Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – June 20 and 21, 2016
Engagement with Returning Officers
Dennis Chronopoulos, RO, Barrie–Innisfil, and Jane Renaud, RO, Outremont, presented the challenges that ROs face when managing a federal election. They provided ACPP members with an overview of their experience and their operational reality, more specifically in terms of recruitment and training, the voters list, identification, the voting process and the polling station.
The current model
The current model is outdated. An elector registered on the list of electors is associated with a specific polling station, which is tied into the elector's address. A deputy returning officer and a poll clerk ensure that the elector exercises his right to vote. This model involves a manual process that uses three tools: paper, pencil and ruler. The voter identification (address and identity) is also done manually. The ROs pointed out that this current model is outdated, complex and inefficient and that it generates a high error rate. ROs also mentioned that the waiting time is unacceptable to voters in the age of technology, and that the current model doesn't serve the parties because the data is not updated and the reports are rendered too late or are poorly suited to their needs.
Recruitment and training
The ROs face a number of issues related to recruitment and training, mostly due to the requirement to hire a very high number of election workers and the inconsistent quality of election workers. The complexity of the training for the manual processes also poses a problem—there is a constantly increasing number of registers, forms, documents and equipment.
ROs cannot start appointing workers before Day 24 of the election because parties need to suggest candidates first. That means that ROs only have 17 days to train an inordinately high number of workers. Each electoral district has to fill an average of 740 positions, two-thirds of which are required for polling day, and it has become increasingly difficult for candidates and political parties to submit lists of potential election workers. The high last-minute drop-out rate adds an extra layer of stress for training and recruitment officers. The list of poll workers is always changing; therefore, it takes longer for ROs to provide candidates with the final list of election workers.
Meeting the requirements for bilingual staff members at each polling location is a challenge as well. In rural areas, ROs often cannot find anyone who speaks the second official language, and this does not take into account First Nations reserves, where they may prefer that a third language be spoken. Because of this, ROs had to recruit workers to drive to communities at some distance in order to provide bilingual services at as many locations as possible.
The List of Electors
Under the current model, polling station staff works with paper copies of the multiple versions of the list, which is a slow and error-prone process. A copy of the Preliminary List of Electors is provided to candidates as soon as possible after the issue of the writ. The Day 19 List (the first list), the Revised List of Electors (Day 11) and the Official List of Electors (between Days 6 and 3) are also provided to candidates. Paper lists need to be bound and printed on different coloured paper for advance and regular polls and candidates have to pick up the lists themselves, or send their registered agents.
Additionally, the candidates can request the Statements of Electors Who Voted (both at advance and regular polls) after each day, and ROs are required to provide it the following day. Photocopying the Statements of Electors Who Voted after each day and providing it to each candidate is time consuming and expensive.
Under the CEA in its current form, the use of the voter information card (VIC) as identification is prohibited.
Electors who do not receive bills in their name or have a driver's licence have difficulties providing proof of residence, and they are unhappy that they cannot use the VIC to do so, even if it is accompanied by a second piece of identification.
Despite the fact that it cannot be used as a proof of address, the VIC contains a lot of valuable information on the elector and on the polling place location. It also eliminates manual transcription of information and the risk of errors; it accelerates and facilitates the flow of operations; and it simplifies the process of identification for certain target groups of voters.
The polling station
Electors are currently required to vote at a specific polling station, based on their address. This polling station is staffed by a deputy returning officer and a poll clerk, and if one of them is absent, electors cannot vote. If a polling station is busy on voting day, the elector must wait and does not have the option of voting at another polling station because each polling station has its own list of electors, which is bound and distributed to the deputy returning officer. This current process impedes the good flow of services offered to electors.
Round table discussion
Members asked questions about bingo cards. ROs explained that an automated and electronic bingo card would contain the same information as the printed one, but the electronic version would be much easier, with clear and consolidated information updated in real time. The CEO added that the agency is exploring the possibility of developing an online portal where candidates could access essential information, such as bingo cards, to facilitate the whole process for both candidates and Elections Canada.
Elections Canada was asked to explain the original intent of the Day 24 rule to start appointing election workers. The CEO answered that it was a checks and balances logic: it would allow parties to check on each other. As for the timing, it can be hypothesized that candidates needed time to get organized before they could provide names. ROs clarified that they are now looking for the freedom to ask parties to provide names without having to wait that late to start recruiting.
When asked about how much outreach they do between elections, Elections Canada replied that it indeed intends to do more outreach and get field liaison officers more involved and engaged during and between elections.
Members raised the possibility of hiring more 16- and 17-year-olds and integrating youth employment during elections with civic education classes; Elections Canada explained that this is negotiated at the electoral district level and that jurisdictions differ from one province to another.
It was suggested that the language issue could be resolved with the help of Service Canada's interpreters, who are available by phone. The CEO pointed out that the Commissioner of Official Languages expects the same level of service at every polling station. Therefore, distance interpretation would not be enough to meet those standards.
The issue of inconsistency between ridings and ROs and how rules are applied was brought up. The ROs explained that they do their best to interpret the CEA, and that they count on Elections Canada Headquarters for advice to see if they are interpreting it properly. Overall, elections workers strive to approach the CEA with fairness, understand what the intent of the CEA is and apply it consistently.
Finally, members asked about access to buildings for candidates, which remains a key issue, as registered candidates are sometimes denied access. They usually call ROs to solve the issue, but members asked if there is anything else Elections Canada could do to alleviate obstacles. ROs mentioned that they don't think anything else can be done, and that they face the same problem when they do revision. The CEO reminded parties that the protocol is to show Elections Canada's letter, then go to the RO, who may escalate to Legal Services and the Commissioner of Canada Elections.