Canada, Foreign Affairs Canada has provided, through diplomatic missions and consular offices, information about the right to vote and the electoral process. It has 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 special ballots for forwarding to Ottawa.

Daily throughout the election period, ballots
cast by voters temporarily residing abroad
arrived in Ottawa by diplomatic bag or courier.A Canadian abroad can ask a diplomatic mission to send the completed registration form to Elections Canada by fax, use the mission as the delivery address to receive a special ballot voting kit, and get notice from the mission when it arrives. On June 10, Foreign Affairs Canada sent the list of confirmed candidates for all electoral districts to each mission. Electors could call or visit the missions to find out who the candidates were.

Out-of-country electors 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. Eastern Time on June 28, 2004. Diplomatic missions sent the ballots to Ottawa as they received them by the next diplomatic classified bag; missions not using this 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.

For the past three federal elections, the Passport Office has also assisted Elections Canada by making registration forms and guides, information flyers and posters available in 28 passport offices across Canada.

Canadian Forces voting

Like these troops serving in Afghanistan,
electors in the Canadian Forces voted by special
ballot where they were stationed.Members of the Canadian Forces can vote in a general election by special ballot wherever they are stationed. When they enlist, members of the Forces complete a form indicating their address of residence. Their vote is counted in the federal electoral district where that address is located.

There were 62,436 registered electors in the Canadian Forces during the 38th general election, serving in 1,046 units in Canada and abroad. They cast 22,344 ballots.

Voting in acute care hospitals

Patients in acute care facilities, inside or outside their electoral districts, were able to vote using the special ballot.

Elections Canada contacted all acute care hospitals, explaining the procedures for voting and asking for co-operation in helping patients to vote. Returning officers also arranged with local hospital administrators for special ballot voting. The returning officers designated one hospital special ballot coordinator for every 200 acute care beds.

The hospital special ballot coordinators visited hospitals to register every eligible patient who wished to vote. These included local electors (electors in facilities in their own electoral districts) as well as national electors (electors hospitalized outside their own electoral districts).

A total of 5,808 hospitalized national electors registered to vote.

By law, this service cannot be provided after the sixth day before election day.

Voting in correctional institutions

The Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) on October 31, 2002, made all incarcerated electors, regardless of the length of their sentences, eligible to vote under the Special Voting Rules. The Chief Electoral Officer adapted sections 246 and 247 of the Canada Elections Act to extend the voting process to federal institutions.

Members of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the John Howard Society of Canada and other persons who are generally well perceived by the inmate population are invited to act as election officers inside penitentiaries. Liaison officers in provincial and federal correctional institutions posted notices about the election and registered the electors.

An incarcerated elector's electoral district is ordinarily determined by the address of residence or the place where the elector had personal ties before incarceration – not by the location of the institution where the elector is incarcerated.

A polling station was set up in each institution, and inmates voted on June 18, 2004. Voters handed their completed ballots to the deputy returning officer, who forwarded them to Ottawa for counting.

Of the 36,378 incarcerated persons in Canada who were eligible to vote, 9,635 registered and 9,250 cast ballots. In federal institutions, 13,198 inmates were eligible to vote and 5,189 registered. In provincial institutions, 23,180 inmates were eligible to vote and 4,446 registered.

Using Special Voting Rules to preserve the right to vote

Subsection 17(1) of the Canada Elections Act empowers the Chief Electoral Officer to adapt the provisions of the Act to address an emergency, an unusual or unforeseen circumstance, or an error. In several instances during the 38th general election, some electors' right to vote was in jeopardy. The Chief Electoral Officer therefore adapted provisions of the Special Voting Rules to preserve their right to vote. For details, see Table 14.

Overall results

More electors voted using the Special Voting Rules in the 38th general election than in the 37th. Table 13 shows the number of special ballots cast by local, national and international voters in the 37th and 38th general elections.

Answer to question 5

By a convention of English common law, women were excluded from the right to vote. Despite this, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, women voted in many parts of Canada. In 1820, for example, a citizen of Trois-Rivières wrote, "Here women vote just as men do, without discrimination." Gradually, however, all of the original colonies passed legislation denying the vote to women, and these statutory provisions were entrenched in the British North America Act in 1867.

Within a decade after Confederation, the women's suffrage movement had taken root in the new Dominion of Canada. Its first successes were at the provincial level, with Manitoba leading the way: women there gained the right to vote in January 1916.

The first Canadian women sanctioned by law to vote in a federal election were the "Bluebirds" – some 2,000 military nurses serving in the war effort, who cast ballots in the 1917 general election. In 1918, Parliament passed the Act to confer the Electoral Franchise upon Women, giving Canadian women the same voting rights as men in federal elections. Women exercised their rights in the 1921 general election – the first open to all Canadian men and women of at least 21 years of age.


