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

Causes of Non-Compliance

What became clear very early in the review process is that multiple causes underlie the errors that election officers make on the job on Election Day. No single "root cause" was identified as the fundamental source of all compliance problems.

Different review participants and groups held different views on which were the most important factors, but six different "clusters" of causality were consistently identified:

  1. Complexity;
  2. Supervision;
  3. Recruitment;
  4. Training;
  5. Quality of List of Electors; and
  6. Historic and Cultural Factors.

Each of these themes is described in detail below.

Readers are reminded that the following discussion of the various causes of non-compliance by election officers is restricted in scope. This review is focused on the compliance environment created for Election Day, and only for the roles and functions of workers at the polls holding the following five federal election officer positions:

As with electoral law in most Western democracies, the Canada Elections ActFootnote 6 is extremely prescriptive regarding specific legal responsibilities and detailed procedures to be followed by election officers who administer the vote. A detailed listing of the 103 specific duties and powers these temporary officials are legally assigned on polling day is provided in Annex A.

1. Complexity

For most Canadians who vote on Election Day, the administrative process seems simple and straightforward. Most of the time, it is also simple for election officers because most cases are "regular" and easy to administer.

However, there are a significant number of "exception" cases election officers have to deal with. These exception cases can be very complex, both because of the number and types of procedures that need to be understood and the wide range of scenarios to deal with.

When administering "regular voting" poll officials have not been observed or reported to have any difficulty working in full compliance with the electoral laws and administrative procedures currently set out.

But when dealing with the vast array of "exception" processes that they must administer, the inherent complexity and a wide range of potentially required actions cause difficulty, confusion, frustration and inconsistent administration which is often non-compliant.

"Regular" Voting

The "regular" approach to voting, used by about 85 percent of persons who vote on Election Day, follows these steps:

  1. On Election Day the elector collects the Voter Information Card that has been mailed to them, and proceeds to the assigned polling location shown on the card.
  2. Arriving at the polling location, the elector sees bright yellow Elections Canada signs and arrows indicating the entrance to use and makes her/his way there.
  3. Once in the room where voting takes place, the elector is greeted by an Information Officer who sees the elector's Voter Information Card (VIC) in their hand and asks to see it.
  4. The elector shows the VIC to the Information Officer (IO), who notes and confirms that they are at the correct location, and then asks the elector if they have brought personal identification such as a driver's licence.
  5. The elector indicates they have their driver's licence with them, at which point the IO suggests they take it out and have it ready to present.
  6. The IO then points to the polling division number shown on the elector's VIC and directs the elector to see the Deputy Returning Officer and Poll Clerk at the specific numbered polling station they are assigned to vote at.
  7. The elector proceeds to the polling station they were directed to and is greeted there by the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO), who may ask them to state their name and address, or more likely simply ask to see the VIC and driver's licence the elector has in their hand.
  8. The elector places their Voter Information Card and driver's licence on the table, and the Poll Clerk (PC) finds the corresponding name and address on the voters list for that polling division while the DRO checks to make sure the identification details on the driver's licence are exactly the same as they are on the VIC and voters list, and that the photo on the licence bears an accurate likeness of the elector standing in front of them.
  9. After verifying the elector's identity, and that the driver's licence information matches the name and address on the voters list, the DRO hands the driver's licence back to the elector, while offering to place the VIC in a cardboard box for secure destruction and paper recycling.
  10. The DRO prepares a folded blank ballot, ensuring their initials are recorded on the back of it, while the PC proceeds to cross out the elector's name on the printed list with a ruler and pencil.
  11. The DRO gives the elector a ballot, directs him or her to take it to a nearby voting screen, advises that a single ballot choice must be marked within the circle beside the name of the candidate they support, and states that the ballot must be returned folded the same way as provided so that the elector's vote choice remains secret.
  12. The elector goes behind the voting screen, unfolds the ballot, marks it with an 'X' in the appropriate space using the provided pencil, refolds the ballot the same way as received and then returns it to the DRO.
  13. The DRO checks for their initials on the back of the ballot, examines the numbered ballot counterfoil, removes it from the ballot, and hands the ballot back to the elector and instructs the elector to place the ballot in the ballot box.
  14. The elector places their marked ballot into a narrow slot at the top of the ballot box, at which time the PC places a checkmark beside the elector's name on the list of electors to indicate they have voted, and then circles that voter's list of electors sequence number on a separate form.
  15. The elector leaves the polling station area, walks out of the room and departs from the polling location.

