Safeguards for Counting Votes and Reporting on Results
The federal electoral process has many safeguards, including measures to securely count votes and report on results. There are measures in place to manage the custody of the ballots and ballot box.
Counting votes by hand
Election workers must follow specific procedures and keep records of everything they do. When voting is over, election workers count ballots by hand.
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 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, 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.
- Election workers follow all the steps outlined in their counting procedures:
- 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
On election night, we continually update our website with the latest vote counts as the numbers come in from the 338 ridings.
- On election night, Elections Canada's main office receives the vote counts from all 338 electoral districts across Canada.
- The first vote counts start coming in about 30 minutes after the polls close.
- Elections Canada staff update our website, elections.ca, with the latest vote counts as the numbers come in. We update the site every couple of minutes, as updated vote counts come in.
- A non-profit group of media outlets, the Media Consortium, has a parallel system to gather and publish election results; that system serves as a back-up to Elections Canada's system. The Media Consortium:
- gets a data feed of election results, which they use to update their TV and website information
- posts a staff member at each Elections Canada returning office across the country to call in the results to their headquarters; it usually takes a few hours for election workers to count all the ballots
- The vote count results provided on election night are preliminary results. A few days after election day, returning officers double-check the paperwork to create the official vote counts, which are also published on elections.ca.
- If the results are close, or a candidate feels that mistakes were made in the count, then, under certain conditions, a new count can take place before a judge.