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Meeting Summary – Semi-Annual Meeting – February 4, 2016

Elections Canada Advisory Board

Meeting Summary

Semi-Annual Meeting
February 4, 2016

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About the Elections Canada Advisory Board

The mandate of the Elections Canada Advisory Board (Advisory Board) 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 February 4, 2016. Presentations covered a number of topics including the conduct of the 42nd general election, Elections Canada's plans for modernization and renewal, and Elections Canada's role in and support for discussions related to electoral reform. The meeting was also an opportunity for the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, to meet with and engage members of the Advisory Board.


1. Informal Discussion with the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions

The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, had the opportunity to meet with and hear from members of the Advisory Board on various issues, including electoral reform.


2. Update from the Chief Electoral Officer

The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) provided an overview of the 42nd general election and some highlights of what the agency will be doing as it wraps up the general election and moves toward the next.

The 42nd general election was historic and record-setting for a number of reasons including campaign length, advance polls on a Sunday, cost, number of electors and increase in turnout. In addition, the 42nd general election saw 197 new MPs, including 88 female MPs and 10 Aboriginal MPs.

While a number of these factors, such as advance voting on a Sunday, provided opportunities for improved efficiency for electors and Elections Canada, others, such as the early call of the election, presented unique challenges.

Elections Canada implemented several new initiatives during the election, many of which made use of technology, including online voter registration, online application for special ballots and the use of social media.

Online voter registration was widely used. However, like any new system, there were limitations. There is no national digital authentication service in Canada that Elections Canada could leverage. The closest we have is a repository of driver's licence data for all provinces and territories except Quebec. This was used to confirm registrations and register voters who were not already on the National Register of Electors. This meant that those without a driver's licence, or for whom Elections Canada does not have driver's licence information, could not be added to the voters' list through online voter registration. There were also issues with some address types, including for electors on First Nation reserves, where physical addresses are not always used, or for rural electors who may have a mailing address instead of a physical address on their identification.

Promoting the Elections Canada website to electors as the place to provide feedback was a great success. Elections Canada received feedback and more than 14,000 complaints, all of which are important for the agency to make improvements for future elections. Another new feature on the Elections Canada website—the ability to apply for a special ballot online—was used extensively, especially by those who live abroad.

For the first time in a general election, the agency communicated with electors using various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Elections Canada used the accounts to remind electors about registration and voting day and to provide information about where, when and ways to vote. The agency also monitored social media to gather intelligence and to know when and if issues were arising.

There were a number of challenges during the 42nd general election—some new and some reoccurring—that will need to be addressed moving forward. One persistent challenge is the recruitment of election workers. The CEO looks forward to the report on the independent audit of election workers, which will be available in the next 1.5 months.

The increased turnout—a net of 2.8 million new electors—also meant challenges for the agency, including long lineups at some advance polling stations. Because of requirements such as the elector's signature in the record of votes cast, and the higher number of electors to be served at polling stations during advance polls than on election day, the current system is not equipped to handle such large numbers at advance polls. The significant increase in voting at advance polls and through the Special Voting Rules is a signal to Elections Canada that electors want to be able to vote when and where it is convenient for them.

Elections Canada continues to make improvements to ensure accessibility; however, expectations of electors also grow. We have to find a balance that is convenient for the majority of electors, not just when it comes to physical accessibility, but to access overall. For example, having to wait an hour in line at an advance poll, or having to travel a long distance to vote can also be barriers for some electors.

Consideration should also be given to the length of the electoral period and to holding polling day on a weekend.

Information about issues that came up during the election will be released in the post-election studies, but what is clear is that the expectations of electors are shifting and Elections Canada, as an agency, has to understand what those expectations are as it goes forward.

There will be three post-election reports following the 42nd general election. The first, a statutory report on the conduct of the election, will be tabled this week. The next report, which will be public in June 2016, will provide a retrospective of the general election based on our various post-election studies and analyses. The third report, expected in September 2016, will include recommendations for legislative change.

The agency is also developing a strategic plan for the 43rd general election, which will take two tracks: the modernization of the voting system and the implementation of the government's electoral reform agenda. The agency will need to develop a number of scenarios into its modernization plans to account for the outcome of the electoral reform exercise. The challenge going forward will be to adjust the agenda for modernizing Elections Canada's services to the government's electoral reform agenda, which may affect how those services work.


3. Elections Canada's Plans for Modernization and Renewal

Presentation

The increase in voters who cast a ballot before election day is constant and regular, and climbs with each election. The current voting process, in particular for advance polls, is labour intensive and controls are paper-based, resulting in delays. The introduction of technology to automate the process would preserve integrity while ensuring the efficiency of the voting process.

It is important to ensure accessibility from the electors' point of view, as long lineups become an obstacle. With this in mind, Elections Canada will increase the number of advance polling stations, streamline the business process at its polling locations and computerize the voters' list. With computerized voters' lists, election workers will have the ability to check the list in real time from any polling place, so that electors will have the capacity to vote anywhere in their riding, if Parliament wishes so as part of the electoral reform. Our objective is to have the computerization of the voters' list in place for the 43rd general election.