The above process holds more than a dozen discrete steps, but the entire procedure can be completed smoothly and efficiently, with great consistency.

On Election Day for the by-elections held on November 26, 2012, this author and other persons involved with the Compliance Review project saw many electors taking less than three minutes and as little as 90 seconds to go through the entire process of arriving at the polling location; determining their correct polling station; verifying their voter registration; proving their identity and address; being issued a ballot; marking that ballot; casting their vote and departing from the location.

"Exception" Voting

However, in approximately 15 percent of cases the circumstances of electors are "exceptional" because they do not meet one or more of the following criteria:

  1. appearing at their assigned voting location to vote on Election Day;
  2. being pre-registered, with the correct spelling of their name and current address of residence accurately recorded on the "ordinary" printed list of electors;
  3. having their Voter Information Card in their possession at the polling location;
  4. having a driver's licence, or an equivalent piece of authorized personal photo identification to prove their identity and address of residence;
  5. having their name and address information on their driver's licence (or equivalent ID) match exactly to what is recorded on the printed list of electors; and
  6. being fully mobile, able to communicate verbally, and capable of marking a ballot without assistance.

In these "exception" cases, the process that precedes obtaining a ballot becomes much more time-consuming for the elector. And, no matter which of the criteria listed above is absent, the ensuing process becomes much, much more administratively complex for the election officers involved.

Complexities in administering the requirements of the Canada Elections Act for the estimated total of 15 percent of polling day voters who fall into the "exception" stream of electors wishing to vote, lead to much confusion and numerous, frequently serious, errors among temporary poll officials.

About half of the 95 pages of the Deputy Returning Officers' and Poll Clerks' Manual for an Ordinary Poll are used to explain the intricate procedures required to deal with these various "exception" cases. In comparison, the "regular" voting procedure is fully covered within five pages.Footnote 7

The range of "exception" cases is numerous (at least 17) and tallies of the frequency with which each occurs are not recorded or reported by election officers as part of administering the voting process.

However, the national "conformity audit" analysis performed for the Compliance Review project provides evidence that about eight percent of voters must go through a voter registration process on Election Day before being issued a ballot, and one percent of electors must have another registered voter vouch for their identity and address of residence before they are permitted to vote.

For those electors who do not possess acceptable documents to prove their identity and address of residence, different vouching procedures may be needed for the process of registering to vote and for the separate process of obtaining a ballot. However, if the elector is pre-registered the vouching process applies only for voting.

Annex B summarizes the audit results and error rates measured within a component breakdown of the voter registration and identity vouching processes. Listed are detailed measurements for the ten disputed polls in Etobicoke Centre; a 1,000 poll sample from the May 2011 federal election; and a 30-poll sample taken from each of the three ridings that conducted by-elections in November 2012. Results from the samples for the May 2011 federal election and the November 2012 by-elections were then used to estimate rates of error for each of those elections, as a whole.

The national sample audit of May 2011 polling records points to at least one documented error in the polling day voter registration process in a majorityFootnote 8 of registration documents completed. For the identity vouching process, errors were recorded in more than halfFootnote 9 of the associated voter records. Serious errors, of a nature that the Supreme Court would consider "irregularities", were measured to occur 12 percent and 42 percent of the time within the registration and vouching processes respectively. No evidence suggests that the compliance rate is markedly better for administration of other types of "exception" processes described below.

Beyond the nine percent of voters who must proceed through a registration or vouching "exception" process, it is estimated that at least five percentFootnote 10 of voters lack a driver's licence or any equivalent type of government-issued photo identity card and therefore require more than one piece of acceptable documentation to prove their identity and current residential address. The published list of officially acceptable documents is encompassing, yet so diverse that it becomes virtually impossible for all Deputy Returning Officers to interpret consistently. This can lead to informal and formal challenges by candidates' representatives who may question an elector's qualification to vote or the legitimacy of a claimed address of residence on the basis of the documents being reviewed.

See Annex C to review the current published options for proving voter identification at the polls, which includes a listing of 40 different acceptable types of identity documents approved by the Chief Electoral Officer.