Table 13 :
Special Voting Rules – comparison between the 37th and 38th general elections
  Election Electors on the lists Valid ballots Rejected ballots Total ballots cast Voter turnout Ballots received late
GROUP 1              
Canadian Forces 37th 57,082 18,733 297 19,030 33.34% 50
  38th 62,436 21,912 432 22,344 35.79% 79
Incarcerated* 37th 23,116* 4,881 307 5,188 22.44% 0
  38th 36,378* 8,824 426 9,250 25.43% 0
International 37th 19,230 7,446 254 7,700 40.04% 1,598
  38th 11,719 7,482 254 7,736 66.01% 391
Total 37th 99,428 31,060 858 31,918 32.10% 1,648
Total 38th 110,533 38,218 1,112 39,330 35.58% 470
GROUP 2              
Local (includes local electors in acute care hospitals) 37th 149,223 135,789 2,276 138,065 92.52% N/A **
  38th 191,469 187,257 2,397 189,654 99.14% N/A **
National (includes national electors in acute care hospitals) 37th 33,679 24,928 1,035 25,963 77.09% 2,422
  38th 31,005 20,536 700 21,236 68.49% 495
Total 37th 182,902 160,717 3,311 164,028 89.68% 2,422
Total 38th 222,474 207,793 3,097 210,890 94.79% 495
Grand total 37th 282,330 191,777 4,169 195,946 69.40% 4,070
Grand total 38th 333,007 246,011 4,209 250,393 75.14% 965

* These figures represent the approximate number of individuals in correctional institutions at the time of the election in 2000 and 2004. The total number of electors who registered to vote by special ballot in 2000 was 5,521 and 9,635 in 2004.

** The number of local ballots received late is not available.

Adaptations during the 38th general election

There were 14 adaptations made during the 38th general election.

Table 14 :
Adaptations to the Canada Elections Act – 38th general election, 2004
Section of the
Canada Elections Act
Purpose of adaptation
ss. 246 and 247 To enable federal prisoners to vote
s. 93 To provide the 308-district list of electors to registered parties
s. 277 To cancel special ballots where electors were directed to vote in a returning office in the wrong electoral district
s. 190 To enable Canadian Forces members in remote or inaccessible locations to vote
ss. 64(2)(a)
and (b)
To remove the street address of a candidate and of an official agent from the list of grant of poll, for reasons of security
ss. 107(2), 159, 160 and 176 To allow the issuance of transfer certificates to voters who were advised to vote at the wrong polling station
s. 274.1 To enable voters to cast a second vote where party affiliations were confused (first special ballots to not be counted)
s. 169 To enable electors who were registered in the wrong polling division to register in the correct polling division for advance polling
s. 151 To allow the photocopying of ballots on polling day due to insufficient ballots
s. 252 To set aside outer envelope where incarcerated electors have not complied with place of ordinary residence requirement
Division 4 of Part 11 To allow hospital voters who voted by the Special Voting Rules and were included in the wrong electoral district to recast their ballots
s. 122 To establish a polling station in an adjacent polling division of an electoral district due to threat of forest fire
s. 133 To address the issue of a central polling place for polling divisions in New Westminster–Coquitlam having been established, in error, outside that electoral district
s. 235, Division 4 of Part 11 To allow an elector to vote in the returning office on polling day, where a special ballot kit never reached the elector in question

Advance voting

Advance voting is another option for Canadians who are unable to get to their polling stations on election day. Across Canada, 2,702 polling sites were open on June 18, 19 and 21, 2004.

Any elector whose name was not on the revised lists could register with the deputy returning officer to vote at the advance polling station. A total of 1,248,469 valid votes were cast at the advance polls. In 2000, 775,157 valid votes were cast at advance polls.

Voting on election day

At 8:30 a.m. Newfoundland Time on June 28, the first election day polls opened in Newfoundland and Labrador – while it was still 4:00 a.m. in British Columbia. In each of Canada's six time zones, the polls were open for 12 hours.

Voting hours staggered by time zone across the country were first instituted for the 1997 general election, so that the polls would close, and the results be known, at approximately the same time nationally.

On election day, the names of 22,295,670 electors were on the official lists. The lists also indicated which electors had already received a special ballot or voted at the advance polls. Confirmed candidates each received a copy of the official lists for their electoral districts. Any elector not on the list for his or her address could register at his or her polling station with valid identification showing name, address and signature.

The official lists were used on election day in 14,925 poll locations (representing 59,514 polling stations) and 3,172 mobile poll locations (representing 1,110 polling stations) across the country. On average, every electoral district had 197 polling stations, each serving a polling division with an average of 352 electors.

