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Safeguards for Counting Votes and Reporting on Results

The federal electoral process has many safeguards, including measures to securely count votes and report the results. There are also measures in place to manage the custody of the ballots and ballot boxes.

Counting votes

Trained and paid election workers count the ballots by hand.

  • The ballot-counting procedures for federal elections are set out in the Canada Elections Act, the law that governs federal elections.
    • While Elections Canada does not use automatic ballot-counting machines, they are successfully and securely used in some other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world. Provincial, territorial and municipal governments determine their own election laws, rules and procedures, as do political parties when it comes to their leadership contests. Election administrators determine whether or not to use technology to support their electoral process based on their context and needs.
  • Candidates, candidates' representatives, or other designated observers are allowed to watch the counting of the votes.
  • Before the count, election workers close the doors of the voting place. No one is allowed to enter or leave.
  • The election officer who counts the votes then:
    • Counts the number of electors who voted
    • Counts the spoiled ballots, places them in an envelope supplied for this purpose and seals it
    • Counts the unused ballots that are not detached from the booklets of ballots, places them in the envelope supplied for this purpose and seals it
    • Totals the number of electors who voted, the number of spoiled ballots and the number of unused ballots to ensure that all ballots provided by the returning officer (the official who manages the election in the electoral district) are accounted for
  • With many people watching, they unfold each ballot and say aloud the names marked on each ballot.
  • Staff tally up the votes, record the tallies on paper, and report the totals to the returning officer, i.e. the official who manages the election for that electoral district.
  • The returning officer records the vote counts in a computer program that securely sends the information to Elections Canada's main office.

Reporting on election results

Once the polls close on election day, we continually update our website with the latest vote counts as the numbers come in from the 338  ridings (electoral districts). If we receive a high number of special ballots, results will likely not be available on election night. Special ballots take longer to count than ordinary ballots, and results may not be known until several days after election day.

  • After the polls close, the head office of Elections Canada starts to receive the vote counts from all 338 ridings across Canada.
  • The first vote counts start coming in about 30 minutes after the polls close.
  • Our website at is automatically updated at regular intervals, as the vote counts come in.
  • Contingency measures, including reporting results by telephone, are in place if there are issues with local computer systems or Internet service in a riding. A non-profit group of media outlets, the Media Consortium, runs a parallel system to receive and publish election results. The Media Consortium has a data feed of election results, which it shares with participating media outlets. That information is then used to update the broadcast and website information of those outlets.
  • The vote counts sent in on election night are preliminary and are not considered final until the validation of the results is done by the returning officer (RO). Preliminary results show votes per candidate by riding and are considered incomplete until all ballots are counted.
    • Under the Canada Elections Act , local special ballots cannot be counted until after polls close and integrity checks are done. These checks include a verification check that the elector returned one special ballot only and did not also vote in person. Depending on the number of local special ballots received, this integrity verification may take up to 24  hours or longer, which would delay the completion of preliminary results.
    • Media outlets are run independently of Elections Canada and may make projections based on incomplete preliminary results.
  • Generally, within a week following election day, the returning officer validates the results in the presence of the assistant returning officer, candidates or their representatives, or other witnesses. The returning officer issues a certificate showing the number of votes for each candidate in the riding, as required by the Act. After the results are confirmed, the returning officer gives the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) the original certificate and sends copies to the candidates and/or their representatives. The validated results are published on the Elections Canada website as they are received.
  • If the results are close or if a candidate feels that mistakes were made in the count, then, under certain conditions, a new count can take place before a judge. An application for a judicial recount must be made to the court within four days of the returning officer's confirmation of results.
  • Once the certificates have been sent to the CEO, the official voting results are published, generally within several months of election day. For by-elections, they are published within 90  days of election day. Official voting results include, by polling division, the number of votes for each candidate, the number of rejected ballots and the number of names on the final lists of electors. They also include, by polling division, the number of changes to the lists of electors made on election day and any other statistical information deemed by the CEO to be important for publication.
  • All concerns about the regularity of an election —other than matters handled through judicial recounts —are addressed through the contested election process. After a person is declared elected, any elector who was eligible to vote in the electoral district or any candidate in the electoral district may bring an application for a contested election before a judge, either in a provincial superior court or in the Federal Court.