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Meeting Summary – Semi-Annual Meeting – September 3, 2015

Elections Canada Advisory Board

Meeting Summary

Semi-Annual Meeting
September 3, 2015

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About the Elections Canada Advisory Board

The mandate of the Elections Canada Advisory Board (ECAB) is to study and provide advice on matters related to Canada's electoral system, including the conduct of elections, electoral participation both by voters and political participants, regulatory compliance and electoral reform.

The advisory board held its most recent semi-annual meeting on September 3, 2015. Presentations were given on a number of topics, including plans for the independent audit of procedures at the polls, an update from the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) on electoral operations, Elections Canada's approach to reporting on the 42nd general election, and the role of ECAB members during the 42nd general election.

Members were given an opportunity to discuss each topic.



1. Update from the Chief Electoral Officer

Presentation

The CEO provided ECAB members with a status report on the 42nd general election, including issues surrounding the early call of the election, work currently being done in the field and at Elections Canada headquarters, and topics being reported in the media regarding the election.

Because of speculation of a spring election call, Elections Canada reached full readiness mode in March 2015; it decided to ramp down election readiness in May, after an election had not been called. The election call on August 2, 2015, came earlier than the agency expected. As it was a long weekend, returning officers and election staff had to be called into work, and the holiday Monday created a delay in opening returning offices – normally open within 24 to 48 hours of an election call. The agency also experienced a high volume of traffic on its online voter registration site and to its call centre.

In addition, the election was called soon after decisions were released on two court proceedings: Frank v. Canada (Attorney General) and Council of Canadians v. Canada (Attorney General).The Frank case, in particular, had a significant impact on the readiness activities of the agency. Until the July 20, 2015, ruling of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Elections Canada had been preparing for all Canadian citizens living abroad to be allowed to vote, based on the May 2014 decision of the Ontario Superior Court. The ruling meant reversing those procedures less than two weeks before the call of the election. With respect to the Council of Canadians proceedings, the agency needed to be ready with contingency plans, in case the Ontario Superior Court granted the injunction sought in early July 2015 against certain aspects of Bill C-23.

A positive aspect of the fixed election date is that Elections Canada was able, for the first time, to offer training to candidates' official agents before election day. The training was scheduled for August, in advance of an expected issue of the writs in September. Despite the early election call, attendance was high (577 participants) and feedback was positive. The timing also allows for official agents to be trained in two phases: (1) before and during the election, and (2) after the election. Work on the general election continues. In the field, the focus is on three areas: targeted revision to register new electors on the list or allow electors to update their address, which will proceed until Elections Canada is ready to produce the voter information cards (VICs); rental of 16,000 polling locations, each of which requires a lease; and fine-tuning of recruitment and training plans for some 250,000 election workers.

At Elections Canada headquarters, there is a continued focus on ensuring access to the vote through adjustments to the Voter Identification Policy, including the addition of First Nations, Métis and Inuit local authority cards as identification for the purpose of registering and voting in person. Elections Canada is working to minimize confusion about voter identification requirements for electors, poll staff and candidates on election day. The agency is also working with a number of stakeholder organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations, to ensure their members receive the information they need to be able to register and vote.

The media have been very active in the early days of the campaign and have covered a wide variety of stories, including expatriate voting and the recent decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario in the Frank case; regulatory aspects, such as third party activities and questions about what constitutes a contribution; and the attempted contact of deceased electors.

Discussion

Members discussed the variety of options for voting throughout the campaign period. The CEO explained that electors can cast a ballot in the returning office as soon as the writs are issued. Other options include voting during the four days of advance polls that fall over Thanksgiving weekend and voting by mail. Offices will also be open for four days on approximately 40 campuses across the country to provide full election services to students. Members speculated on the popularity of the first vote to take place on a Sunday. They discussed the possibility that recruiting election workers would be easier if voting took place over a weekend. Members also discussed the differences between advance polls and early voting, including how and where votes are tabulated.

Members commented on the evolution of technology, including the option for electors to update their address and to register online. The CEO highlighted some of the less visible technological changes affecting the election, including a live list of electors at all returning offices. The new system ensures that when a returning officer makes a change to the list in his or her office, the change is reflected in a live national list. The next step will be to bring the live list to polling locations: when a VIC is scanned, the elector will automatically be marked as having voted on a list updated across the country. The agency plans to test the new system in upcoming by-elections.