It is also estimated by the Reviewer that about one percent of electors must undergo some other special type of administrative procedure for one of the following reasons:

  1. Require a language interpreter;
  2. Require a sign-language interpreter;
  3. Require someone to assist them in voting because of a disability;
  4. Require the use of a template designed to assist voters with a visual impairment;
  5. Require a correction of a typographical error on the list of electors;
  6. Require a legal change of name (e.g. due to marriage) on the list of electors;
  7. Require a replacement ballot after inadvertently spoiling the original ballot provided;
  8. Voting while wearing a face covering;
  9. Voting at a non-assigned polling station with a "Transfer Certificate";
  10. Voting when the elector's name has been inadvertently struck off the list of electors;
  11. Voting when someone impersonating the elector has already voted in their name;
  12. Voting when the elector is challenged (by an election officer or candidate's representative) as to their qualification to vote
  13. Voting when the elector is challenged (by an election officer or candidate's representative) regarding their address of residence; or
  14. Voting after the elector refuses to take an oath and successfully appeals to the Returning Officer.


Most, but not all, of the above "exception" scenarios require that some form of documentation is recorded by the Deputy Returning Officer, Poll Clerk or Registration Officer; either on a special form, on the list of electors, or in the poll book. Many, but not all, require administering a verbal oath in which the elector swears, or solemnly affirms, certain information that is required in order for them to be issued a ballot. The exact procedural details required are all prescribed in the Canada Elections Act.

There are seven different types of oaths to be administered by the Deputy Returning Officer and Poll Clerk, and the need for their specific application is subject to interpretation by these election officers.

The oaths are:

  1. Oath of Qualification to Vote;
  2. Oath of Elector as to Residence;
  3. Oath as to Error on List;
  4. Oath of Personated Elector or Elector Whose Name was Inadvertently Crossed Off List;
  5. Oath of a Friend, Spouse, Common-Law Partner or Relative of an Elector Who Requires Assistance;
  6. Oath of Person Vouched For; and
  7. Oath of Person Vouching.

The undeniably complex and busy mix of procedures associated with administering "regular" voting alongside the 17Footnote 11 different "exception" procedures is concisely captured on an Elections Canada flow chart in Annex D.

Closing Procedures

In addition to dealing with the complexity of administering different types of "exceptions" during 12 hours of voting, election officers must close voting operations, lock the doors of the polling location, then manage and administer:

  1. Tallying the number of participating voters at each polling station;
  2. Reconciling the number of used and un-used ballots against the total ballots provided;
  3. Counting the valid votes (accepted ballots) for each candidate;
  4. Reconciling the number of ballots used against the total spoiled ballots, rejected ballots, and accepted ballots;
  5. Reconciling the number rejected ballots and accepted ballots to the number of participating voters at that polling station;
  6. Reconciling the total official number of accepted votes cast per candidate at that ballot box to the total number of accepted ballots;
  7. Completing an official "Statement of the Vote" and calling in the individual polling station results to the Returning Office; and
  8. Reconciling the number of registration certificates received to the "record of electors voting by registration certificate" in the poll book.

The above steps must occur in full view of any authorized candidate representatives authorized to be present, and these representatives are required to sign documents verifying the counts they have witnessed being made. According to electoral law, if no candidate representatives are available, the closing procedures must be done "in the presence of at least two electors".Footnote 12

Results of this process must be performed and documented in a strict sequence, and the various recorded results must be placed in separate envelopes and containers in the final process of closing each polling station.

A graphic depiction of this process appears in Annex E. This process chart is issued as a small aide memoire poster to each Deputy Returning Officer for reference at the close of the polls. The intricate complexity associated with counting and closing becomes quite clear when studying this graphically rich but convoluted process flow chart.

Summary Complexity as a Causal Theme

The complexities associated with the legal and operational environment temporary election officers work within lead to non-compliance because:

2. Supervision

Who is "in charge" at a polling location is not always clear to election officers.

Which position reports to which other position, and what the chain-of-command is within a polling location also suffers from confusion by poll workers, candidate representatives and the voting public.

Escalation procedures to settle disputes associated with registration or voting are not clear, and their effective and timely resolution often depends on the personalities of election officers present. Generally speaking, there are no clear legal procedures set out for escalating disputes that occur at polling locations on Election Day.

Deputy Returning Officers

From a legal perspective,Footnote 13 almost all responsibility for what happens at a polling station falls on the shoulders of the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO). During polling hours it is the DRO that must decide who is and who is not allowed to vote; at the end of the day, the DRO must rule which ballots are accepted and which are rejected when counting votes.

