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

Executive Summary

This interim report was prepared after an intensive three-month review into the extent, causes and potential solutions to a systemic problem of non-compliance with administrative rules and procedures on the part of temporary election officers who work at polling stations during Canadian federal elections.

The non-compliance problem was identified in a legal contestation of the results of the May 2011 national general election for the Ontario riding of Etobicoke Centre. Administrative "irregularities" identified in ten selected polls were deemed so serious that the Ontario Superior Court declared the election "null and void".

The Supreme Court of Canada subsequently reversed that decision, finding that the evidence did not meet the test for annulling an election set out in the Canada Elections Act. Nevertheless, the case revealed that a number of serious errors had been made by election workers in the course of their duties.

To establish whether errors demonstrated in the Etobicoke Centre contested polls were an anomaly, the Reviewer (this document's author) requested that a national conformity audit be performed on records from a statistically reliable sample of randomly selected polling stations used in the 2011 federal general election.

That audit established that non-compliance is indeed a systemic problem.

While the error rate in the ten polls that formed the basis of the legal dispute in Etobicoke Centre was higher overall, the national rate of documented election official errors remained significant.

Serious error rates were consistently recorded regarding the process of registering voters at polling locations and with the procedures that permit voters who do not possess required documentation to have another registered voter legally vouch for their identity and address of residence.

The audit showed serious errors occurred in 1.3 percent of all voting transactions. Considered as a subset of all cases where voter registration or identity vouching procedures should have been followed, serious errors occurred in 12 percent of the cases of registration and 42 percent of the cases of identity vouching.

These are errors of a type that breech statutory provisions used to establish an elector's entitlement to vote what the Supreme Court would term "irregularities" that could contribute to an election being overturned.

In the majority of cases involving voter registration or identity vouching procedures, at least one error was found. This includes all instances of non-compliance measured, both serious errors and simple record-keeping mistakes.

Clearly an effective approach that significantly improves election officer compliance with procedural safeguards that ensure the integrity of our national election process must be identified, given appropriate policy and management priority, and implemented promptly.

To establish a broad-based understanding of exactly why election officers consistently make errors and to find practical solutions that address those causes, the Compliance Review project's design greatly emphasized engaging key stakeholders front-line election workers, election field management personnel and political party "technical experts". Face-to-face workshops were held with representatives from each of these groups between October and December of 2012. In addition, discussions and meetings took place with senior election administrators and political party officials from across Canada.

During three federal by-elections held during October and November 2012, recruitment, training and election officer activities were observed. Later, a follow-up conformity audit was taken to establish whether some initial approaches to improving procedural compliance during those by-elections had been successful. In a parallel process, academic and survey research was conducted nationally and internationally to establish what "best practices" are employed in other jurisdictions to ensure consistent and strict adherence to procedural rules by the many tens-of-thousands of temporary election workers who are needed to administer the voting process at every major election. As well, an analysis of the historical evolution of the legislated responsibilities assigned to federal Canadian election officers was developed, covering the period from 1920 to 2012.

This Interim Report summarizes and distills what has been learned about the compliance challenge, specific measures of rates of error, various causes that underlie the full extent of witnessed and measured compliance problems, and what available solutions and approaches exist to systematically improve compliance levels for the 2015 general election, and for the elections that follow.

Six causal themes are explored, five general solution sets are described and three alternative approaches to implementing needed change are identified. The nature of the compliance problem is undeniably complex. Quite clearly more than one avenue is available to address it in a comprehensive and rational way.

The purpose of this Interim Report is to set a baseline for shared understanding among stakeholders to be used in developing a widely-supported recommendation regarding what should be done to effectively reduce the rate of procedural error made by election officers. That recommendation must be achievable for the 2015 Canadian general election, and must address how increased compliance will be sustained or further improved in the elections that follow. Developing that recommendation is the next stage of the Compliance Review project.

This document is meant primarily to act as a consultative vehicle. It is being distributed directly to every stakeholder representative who has actively participated in the process of identifying causes of error; pragmatic solutions; and ways to implement needed change that will notably improve election officers' compliance.

The author asks stakeholder representatives, on receipt of this report, to contribute their valuable time and attention to critically review what has been learned to date, and to give clear, concise feedback on what they believe to be the best path forward.

Following receipt and review of this feedback, the author will compile a final report of recommendations for specific changes that he believes Elections Canada should adopt in preparation for the 2015 federal general election.

The final report of recommendations will be submitted directly to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada in March 2013. That recommendations report will be made public in April 2013, accompanied with a response from Elections Canada management.

Harry Neufeld
Compliance Review Project
January 15, 2013