Members discussed communications activities that Elections Canada is undertaking throughout the election campaign, including the introduction of social media accounts (Twitter and Facebook) and shareable tools for the 30 to 40 organizations it works with to provide information on when, where and ways to register and vote. In particular, Elections Canada is working with the Assembly of First Nations to give band administrators a better idea of what needs to be done, how they can request a polling station, and what they can do to help their members register and be ready to vote. The agency is also planning a Facebook day, when users of the site will be invited to register to vote.

As in past elections, Elections Canada will send a VIC to all registered voters. The card, which includes tailored information about when, where and ways to vote, remains the main communication tool for reaching electors during a general election. Members also discussed the importance of continuing to use mainstream media to reach those electors who do not use social media. The agency will use post-election surveys to assess the impact of advertising and how well electors retain voting information, and will look at the most efficient ways to reach electors.

Members discussed the continuous revision of the lists of electors and instances where VICs are sent to deceased electors or wrong addresses. The CEO explained that there had been only two media reports of candidates attempting to contact deceased electors, and pointed out that the lists candidates use in the early stages of a campaign are not from Elections Canada, but likely from party databases. He also noted that there is always a short, unavoidable lag time in receiving data about electors and updating the National Register of Electors, so there may be a small number of cases of deceased electors receiving a VIC or being on the list if their death occurs close to election day. Another challenge is that three million Canadians move each year – close to 8,000 per week. During an election, revision efforts are focused on capturing those electors. Based on the timing of the 42nd general election, the agency is targeting neighbourhoods near campuses, where students have just moved. It continues to target areas of high mobility, seniors' residences and new residential developments. Election workers also visit commercial addresses or addresses where a large number of electors are registered to verify information, and they meet with candidates to ask if they believe anything on the list warrants further scrutiny.

Members discussed the accuracy and quality of the list of electors and how they compare with other countries' lists. The Register has approximately 93% coverage with voluntary registration and voting. This is comparable to the percentage of Canadians that Statistics Canada manages to reach during a census. Australia, where registration and voting are mandatory, has 95% coverage. Elections Canada's focus is directed more toward the accuracy of the list, which is currently 89% or 90%. This number will rise throughout the election campaign as targeted revision is carried out. However, despite Elections Canada's best efforts to increase accuracy, electors will continue to register on polling days.

Members discussed registration on election day and possible incentives for voters to make sure they are registered in advance. The incentive being that voting will be much faster for them. In his review of election officers' compliance with election day procedures in the 2011 election, Harry Neufeld found a high rate of administrative errors related to exceptional procedures, like registration on election day. A majority of those errors were minor and did not invalidate ballots, but procedures surrounding election day registration are complicated and errors may be avoided if electors register in advance.



2. Independent Audit of Procedures at the Polls

Presentation

Recent amendments to the Canada Elections Act require the CEO to engage an independent auditor to conduct an audit on the application of polling procedures by deputy returning officers, registration officers and poll clerks at advance polls and on election day. On the previous evening, September 2, the external audit team from PricewaterhouseCoopers presented its preliminary approach for conducting the audit, with a focus on the methodology to be used.

Discussion

Members emphasized that the purpose of the audit is not simply to measure compliance with procedures but to provide information that can help understand root causes and bring systemic improvements to the voting process. While the audit must be conducted in a way that is fully independent, it is the CEO's role to ensure that the purpose of the audit is well articulated and communicated to the auditors and stakeholders.

Members noted the importance for the audit to take into account contextual factors that affect the performance of poll workers and to focus on systems, issues and constraints (e.g. workforce, recruitment and training).

Some members questioned the capacity of any audit firm to adequately understand the complexity of the electoral environment and to make recommendations without significant engagement with electoral experts. It was noted that it is common, in performance audits of this nature, for the audit team to rely on a panel or board to ensure that the audit properly captures the operating environment and makes solid recommendations.

Members recommended that Elections Canada facilitate access to both its own, as well as outside, expertise.