In accordance with the Canada Elections Act, DROs are trained with the understanding that, for their assigned polling division, each is fully in charge of deciding who votes, what oaths or special procedures to apply, and whether or not a ballot is valid and should be counted.

In theory, each Deputy Returning Officer reports to the Returning Officer that appointed them. The legal framework defines the Returning Officer as the only official that can override a DRO's decisionFootnote 14 or instruct a DRO on what requirements of the law pertain to certain situations, thereby resolving disputes. In practice this is unworkable due to the sheer numbers of DROs appointed in each electoral district, and because of practical requirements of administering public voting and dealing efficiently with electors waiting in voting queues.

To set context for the current supervision model for election officers, it is important to know that each of Canada's 308 federal Returning Officers is legally responsible for the conduct and administration of the election in the particular electoral district (more generally known as a riding or constituency) to which they have been appointed. Most federal electoral districts in Canada have more than 80,000 registered electors within their legal boundaries.

Likewise, each Deputy Returning Officer is appointed to manage the conduct and administration of voting for a particular polling division within that electoral district. Most electoral districts in Canada have in excess of 200 polling divisions, each a legally defined administrative unit with (in almost every case) at least 250 qualified electors living within its geographic boundaries. The reality, though, is that most polling divisions contain between 400 and 500 registered voters significantly smaller numbers are the norm only in rural and remote areas.

In the pre-Confederation era when the current election supervision model was designedFootnote 15, this delegated management approach worked because electoral districts and polling divisions had much smaller populations, most of the population lived in rural communities, and the range of procedural requirements laid out in electoral legislation were considerably less complex to administer.

In the 21st Century it is not practical to expect that one Returning Officer is able to provide requested procedural guidance or help resolve disputes escalated from more than 200 Deputies located in numerous different voting sites in a timely way on Election Day while voting is underway. Nor is it reasonable to expect a Deputy Returning Officer to wait for a decision to be made or legal ruling provided by a Returning Officer while other voters are waiting in line for their turn to obtain, mark, and cast a ballot.

Realistically, current supervision arrangements compel DROs to make quick decisions about whether a particular "exception" procedure is necessary, how to administer it, and what documentation to record. It is hardly surprising that these decisions may often run contrary to what electoral law prescribes and administrative procedures require.

Central Poll Supervisors

More than 11,000 Central Poll Supervisors were hired at the 41st General Election held on May 2, 2011.

Many voting locations, of the 15,261 used on Election Day, did not have a Central Poll Supervisor present. The Canada Elections Act does not require that a polling location have a Central Poll Supervisor, and leaves it to the discretion of each Returning Officer to decide if a supervisor is needed for voting sites that have more than four polling stations co-located.Footnote 16 Most Returning Officers assign a Central Poll Supervisor to any polling location that has more than three polling stations assigned to a single address. Some large voting locations, which may have as many as 40 polling stations, have multiple Central Poll Supervisors assigned.

Most persons unaffiliated with election administration, including many political party representatives, believe that the Central Poll Supervisor must be the person in charge of all aspects of voting administration that happens at each of the polling stations within their assigned site.

By force of personality and to fulfill the expectations and needs of election officers requesting and requiring assistance, many Central Poll Supervisors (CPSs) do "take charge" and provide direction, leadership and guidance to all the officials working at their particular polling location.

However, the Canada Elections Act does not actually grant these supervisors the official capacity to act in such an encompassing role. Section 124(2) of the Act states:

When a returning officer establishes a central polling place that contains four or more polling stations, the returning officer may appoint a central poll supervisor to attend at the central polling place on polling day to supervise proceedings and keep the returning officer informed of any matter that adversely affects, or is likely to adversely affect, the proceedings. [Emphasis added.]

No further detail is provided anywhere else in the Act with regard to what the meaning of the words "supervise proceedings" includes, while a great amount of detail is given to the specific responsibilities and powers of Deputy Returning Officers.

Consequently, the role of the CPS is formally limited to managing the physical arrangements at the voting facility, ensuring that voter traffic is orderly, checking to see that posted signage remains intact and that parking arrangements and other physical access features associated with the location permit accessibility for voters with disabilities; these arrangements are reported to the Returning Officer. Some further see their role to include coordinating the activities of the Information Officer and Registration Officer to support the work of each 'autonomous' Deputy Returning Officer/Poll Clerk team. Others distinguish their role on a functional basis, where they are in charge of the flow of voters and candidate representatives in-and-out of the polling location, while the election officers are each in charge of their role in facilitating and controlling the voting process.

