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The Electoral System of Canada

Main Activities

What does Elections Canada do to carry out its mandate?

Managing Field Operations

Preparing, managing and delivering field operations for electoral events are central to the mandate of Elections Canada. Among a multitude of operational tasks, the main ones are to:

Maintaining the National Register of Electors

Since 1997, Elections Canada has maintained the National Register of Electors, a permanent list of Canadians who are qualified to vote. The Register contains each elector's name, gender, date of birth, mailing and residential address, electoral district, polling division and unique identifier.

The Register is maintained:

The Register is used to produce:

During an election period, address updates, deletions and new registrations refine the lists.

The personal information of electors in the Register is protected under the Canada Elections Act and the Privacy Act. The Canada Elections Act allows an elector to remove his or her name from the Register by notifying the Chief Electoral Officer in writing.

The limited information obtained from federal data sources (the Canada Revenue Agency and Citizenship and Immigration Canada) may be gathered only with the consent of the individual concerned and may be used for electoral purposes only. Improper use of electoral information is an offence under the Canada Elections Act.

An elector who does not want his or her personal information to be shared with other jurisdictions for electoral purposes may notify the Chief Electoral Officer in writing. Opting out of the Register or declining to share one's information in the Register does not affect the elector's right to vote.

In addition to the National Register of Electors, Elections Canada maintains a register of electors who are temporarily living outside Canada. This International Register of Electors includes, among other information, the electors' electoral districts and their civic and mailing addresses. Canadian citizens abroad typically represent a fraction of a percent of the voters in a general election.

Electoral Geography

Making it possible for more than 24 million electors to vote within a 12-hour period is no easy task. Elections Canada assigns each elector to the polling station that serves the polling division where he or she resides. Efficient management of this process relies heavily on keeping electoral maps and geographic tools up to date and accurate. Elections Canada carries out various tasks in this area.

Geographic Information System

Elections Canada's geographic databases provide the framework for locating electors in the National Register of Electors in an electoral district and assigning them to a polling division ("geocoding"), and for readjusting electoral boundaries after a 10-year census. Political parties receive digitized versions of electoral maps as well as access to the related web application, GeoExplore, which returning officers use to manage elections in their electoral district.

The Elections Canada website allows electors to enter their postal code to obtain information on their electoral district and member of Parliament and, during elections, the location of their polling station and contact information for their local Elections Canada office.


Elections Canada is committed to inclusive, universal and varied services that respond to the needs of all electors.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote in federal elections in Canada. To make the process accessible, the Canada Elections Act provides for a variety of voting methods and allows the Chief Electoral Officer to advertise the services it offers for assisting voters with disabilities. It gives Elections Canada the responsibility to ensure that polling places have level access. The agency has worked to remove the obstacles voters may encounter by making continual improvements to the electoral process, including communications and administrative processes.

In 2010, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued a decision requiring Elections Canada to implement measures that would increase the accessibility of the electoral process for electors with a physical disability. Elections Canada has put in place various processes to comply with this requirement.

To ensure accessibility, the voting process includes the following features:

Election officers and community relations officers also receive training on meeting the accessibility needs of people with varied disabilities.

In 2014, the agency launched its Advisory Group for Disability Issues. This fulfilled a commitment by Elections Canada to ongoing consultations with groups that represent people with disabilities. An early outcome of this consultation came in February 2015, with the development of an accessibility policy and service offering. Among other things, the policy describes the mechanism for feedback, complaints and inquiries from individuals concerning accessibility. Elections Canada welcomes any input that will help it to better serve persons with disabilities.

The agency intends to continue working with the disability community to better understand accessibility issues and, as far as possible, reduce any barriers.

Operational and Strategic Planning

Elections Canada must be ready at all times to deliver a federal electoral event, be it a general election, by-election or referendum. Maintaining this state of readiness requires thorough planning and coordination of all activities, and a high degree of ability to adjust quickly as political events unfold.

Elections Canada has developed numerous customized planning tools to prepare for upcoming electoral events and manage the timely deployment of services after an election has been called. (For more information on what happens during an election, see General Election Countdown under the section The Federal Electoral Process.) A typical electoral event readiness plan tracks more than 800 high-level, interrelated activities that must all be completed before an election. Advanced management information systems help monitor the progress of an electoral event, at both national and local levels, against pre-set targets and benchmarks.

Strategic planning enables Elections Canada to develop and coordinate longer-term initiatives to address emerging national trends and improve election management.

Policy, Research and Analysis

Elections Canada on the Web

The most up-to-date information on the Canadian electoral process is accessible worldwide on the Elections Canada website at The site provides a wealth of information on all aspects of federal elections, including:

  • the Voter Information Service, which allows electors to enter their postal code and learn how, when and where to register and vote
  • the Online Voter Registration Service, which electors can use to find out if they are registered to vote in federal elections, to update their address or to complete their registration
  • profiles of individual federal electoral districts, with maps, contact information for the returning officer and a list of all candidates during elections
  • voter registration forms, along with instructions, for Canadian electors in or outside Canada who cannot or do not wish to vote at a polling station during an election
  • sections for political entities that inform them about their rights and obligations and provide guidance, handbooks and reporting tools
  • written opinions, guidelines and interpretation notes about the application of the Canada Elections Act to political entities, issued by Elections Canada on its own initiative or at the request of a political party
  • a live feed of election results on election night
  • a searchable section of financial returns from all political entities
  • media information, publications and teaching resources and materials
  • information about federal representation and electoral boundaries readjustment

Elections Canada is constantly connected with the electorate and the broader environment, including Parliament, the academic community, the media and international organizations. These connections enable it to:

Outreach Program

The Canada Elections Act mandates the Chief Electoral Officer to:

Elections Canada has identified groups for targeted outreach based on the electoral participation barriers they face particularly the barrier of a lack of information about when, where and how to register and vote. The groups include youth and students, Aboriginal people, seniors in long-term care facilities, ethnocultural communities, electors with disabilities and electors who are homeless.

Elections Canada works with national and regional organizations that are able to reach members of these groups. The agency:

Overseeing Political Financing

The Canada Elections Act establishes a detailed set of political financing rules for electoral district associations, nomination contestants, leadership contestants, third parties, political parties and candidates in federal elections. The rules were most recently amended by Bill C-23 in 2014.

Elections Canada's responsibilities in the area of political financing include the following:

Taking Advantage of Information and Communication Technology

New technology is integral to how Elections Canada manages and delivers elections. The agency carries out a number of activities with this technology:

International Co-operation

Since 1980, Elections Canada has contributed to multilateral and bilateral forums dedicated to the electoral process.

Elections Canada is actively engaged with a number of international organizations, partner electoral management bodies (EMBs) and ongoing forums of experts to identify, share and contribute to best practices in electoral administration. Elections Canada also receives foreign delegations who want to learn more about the Canadian electoral system.

For past Canadian general elections, Elections Canada has hosted visitors' programs, bringing together a number of guests, including international electoral organizations, foreign EMBs, and chief electoral officers of Canadian provinces and territories, who learn first-hand about the Canadian electoral process.

At the Governor in Council's request, Elections Canada may assist and co-operate in electoral matters with electoral agencies in other countries or international organizations.

Footnote 1 The Special Voting Rules are set out under Part 11 of the Canada Elections Act. They allow Canadian electors to cast their ballot by mail or in person at their local Elections Canada office.