In order to be ready to implement a wide array of potential changes to our voting system, the agency will study electronic voting and counting interfaces. Such an interface, which could be offered in a supervised environment, like the polling place, would provide an electronic way to cast and count ballots and assign seats in the House of Commons according to a more complex formula. This initiative may assist the agency in implementing a new electoral system, once the government's electoral reform review is completed.

Discussion

Advisory Board members were generally supportive of computerization to make the administration of the electoral process more efficient. Concerns were raised regarding Internet voting, stating that there are issues with accessibility and security, and that there is currently no secure system. Members also indicated that there could be a need to clarify computerization versus electronic voting, understanding that computerization refers to the use of electronic lists by election officers.

Members discussed a number of things for the agency to keep in mind as it implements more computerization in the voting process, including accessibility and comfort with technology, resistance to change from certain groups, expectations and security. Members talked about the democratic customs of voting in person, and warned against losing sight of respect for the election process. Members also reminded the agency to keep in mind that political parties need to access information on those have voted.

With regard to accessibility and comfort with technology, members urged the agency to consider seniors, who make up the largest percentage of voters, and other Canadians who do not have access to computers or the Internet, or who may not be comfortable with the computerization of the voting process. Members pointed out that this group of voters should be treated as a minority whose accessibility to the vote should be protected as the process becomes more reliant on computers. Members also discussed how the computerization of voters' lists may affect the skills necessary for poll workers who can be trained to a certain extent, but who must also have a level of comfort with computers. Members cautioned against the expectation that computerization of the voting process will mean an increase in voter turnout. Some argued that turnout increases when people are engaged and not because the process is less difficult or quicker.

Members discussed the communication that will be required to educate Canadians about the planned changes to a more computerized voting process. Communication, it was suggested, needs to be clear and must allow voters time to get used to the changes and maintain their confidence in the process. There must also be clear communication about the changes in order to avoid confusion. Members recommended the continued use of social media to engage groups, like youth and young Aboriginal people, who have been historically marginalized, and are increasingly using social media to engage.


4. Electoral Reform

Presentation

The 2015 general election platform of the governing Liberal Party of Canada and the Speech from the Throne, delivered on December 4, 2015, contain a number of electoral and democratic reform initiatives that will affect the Canada Elections Act and the administration of elections. For some of those initiatives, the role of Elections Canada is well defined; however, for others, like the reform of the electoral system, the agency's role is less defined. The agency asked for the Advisory Board's advice on the role it should play in that process.

Discussion

Advisory Board members discussed three aspects of the role that Elections Canada could play during Parliament's review of democratic reform, namely advice and communications with the all-party parliamentary committee, undertaking and providing research, and the possibility of an educating role.

Members generally agreed that Elections Canada should provide technical advice during the study of electoral reform and offer warnings if proposed initiatives are impractical or if there are obstacles to their implementation that would negatively impact electoral administration. Members also advised the CEO to explain, early in the process, the time that will be needed to properly implement changes.

Finally, Advisory Board members discussed different roles that the agency could fill with respect to public education about electoral systems. While some members thought that Elections Canada would have a role in educating Canadians about various possible electoral systems, others were concerned that by providing information about the options, the agency would inevitably be asked for its opinion about the best system for Canada. Some members were also concerned that by taking on the role of educating about possible electoral systems, Elections Canada would be seen as advocating that something is wrong with the current electoral system. Members agreed that the agency will have a role in educating electors if a new system is chosen and implemented.


5. The Way Forward: Roundtable Discussion

As the second anniversary of the creation of the Advisory Board draws near, members held a discussion about the future composition of the Advisory Board and how it can best assist the CEO going forward. Members advised the CEO to consider the balance of continuity of membership with the need for different kinds of expertise as the political context now shifts to electoral reform and as the agency looks at introducing technology in the voting process.


Appendix A: Agenda

AGENDA

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

6:30–7:30 p.m.

Dinner


Thursday, February 4, 2016

8:45–9:30 a.m.

1) Meeting and informal discussion with Hon. Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions


9:30–10:45 a.m.

2) Welcome and Introduction

  • Welcome from Co-Chairs and Adoption of Agenda
  • Approval of Meeting Summary: September 3, 2015
  • CEO Update
  • Roundtable Discussion

10:45–11:00 a.m.

Break


11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

3) Elections Canada's Plans for Modernization and Renewal

  • Presentation and Discussion: "Vision of Planned Improvements for the 43rd General Election"

12:00–1:00 p.m.

Lunch


1:00–2:15 p.m.

4) Electoral Reform

  • Presentation and Roundtable: "Elections Canada's Role and Support for Discussions Related to Electoral Reform"

2:15–2:45 p.m.

5) Role of Advisory Board Members Going Forward

  • Presentation and Roundtable: "Discussion on the Role of Advisory Board Members with Regard to Electoral Reform"

2:45–3:00 p.m.

6) 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

Ms. Roberta Jamieson

Mr. John Manley

Mr. Hugh Segal

Ms. Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire

Mr. Paul Thomas

Mr. Michael Wilson (by teleconference)

Ms. Cathy Wong