While some CPSs are natural leaders or procedural authorities as the result of their accumulated election management experience, others are ill-equipped to give general managerial direction or are unwilling to take responsibility for resolving disputes between poll officials, voters and candidate representatives. Lack of formal authority constrains all Central Poll Supervisors from performing the role their title suggests.

Opportunities for consistent application of procedures and interpretations of law are clearly lost when a Central Poll Supervisor has no actual authority to direct election workers to adhere to established rules and requirements.


Elections Canada's own election officers' training manuals reflect the lack of clarity in the Canada Elections Act about "who is in charge" at each polling location.

Regarding the reporting structure, the various manualsFootnote 17 consistently state:

This ambiguity about the reporting relationship for three of five election officer positions in a standard polling location, added to the logistical impossibility of a single Returning Officer giving meaningful Election Day supervision to dozens of CPSs and Registration Officers as well as hundreds of DROs, does not facilitate consistent application of election procedures according to legislated and administrative rules.

The Canada Elections Act is historically premised on the concept of independent election officers Deputy Returning Officers and Poll Clerks conducting their duties autonomously on the basis of the statute. However, in recent decades it has also evolved a framework of additional election officers that include Central Poll Supervisors, Registration Officers and Information Officers. These newer positions have roles and titles which are conceptually consistent with a more common authority structure based on a chain-of-command. The inconsistency within the legal framework causes a great deal of confusion on the ground and appears to be the source of many compliance problems.

Partisan Checks & Balances

There is an underlying assumption within the Canada Elections Act that the presence of partisan representatives in polling places will help ensure strict adherence to the procedures set out in legislation and the instructions provided to election officers by the Returning Officer and Chief Electoral Officer.

Most Canadians would recognize this as the role of party "scrutineers" whom they may see at elections wearing badges denoting the party they represent, carefully watching the proceedings of voter registration and voting on Election Day.

The Act refers to these agents as "candidate's representatives". It permits candidates to authorize any number of representatives, but allows for only two to be at a particular polling station at any time (Section 136). Theoretically, this means each candidate would authorize more than 400 volunteer scrutineers in an average electoral district of 200 plus polling stations, with possibly a 100 more to permit a continuous presence to carefully observe all of the day's proceedings, including registration and vote counting procedures after polls close.

The current reality is that party and candidate volunteers are increasingly scarce. Few scrutineers are appointed. Those actually present in polling locations are there mainly to collect and report information on which of their party's identified supporters has (or hasn't) voted, and to gain accurate first-hand information on the results of the vote count at each poll. During the by-elections observed in November 2012, it was not uncommon to see only a handful of candidate's representatives at central poll sites during the day and at most two scrutineers per three polling stations present at the counting of votes. No scrutineers whatsoever were present at some voting locations this author visited on Election Day.

During workshops with poll officials and field management personnel, it was suggested that most appointed party and candidate representatives have very little grasp of actual procedures required for legal compliance. Scrutineers this author engaged with on Election Day for the November 26, 2012 by-election freely admitted that they had never received formal election procedure training and simply used their "common sense" to ensure that only qualified and duly registered voters were allowed to vote, that every elector had their identity and address of residence verified before they were issued a ballot, that voting was done in secret, and that no-one was allowed to vote more than once.

The Canada Elections Act has no provision requiring candidate representatives to take procedural training before scrutinizing registration and voting procedures, or raising objections regarding non-compliance, on Election Day. At the request of political parties, Elections Canada has voluntarily posted all of their election officer manuals on their public website, but accessibility to this information does not equate to an understanding of procedural requirements. No participants in the review felt that the role of volunteer scrutineers should be diminished, or that the quantity should be limited. However, neither did they believe that the current presence of scrutineers at polling locations actually helped ensure compliance on the part of election officers.

However, the Act also assumes another type of partisan presence at polling locations, of which most Canadians seem to be unaware.

It is expected that every Deputy Returning Officer, according to Section 34(1), will be appointed from a list of nominees provided by the candidate who represents the party that placed first in the previous election in that district. And it is also expected that every Poll Clerk, according to Section 35(1), will be appointed from a list provided by the candidate representing the party that finished second in the last federal election.

In theory, the idea of teaming opposing partisans together to deliver voting services to the electors of the polling division they are assigned to is appealing. Presumably these would be highly capable and motivated individuals who understand the importance of registration and voting process rules, and presumably they, with the two scrutineers per candidate who ideally would also be present at each polling station, would ensure that the rules, and the exact administrative procedures that support them, are carefully and consistently followed.

