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Best Practices for Ensuring Compliance with Registration and Voting Procedures

3.0 National Consultations

The national consultations were conducted through interviews with key informants from EMBs in each of the Canadian provinces and territories. The interview questions were open-ended to allow for detailed qualitative responses. Questions focused on issues related to compliance, including voting services design, training and recruitment, and monitoring and auditing. The complete interview guide is included in Annex A.

Before scheduling interviews, an invitation letter from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada was e-mailed to each provincial and territorial chief electoral officer. Follow-up scheduling calls were then made. Interviews were conducted by telephone in English or French, as requested, and lasted for approximately 45 minutes. In some cases, participants submitted written responses instead of, or in addition to, participating in an interview. Participants were sent an interview guide in advance so that they could provide considered responses.

Many jurisdictions described innovative approaches for improving compliance at the polls. However, as these approaches have not yet been formally evaluated or audit tested it is not possible to validate their effectiveness. In addition, there are significant variations between Canadian provinces and territories in terms of geography, demographics and electoral environment. A practice that is effective in one province or territory may not be equally effective in another.

Findings from the interviews with provincial and territorial EMBs are summarized below. They are organized under three topics:

Each topic is divided into three parts. The first provides a brief overview of practices in other jurisdictions, while the second and third present an analysis of qualitative findings.

3.1 Voting Services Design

With a few exceptions, Canadian provinces and territories use a voting services model that is comparable to that used at the federal level. Generally, each polling station is staffed by a deputy returning officer and a poll clerk, or their equivalents.

These staff members split various administrative tasks, including (where applicable) verifying voter ID, striking out names on voters lists, issuing and initialling ballots, and filling out statements of electors who have voted.Footnote 1 At polling places with multiple polling stations, an information officer may be assigned the responsibility of greeting electors and guiding them to their designated station or table. Finally, in larger polling places, a central poll supervisor may be employed to oversee procedures at the polls and guide electors.

In NB, ON, AB and BC, the Chief Electoral Officer has the authority to pilot alternative voting methods or administrative procedures at by-elections or general elections.

Challenges Encountered

Several jurisdictions noted that procedural requirements for registration and voting can be complex or confusing for poll staff. The administrative burden imposed by these requirements, combined with fatigue resulting from long workdays, may increase the likelihood of errors at the polls. It was also suggested that requirements may be particularly onerous for older poll staff or those with limited literacy.

In addition, jurisdictions reported that errors may result from the fact that a given poll worker often works at multiple elections for different levels of government. The differences between federal, provincial and municipal procedures and requirements may create confusion for both voters and staff.

Effective Practices

Streamlining Services

Two examples of attempts to simplify or innovate voting services delivery have been implemented in NB and BC.

In 2010, NB adopted a new voting services model based on a specialization of tasks. Dubbed the "bank teller" model, the NB system assigns each poll worker a narrow function at a voting location. The system operates as follows: First, a constable conducts a pre-screening of voters. An elector who is qualified to vote at the location, who has registered and who meets ID requirements is referred to an "express" line, where a voters list officer strikes out the elector's name and issues a "token," which is a slip of paper noting the elector's designated polling division. Next, a ballot-issuing officer takes the token, identifies the elector's polling division and issues a ballot. Electors who do not meet the requirements to vote are referred to a "full service" line, where they can receive assistance as required.

The rationale behind this system is that a narrow focus on a limited range of tasks will increase each staff member's level of familiarity and proficiency with his or her assigned work, leading to increased efficiency, shorter lineups and a higher quality of work. While the new system has not been comprehensively evaluated, initial reactions among staff and voters have been positive.

In BC, a recent initiative was introduced in response to perceived inefficiencies and duplication of effort at the polls. Previously, unregistered voters were required to provide ID and information at a registration table, and then again at a polling station; they were also compelled to return to the registration table to correct minor changes (e.g. correcting a misspelled name on the voters list). To streamline the process, Elections BC integrated voter registration forms into the general voting book ("blue pages"), thus eliminating stand-alone registration tables. The objective of these changes was to increase efficiency and make the voting process more "voter-centric" for general, absentee and advance voting.

3.2 Recruitment and Training

In most jurisdictions, returning officers or their equivalents are responsible for recruiting poll staff, including deputy returning officers, poll clerks and interpreters, while in four jurisdictions (NL, PE, SK, YT), deputy returning officers are responsible for recruiting their own poll clerks.

Jurisdictions cited a variety of methods to recruit poll staff. These included posting advertisements online, using public service announcements, and conducting recruitment visits to schools and community learning centres (NU). Four jurisdictions (ON, MB, SK and AB) also maintain lists of previous poll staff or enumerators. In five jurisdictions (PE, NS, NB, QC, ON), political parties are expected to provide lists of nominees.

Training for poll staff typically lasts two to three hours and generally includes a combination of classroom instruction, multimedia training and hands-on practice or role play. Generally, the returning officer or the assistant returning officer is responsible for delivering the training. Nearly all jurisdictions provide printed guidance materials (e.g. checklists, manuals) to assist workers at the polls.

Challenges Encountered

Interviews did not reveal widespread challenges in recruiting poll staff. However, one jurisdiction (ON) mentioned that it was difficult to find enough staff in light of the numbers required and the limited availability of training sessions. Another (NT) noted that recruitment could be particularly challenging in small or remote communities.

Training challenges cited by jurisdictions included large training groups (and resultant variations in learning styles and competencies), an aging pool of recruits, limited literacy, no-shows, and a lack of consistency in training across regions. Covering all topics was also cited as a concern, with one jurisdiction noting that there was not enough time to train staff on important but non-process-oriented topics such as accessibility, privacy and respect in the workplace.

