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Compliance Review – Interim Report – A Review of Compliance with Election Day Registration and Voting Process Rules

Annex G – Summary of National and International Compliance Research

Best Practices for Ensuring Compliance with Registration and Voting Procedures

The study on best practices has two objectives: to identify the key factors that result in administrative errors on election day or at advance polls, and to identify effective practices for mitigating these errors and for ensuring a high level of compliance with rules and standards on the part of poll staff.

The study includes three components:

  1. A literature review of academic publications and administrative reports from electoral management bodies and governments, both in Canada and abroad.
  2. National consultations with chief electoral officers and other staff of Canadian provincial and territorial electoral management bodies, using open-ended interviews. The interviews were conducted by telephone, and participants were sent an interview guide in advance so that they could provide considered responses. Participants also had the option of submitting written responses. All provinces and territories participated in the study.
  3. International consultations, drawing from two lines of inquiry. The first was an online survey of representatives of independent electoral management bodies. The survey, which was available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, was sent to 106 countries. Surveys that were not properly authenticated were discarded, leaving a final sample size of n=27. Responses were received from countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The second line of inquiry was an online discussion forum on the ACE Practitioners' Network, whose membership comprises international experts in the area of elections and electoral administration. Elections Canada posted a question on the subject of improving compliance and invited members to share their knowledge of effective practices. The question garnered 18 responses.

Findings from these three components suggest that effective practices for ensuring poll staff comply with registration and voting procedures fall under three broad themes.

First, electoral requirements both legal and administrative should be designed with compliance in mind; that is, they should be clear, provide well-defined roles and responsibilities, and should not impose excessive demands on poll staff. Models in which staff are assigned a narrow range of specialized tasks may lead to increased staff proficiency and improved quality of work. The use of appropriate technological tools, automated registration processes and simplified procedures for verifying ID may also prove useful for increasing compliance.

Second, effective recruitment and training can improve compliance. Study participants, including jurisdictions in Canada, countries and experts, emphasized the importance of hiring the right people and ensuring that they are well trained. Many of those contacted recommended, at the very least, that staff be screened for literacy, diligence and impartiality, and be evaluated prior to being hired. Maintaining a list or register of staff who have demonstrated a high quality of work and rehiring them was also noted as a good practice. Training should be timely (i.e. neither too far in advance of an election, nor too close to it) and should be responsive to different levels of experience, education and learning styles. Many participants recommended that training include a hands-on component, such as role play or simulations. There should also be an emphasis on the quality of training, which may be achieved by employing expert or qualified trainers and providing them with their own training.

Guidance materials are also an important component. Many participants suggested the use of step-by-step guides or checklists to which staff may refer while working. Equally important is encouraging and reminding staff to use these materials. Live support through a telephone hotline or the presence of a supervisor may also be of significant assistance to staff.

Third, effective supervision or monitoring of procedures at the polls can help to minimize errors and promote conscientious work on the part of poll staff. Some jurisdictions and countries employ a specific staff member to supervise other poll staff and ensure that they are complying with procedures. These supervisors may also answer questions and handle exceptional situations, allowing regular poll staff to focus on mainstream tasks. Scrutineers from political parties can also serve as effective observers. To optimize their impact, they should receive sufficient training and be encouraged to assume an active role in ensuring compliance.

Post-election reviews or audits of procedures are also seen as a method to increase compliance, both immediately and in the long term, by detecting errors, identifying flaws or gaps in training, and obtaining useful feedback from staff members on their experiences at the polls. Many jurisdictions and countries conduct some kind of review following an election; these include manual or automated reviews of documentation, and surveys of electors and staff members. Some participants noted the particular importance of logging and addressing complaints, while others suggested imposing penalties on staff members for non-compliance.

While the study revealed many interesting approaches toward improving compliance, results should be interpreted with some caution. First, the compliance measures have not been rigorously evaluated or tested, and literature on the subject is limited. Initiatives described here thus cannot be considered to be proven best practices. In addition, electoral systems and political cultures vary significantly; as a result, many of the practices described as effective in one jurisdiction or country may not be applicable in a different context. Furthermore, in regard to the international consultations, the survey's limited sample size renders it difficult to make meaningful comparisons between regions and electoral systems.

Despite the limitations of this study, it highlights areas in which procedural errors can occur and provides a useful reference for legislative and administrative reforms to strengthen compliance at the polls.