The reality is very different. Just as there are progressively fewer volunteer scrutineers present to oversee the registration and voting process, there are also fewer party and candidate nominees who are available and willing to be assigned to work as election officers. Section 36 of the Canada Elections Act clearly recognizes that not all Deputy Returning Officer and Poll Clerk positions will be filled from candidate lists, and provides that Returning Officers are to make appointments "from other sources" if a sufficient number have not been recommended by the 17th day before polling day.

Nationally, only 118 of the average 403 Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) and Poll Clerk (PC) positions required per district were nominated by candidates during the 2011 federal election.

Interestingly, the tradition of the two leading candidates providing poll worker names seems to be declining more slowly in Eastern Canada than in the West. The table below shows the average number of nominations per electoral district for DRO and PC roles, by province and territory:

Province/Territory Avg. No. of Nominees Avg. No. DROs/PCs per ED Percentage filled by Nominees
Yukon 0 173 0%
NW Territories 0 143 0%
Nunavut 0 86 0%
British Columbia 14 424 3%
Alberta 31 446 7%
Saskatchewan 65 312 21%
Manitoba 9 336 3%
Ontario 67 420 16%
Quebec 268 418 64%
New Brunswick 278 342 81%
Nova Scotia 205 400 51%
Prince Edward Island 123 145 84%
Newfoundland and Labrador 158 368 43%
All of Canada 118 403 29%

During the Review, at every workshop and meeting that discussed the topic of partisan appointees hired as election officers, there was general agreement that this concept lacks relevance in 21st Century Canada.

The consensus arising from the Review is that the merit principle should be the only basis for hiring poll officials during federal elections. It was widely agreed that parties and candidates should be encouraged to refer interested persons to apply for election officer positions, but this should be open to all and not only those parties whose candidates ranked first and second in the most recent election. No participant suggested that the presence of election officers appointed by partisan nominations improved compliance with election rules and standards; indeed some argued that partisan interests induced the opposite.

Many Review participants argued that a principle of neutrality in election delivery is deeply ingrained in the Canada Elections Act and in public expectations of how Canadian elections should be properly run. Review participants generally agreed that the current process of election officer appointments, relying on nominations from the candidates of two leading parties, is contrary to the principle of neutrality.

Also noted is that the approach is clearly unable to supply the full slate of election officers envisioned.

Summary Supervision as a Causal Theme

The current supervisory arrangements at voting sites on polling day lead to non-compliance because:

3. Recruitment

An army of temporary personnel must be hired in every electoral district in the country for an election. Most Returning Officers must hire more than 800 temporary staff after one is called. In total, more than 230,000 short-term and part-time workers must be recruited for every federal election.

The vast majority of recruits will be appointed as elections officers who will work exactly one day Election Day.

Numerous challenges stand in the way. Assembling a motivated and well-qualified work force to diligently administer registration and voting procedures on polling day, adhering strictly to the complex rules and instructions they receive, is highly involved by any measure.

Working Conditions

Polling day election officers can be expected to be assigned to a building location where they will work in a large room, without meal or coffee breaks, for a minimum of fourteen hours and up to sixteen hours. Twelve of these hours will be spent interacting with the public.

That location may, or may not, be near the residence of an assigned election officer. Transportation to and from the assigned polling location will not be provided or paid for.

They can expect to work only one day. It will be a Monday.

They can expect to be compensated for their work with a standard fixed fee.Footnote 18 That fixed fee will be close to, or slightly less than, the statutory minimum wage in the province or territory they live in. No overtime is paid. No added compensation will be provided if the officer has had previous election work experience. Payment is by cheque or direct deposit, which will be issued several weeks after Election Day.

Meals and refreshments are not provided election officers must bring their own nourishment and likely will eat or drink only during lulls in voter traffic. All election officers are advised that there may be no kitchen facilities at their assigned polling location, so must pack meals and refreshments appropriately.

Officers assigned as a Deputy Returning Officer or Poll Clerk are made aware that voting procedures at their polling station must, by law, come to a complete stop when either of them is away from their assigned polling station during polling hours.

Those selected as election officers must attend a mandatory training session for which they can expect to be paid a fixed fee.Footnote 19 That training fee will be at about the same hourly rate of compensation as their work on polling day.