Effective Practices

Evaluating Poll Staff

Though several jurisdictions emphasized the importance of recruiting quality staff as a means of ensuring compliance, most do not apply criteria in the selection of staff and generally recruit anyone who is available to work and attend training.

Exceptions are NL, SK, AB and YT, which conduct evaluations of poll staff following elections and refer to these evaluations in order to rehire high-quality staff or screen out those who have made errors in the past. Similarly, BC uses a merit-based selection process using competency criteria developed through consultation with other EMBs.

Involving Political Parties

Involving political parties in the recruitment process may also confer certain benefits. One jurisdiction noted that lists of nominees from political parties resulted in a higher retention rate of personnel and increased efficiency in comparison to recruitment by open competition.

The importance of providing training for political party representatives or scrutineers was also mentioned. PE, for example, stressed the importance of establishing good relationships with parties and emphasizing to them the importance of nominating high-quality staff. In 2011, Elections PEI offered information sessions that provided parties with guidance on the electoral process as prescribed by legislation.

Developing Guidance Materials

Two jurisdictions (MB, NT) stated that their training specifically addresses the issue of compliance; however, many others simply emphasized the general importance of training and cited recent improvements to their methods. NB, for example, recently introduced an experimental training system that involves setting up mock polling places, online training and educational PowerPoint presentations. QC has also designed a more rigorous training program and a revamped guide for poll staff with the goal of improving compliance. Three jurisdictions (NB, QC, NT) are also using or are transitioning to expert trainers to instruct staff, while trainers in NB are encouraged to visit polling places and monitor procedures on election day.

Offering Adequate Pay

Adequate pay for poll staff was also cited as an important consideration. NS recently increased wages for all poll staff positions in the pending provincial election in order to attract and retain high-quality workers.

3.3 Monitoring and Auditing

Monitoring, for the purpose of this report, refers to the act of supervising or overseeing activities at the polls, while auditing refers to a review of processes following an election.

All Canadian jurisdictions conduct monitoring activities at the polls to some extent. Monitoring is carried out by designated supervisory staff, regular poll staff, operational staff or a combination thereof. It may be formal or informal in nature, and may or may not involve specialized tools such as guides or checklists. Scrutineers, political party representatives or both are also present in all jurisdictions and monitor procedures at the polls to various degrees.

Most provinces and territories also conduct reviews after elections. Reviews generally involve debriefing sessions with staff members and surveys of electors or poll staff. Formal audits of ballot box content or voting documentation are relatively unusual, though some exceptions were noted.

Challenges Encountered

Generally, monitoring and auditing activities proceed smoothly. Jurisdictions did not identify any major challenges in these activities. Furthermore, audits and reviews in most jurisdictions did not reveal widespread or systemic compliance issues, though BC and YT indicated that audits revealed some administrative errors.

The presence and behaviour of scrutineers were mentioned as challenges in some jurisdictions. Two (NB, MB) noted that parties and candidates had difficulties in finding sufficient numbers of scrutineers, while NS and YT claimed that scrutineers were not always aware of their roles. For instance, it was noted that some scrutineers were adversarial and were more focused on overturning election results than on ensuring compliance at the polls.

Effective Practices

Monitoring Procedures

Seven jurisdictions (NB, ON, MB, SK, AB, BC, NT) employ supervisory staff to oversee procedures at the polls. Typically, the supervising staff member has previous experience as a poll worker and receives supplementary training. In addition to their oversight role, supervisors may be responsible for handling exceptional situations or disputes. In some jurisdictions, oversight may be carried out by other staff, including returning officers (PE, NS), training officers (NB), operational staff (BC), deputy returning officers or information officers (YT), and field liaison officers (SK).

Most jurisdictions recommended on-site supervision as an effective practice for ensuring compliance. They noted that supervisors perform a quality control function and, furthermore, free regular poll staff to focus on mainstream tasks instead of dealing with exceptional situations.

Some jurisdictions also said that scrutineers appointed by candidates can play an important role in ensuring high levels of compliance. The need to provide adequate training for political party representatives and scrutineers was also mentioned by two jurisdictions. One (NS) highlighted the need for increased dialogue with parties and advocated actively encouraging scrutineers to take responsibility for compliance at the polls. The other (BC) indicated that scrutineers currently have wide oversight powers in that province, with the authority to inspect documents, inspect the sequence of voters, look at registration materials, and use technology in the polling place to communicate with their candidate's or party's campaign office.

Auditing Procedures

In some cases, EMBs perform formal audits of ballot box contents or related voting procedures documentation after an election. Following each general election, SK has routinely performed a random audit of three ballot boxes per electoral district, using a pre-established set of standards as the baseline. The audits are performed with the objective of identifying gaps in staff competencies and strengthening the training program.

BC also routinely conducts in-depth voting book audits following an election. This involves reviewing all voting books and applying a comprehensive checklist to identify trends.

In YT, it was reported that the Chief Electoral Officer personally opens all ballot boxes and completes a written evaluation of every ballot box and poll document in reference to a checklist. The Chief Electoral Officer then provides feedback to returning officers, who use this information to identify and address training gaps.

In Summary

Three main approaches for improving compliance at the polls can be drawn from the national consultations. First, voting services models can be designed with compliance in mind and minimize, where possible, the administrative burden on staff. Second, staff can be screened for basic literacy and competence before being hired. They should also receive training that is responsive to their needs and learning styles, including sufficient hands-on practice. Finally, adequate supervision at the polls, along with a robust post-election review process, can help to identify errors and become the basis for making adjustments to forms, procedures and training as required for the purposes of improving compliance in subsequent elections.


Footnote 1 The statements of electors who voted on polling day, commonly known as "bingo sheets," assist campaign offices in their efforts to identify and contact electors who have not yet voted. They must be completed by poll staff at regular intervals.