Meeting Summary – Meeting of the Advisory Committee of Political Parties – April 20, 2009
40th General Election
Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 40th General Election of October 14, 2008
The CEO discussed the key issues presented in his report to Parliament on the administration of the 40th general election. He first touched on the fact that voter turnout at this election continued to fall, this time to an all-time low in Canada's history. He suggested it is a troubling trend that affects all stakeholders in the electoral process and the effort to help reverse the trend involves all of civil society, especially political parties. Another issue addressed in the report is the ever increasing complexity of electoral administration. The legislation is prescriptive in nature and provides little flexibility in the administration of the various processes that underlie a successful election.
The CEO discussed the voter identification requirements and shared preliminary evidence from a post-election survey of electors that a clear majority of electors were aware of the new requirements and did not experience significant problems when voting. He noted a caution that certain groups of electors, including seniors, students, Aboriginal peoples on reserve and homeless electors, faced particular challenges in proving their identity and address. He pointed to ensuring a more consistent application of the requirements by election workers as an area that will need to be addressed through enhanced training. He added that the realities in rural Canada contribute to an inconsistent application of the rules because some staff at polls in rural areas know the electors well and do not ask for proof of identity and address. The CEO suggested that the identification requirements are a significant change to the electoral process and that electors will become familiar with them over time. The final issue that the CEO discussed with members was the complex financing rules and significant regulatory burden for registered entities. He told members he believes there are opportunities to streamline the process and reduce the procedural burden.
The CEO told members that Elections Canada will look at the findings of post-event evaluations taking place to help further identify and establish priority areas that may require improvements. These findings will be part of an integrated report that is intended to be submitted to the House committee. He added that by the end of the year he also plans to submit to Parliament a report containing his recommendations for the better administration of the Act. In this light, he shared with the members that Elections Canada is in the early stages of determining whether adding the voter information card to the list of authorized pieces of identification would help alleviate some electors' challenges when proving their identity and address.
Filing of Electoral Campaign Returns
Mr. François Bernier, Director General, Political Financing, provided an update on the electronic filing of campaign returns (see Political Financing Presentation to the Advisory Committee of Political Parties, April 20, 2009, for more details). Mr. Bernier informed members of the status of candidate returns and the number of requests for extension.
Members shared some opinions on the current financial returns system. Members said the process is complex for new candidates and burdensome on small parties, notably the requirement for candidates to open bank accounts, and in cases when the candidate neither receives nor spends money. It was noted that over time and with experience, Elections Canada is making the process better known and candidates have less need for extensions. It was also noted that the confirmation notice issued by Elections Canada has assisted candidates to meet the various deadlines.
Members suggested that the financial returns system be simplified to audit only the returns of candidates who win or come close to winning, and to have other candidates, whose vote totals do not have an impact on the final results, sign an affidavit stating that they followed the rules.
Mr. Bernier noted the prescriptive nature of the process and the lack of flexibility for Elections Canada to modify or simplify the process. He told members that he would like to expose the challenges of the process to Parliament and potentially recommend different regimes for candidates depending on their expenses and other political financing activities.
Mr. Alain Pelletier, Assistant Director, Parliamentary Affairs and Corporate Research, presented the key results of surveys conducted with electors – both voters and non-voters – candidates and election workers on their experience of the 40th general election. (See Evaluation of the 40th General Election: Key Preliminary Findings for additional details on the objectives, methodology and findings.) An integrated report of the findings from all of the Elections Canada post-mortem evaluations will be prepared and made available this spring. It was noted that the usual trend in survey responses is to overestimate and skew actual results (e.g. turnout rates) and that the research firm took into account the limits and margins of error throughout their evaluation.
Members urged Elections Canada to investigate further the reasons 8% of respondents gave for not voting because of "electoral issues" – issues such as registration, distance of polling station, and voter identification. It was suggested to allocate resources proportionally to the rates reported. For example, members pointed out that a significant amount of resources have been spent examining identification requirements, while only 1% of non-voters reported issues with identification as a reason for not voting. It was also mentioned to keep in mind that a small percentage could equal thousands of electors, which would be significant, especially if it concerned the identification requirements because they affect profoundly the most vulnerable electors. The CEO told members that all factors will be looked at individually.
Members pointed to the reasons cited among the candidates who found it difficult to comply with the nomination requirements, specifically the 54% who had problems getting enough signatures. It was noted that publicly obtaining signatures is perceived by citizens as a potential privacy "invasion" and is a requirement contrary to the spirit of secrecy in the voting process. Members took the opportunity to suggest some changes to the signature requirements. It was suggested that signatures could be collected before the writs are issued to make more time available during the campaign. It was also suggested that the "bigger" political parties be required to collect more signatures than the "smaller" ones. It was noted that the law requires signatures to be collected from electors living in the electoral district in which the candidate is running, which may be a problem for pre-writ collection of signatures. The CEO added that the nomination procedure could also be considered in the recommendations report to Parliament.
Some additional comments were made about the voter identification requirements. A suggestion was made that to mitigate any challenges, instead of spending time examining ways to interpret the provisions of the Act, Elections Canada should focus on building a high-quality and robust list of authorized pieces of identification. In that vein, some concern was expressed about accepting electronic documents. It was also mentioned that Elections Canada should make better known the rules concerning face coverings at the polls.
The presentation led to a number of comments from members on matters outside the scope of the evaluations:
Names of Candidates
- Elections Canada should advertise the names of candidates (e.g. on a poster), so that parties can spend money elsewhere.
- Elections Canada should release the names of people who voted fraudulently to help curb the perception of voter fraud.
All Candidates Debates
- As reported in several cases, some sponsors of all candidates debates did not invite or allow all candidates to participate.
- Some sponsors interpret the provisions in the Act as they see fit.
- Clearer information from Elections Canada at election time about all candidates debates is needed and must be enforced rigorously. If candidates choose to participate, they should be well aware of the consequences if it is not an all candidates meeting as prescribed in the law.
- In the case where not all candidates are participating, such an event should be deemed election advertising and an election contribution should be reported.
- There is a difference to be noted between promoting candidates and providing candidates a voice.
- An extended writ period may help candidates meet their deadlines.
- The 36-day election period is too short to make a message widely known and meet electors face-to-face.
The Voter Information Card as an Authorised Piece of Identification
- The VIC should have enhanced security measures to be accepted as ID, such as being mailed to electors in an unmarked envelope, to ensure there is no misuse.
CEO's Letter Regarding Candidates' Access to Public Places
- This was a great initiative and reduced the number of problems.
- "Access to public places" could be taken to mean access to the public airwaves through an organized all candidates' debate radio broadcast.
Election Information Sent to Seniors Residences and Long-Term Care Facilities
- Elections Canada should be aware that there is little control over the mail and other information sent to seniors residences, i.e. mail and information may not get to the elector or be used as intended by facility authorities.
In response to some of the comments, the CEO and senior Elections Canada staff noted:
- In the case of potential voter fraud, Elections Canada is able to tell if someone voted twice.
- In the context of all candidates' debates, a grey area emerges when trying to reconcile the provisions for electoral contributions and third party activities. While this issue was addressed in the Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 40th General Election of October 14, 2008, it could be revisited in the CEO's recommendations report to Parliament.