By the time the polls closed across the country, some 764,000 additional voters had registered, bringing the total number on the final lists to 22,466,621.

Late opening of some polling stations

Of the 59,514 stationary polling stations and 1,110 mobile polling stations open on election day, Elections Canada was informed that 56 polling stations in 13 electoral districts did not open on time. Many of these opened within an hour of the appointed time, but 35 polling stations opened up to four hours late. In one electoral district, a polling location was shut down for 20 minutes, affecting 13 polling stations. In each case, the Chief Electoral Officer immediately asked the returning officers concerned to report on the factors that contributed to the delays. In 12 electoral districts, the returning officers provided reports on the events.

  • Five returning officers reported incidents involving election officers who did not arrive or were late for duty: four electoral districts in Quebec (Jonquière–Alma, Louis-Saint-Laurent, Marc-Aurèle-Fortin and Pontiac) and one in British Columbia (Nanaimo–Cowichan).
  • In the electoral district of Charlesbourg (Quebec), a deputy returning officer suffered a sudden illness and had to be replaced by a stand-by deputy returning officer.
  • In Verchères–Les Patriotes (Quebec), a ballot box was delivered to the wrong polling site and time was needed to make the transfer.
  • In Vancouver East (British Columbia), a mobile poll opened late because the returning officer had difficulty in printing proper official lists; the situation was quickly rectified.
  • In Nunavut, spring weather conditions rendered the delivery of election material to one polling station impossible, affecting 20 potential electors. However, no electors had registered at this polling division before election day, and so the polling station remained closed.
  • In the electoral district of Papineau (Quebec), election workers refused to work in a windowless location. The returning officer succeeded in relocating the polling site to another part of the building. The seven polls affected opened 40 minutes late.
  • In the electoral district of Scarborough–Agincourt (Ontario), nine polling sites (housing a total of 35 polling stations) opened late.
  • In the electoral district of Cariboo–Prince George (British Columbia), a fire alarm sounded at a polling site with 13 polls. The location was evacuated for 20 minutes after the opening of the polls.

Handling election day registration

A total of 13,683,570 Canadians voted in the
38th general election.Striving for the best possible lists of electors, our goal is for all electors who show up to vote on election day to already appear on the official list of electors. However, deputy returning officers must be ready to serve electors who want to vote but are not on the list. At the close of the revision period, we had projected that some 800,000 voters would need to register on election day. Extra registration officers were in place in electoral districts identified as likely to have high volumes of registrations; overall, we were prepared for 1.3 million registrations at the polls.

By the time the polls closed on election day, some 764,000 registrations had been processed at the polls. This means that 6.3 percent of ordinary and mobile poll voters had to register before casting a ballot. This represents a significant improvement over the corresponding figures for the 2000 general election, when returning officers processed 1,049,000 registrations on election day, which means that 8.8 percent of voters had to register before casting a ballot.

Counting the ballots

At Elections Canada in Ottawa, staff on election day conducted the last counts of the special ballots that had arrived during the day. Meanwhile, at the close of the polls in each electoral district, ballots cast during the day were being counted at the polls in the presence of witnesses. The results were called in to the returning officer.

On receiving the results, the office of the returning officer entered them into the Event Results System (ERS), a software package that captures poll-by-poll results. A report was also automatically transmitted to the Web site and to the media.

The ERS was used to enter the unofficial results on election night and the official results when the returning officer validated them after election day. A module of the ERS was used to tabulate and distribute to each returning officer the results of the special ballots received from national, international, Canadian Forces and incarcerated electors, which had been counted in Ottawa.

The deputy returning officer must reject a ballot in any of the following cases:

  • it has not been supplied for the election
  • it is not marked
  • it is marked with a name other than the name of a candidate
  • it is marked for more than one candidate
  • there is any writing or mark on it by which the elector could be identified

Nationally, 118,868 ballots were rejected, or barely over 0.9 percent of the 13,683,570 cast – compared with 139,412 (slightly over 1 percent) in the 37th general election.

Preliminary results on election day

Preliminary election results were posted on the Web site starting from 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on June 28, 2004. This was when the last polling stations closed in British Columbia and Yukon, at 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time. The Web site showed live results, with a choice of five views:

  • results for individual electoral districts (by province or territory, electoral district name or postal code)
  • results grouped by major urban centres
  • results by province or territory
  • national results by party
  • results for nine party leaders

Up to four sets of results could be displayed at one time. Each view tracked the number of valid votes and percentage of votes by party, the number of polls reporting and the total number of polls, and the number of registered electors (excluding those who registered on election day) and the preliminary voter turnout.