3. Elections Canada's Approach to Reporting on the 42nd General Election

Presentation

Following the 42nd general election, the CEO will produce a series of three reports providing a comprehensive perspective on the event. The CEO will be guided by four electoral management cornerstones in crafting these reports: building trust, providing sound electoral management, strengthening the integrity of the electoral process, and enabling the franchise. These reports help the agency to prioritize new services for electors and political entities as well as frame the CEO's recommendations to Parliament.

The first report, A Chronology of Canada's 42nd General Election, to be published within 90 days of the return of the writs, will be a factual chronology of the election. It will include an explanation of how the federal electoral framework has evolved since the 2011 general election; observations on the beginning of the election campaign; how amendments to the Act were integrated into preparations for the election; and basic data on election results. This report's main purpose is to pave the way for a more detailed assessment of the event. It will introduce themes that will be explored in greater detail in subsequent reports.

The second report, A Retrospective of Canada's 42nd General Election: The Voter Experience, the Candidate Experience, the Administrator's Experience, expected in June 2016, will present a retrospective of the election, including how Elections Canada prepared for, conducted and reported on the general election; an overview of the electoral experiences of electors and political entities; and observations about electoral administration challenges, electoral integrity, compliance at the polls and fraud prevention measures.

The third report, The Chief Electoral Officer's Recommendations for Improving Canada's Electoral Framework: Building Upon the Past and Sustaining the Electoral Process Into the Future, is expected in 2016 and will present the CEO's recommendations for improving Canada's electoral framework. This report will be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, once tabled in the House of Commons, for its consideration.

There are a number of variables for Elections Canada to keep in mind in producing these reports, including the outcome of the election and its possible effect on the reports' timing; a governing party that may have democratic reform initiatives of its own that it wishes to undertake soon after the election; and data limitations that could affect the measurement of impacts or costs.

Discussion

Members discussed the CEO's approach to post-election reporting and the four cornerstones guiding the reports. They encouraged the CEO to generate a dialogue with parliamentarians on known topics such as recruitment, training and changes in technology, as well as issues that may come out of the post-election review. Members also suggested that the CEO focus on new aspects of the electoral process, including impacts of the fixed election date and recent changes to the Canada Elections Act. They agreed that the CEO should provide advice about technical aspects or administrative requirements, but should be cautious in providing opinions or preferences, when it comes to system changes and policy matters.

Members also suggested that Elections Canada have a research and publishing arm to produce studies that would assist the CEO in initiating a dialogue with parliamentarians or in raising topics for study.



4. The Way Forward: Roundtable Discussion

The CEO asked members to consider keeping a journal during the 42nd general election detailing any aspects that interest them, and suggested that their observations could be discussed at a meeting following the election. The CEO explained that this may assist the agency in making improvements and in developing his recommendations to Parliament.

The CEO also invited members to join him and members of the Interjurisdictional Accompaniment Program (IAP) at polling stations and call centres on election day, to gain a better perspective on the election machinery. Approximately 40 visitors from provincial, territorial and international electoral agencies have been invited to join the IAP. The program will also allow Elections Canada to discuss issues and solutions, particularly with respect to technology, with Canadian and foreign delegates.

Members agreed to next meet soon after the election to discuss their observations, the way forward for Elections Canada and the CEO's recommendations to Parliament.



Appendix A: Agenda

AGENDA

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

6:45–8:45 p.m. Dinner

Thursday, September 3, 2015

8:30–11:00 a.m. 1) Welcome and Introduction

11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. 2) Elections Canada's Approach to Reporting on the 42nd General Election

12:00–1:00 p.m. Lunch

1:00–1:45 p.m. 3) Elections Canada Reports: CEO's Recommendations

1:45–2:45 p.m. 4) Role of ECAB Members During GE42

2:45–3:00 p.m. 5) The Way Forward: Roundtable Discussion



Appendix B: Meeting Participants

Mr. Ian Binnie, Co-Chair

Ms. Sheila Fraser, Co-Chair

Mr. Marc Mayrand

Ms. Lise Bissonnette

Mr. Bob Rae

Mr. Roy Romanow (by teleconference)

Mr. Hugh Segal (by teleconference)

Mr. Michael Wilson

Ms. Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire

Mr. Paul Thomas

Ms. Cathy Wong