The training class will be two to three hours in length, and it will consist primarily of a trainer explaining the officers' role by working through an overview of a procedure manual. The training session will likely be during an evening or on a weekend, probably in the office of the Returning Officer.

Several dozen other persons assigned to the same role as the selected election officer will likely be at the same session. There's no time for any practice sessions or polling place simulations, and no training video or online training modules are available for later study. There is no test to prove an understanding of the course content.

The procedure manual provided at the mandatory training session describes in detail the responsibilities of the role to which the officer is appointed. Election officers are encouraged to read their manual carefully and bring it along as a reference to use on Election Day, but get no additional compensation for reading it.

Election officers can expect a number of people to be assigned to work at the same location, but it is unlikely that they will meet them any time before the morning of Election Day. If there is a central poll supervisor at the assigned polling location, they will likely phone to confirm the expected time of arrival and details of how to enter before it officially opens to voters. Otherwise, someone from the returning office will call in the last days before Election Day.

Naturally, these work conditions are not attractive to most persons.

Many skilled individuals that express initial interest in working at an election, and even a willingness to take a Monday off work to do so, lose interest when they hear the actual conditions of employment. Others, after learning the pitfalls from experience, only ever work in one election. Therefore the challenge of recruiting sufficient capable election officers grows over time, as the pool of appropriately skilled and available temporary personnel progressively diminishes.

Election officer positions are sometimes described as a form of "paid volunteering". Indeed, attracting unpaid volunteers to work repeatedly under the legally required arrangements for election officers would likely prove impossible. Expecting new employees to fully master a complex set of intricate, highly legalistic procedures on their first (and only) day of work is not something most paying employers would think reasonable. Nevertheless, this is the expectation the Canada Elections Act sets out.

Clearly the working conditions into which election officers step so temporarily are not conducive to achieving full procedural compliance.

The Day 17 Constraint

As described in the Supervision section above, Sections 34 and 35 of the Act require that Deputy Returning Officers and Poll Clerks be appointed from lists of suitable persons provided by candidates for political parties that finished first (for DRO appointments) and second (for PC appointments) in that electoral district at the last election. A similar requirement applies to the hiring of Registration Officers (Section 39(3)).

Section 37 states that if a Returning Officer refuses to appoint a Deputy Returning Officer or Poll Clerk recommended by a candidate, he or she must inform that candidate, who may then recommend for another person to be appointed instead.

Section 36 allows that the Returning Officer can make the appointments from other sources, but only if the candidates have not made their recommendations, or have not recommended enough persons by the 17th day before Election Day.

Not being able to recruit potential Deputy Returning Officers, Poll Clerks and Registration Officers until just over two weeks before Election Day creates a significant barrier to the orderly hiring of qualified people and organizing sufficient training sessions.Footnote 20

For fixed-date elections, this removes any potential advantage that may be gained by recruiting and training new people early.

The Act limits the ability to recruit election officers until after Day 17, which results in Returning Officers having to scramble to find available capable individuals, while dealing with a list of nominees with uncertain skill levels. In this respect, the Act itself creates barriers to achieving full procedural compliance on Election Day.

Application Process

Recruitment of election officers starts afresh at each election.

Each officer must complete an application online or at the returning office. This form is used to determine if the applicant possesses the basic literacy and numeracy skills for initial screening.

Unless they are very well known and trusted, most screened applicants must appear physically for a brief interview at the returning office to establish their capabilities, confirm previous experience and be assigned to a training class and specific polling location. Some additional screening occurs at this stage.

For officers who are candidate nominees, the above process is usually pro forma but is still used to ensure they hold the basic capabilities to act as an election officer.

Elections Canada provides lists of election officers used in the previous election in the district to Returning Officers, but the details contained in these lists are not updated or maintained between elections. As mentioned above, many election officers will work only one election and then refuse further assignments. Nevertheless, these lists are used to contact individuals and encourage them to apply to work as election officers.

Many Returning Officers create and maintain their own lists of willing, potential staff based on previous electoral events. They also recognize that many temporary personnel they will hire also have previous work experience as provincial or local government election officers. Resourceful Returning Officers will maintain connections with senior election managers in other electoral organizations to obtain lists and information about likely personnel to contact.

Currently, no pre-screening of potential election officer employees occurs before election writs are issued. No certification process for election officers exists at any of the three levels of government. Neither Elections Canada nor any provincial or territorial election agency has created a database of experienced election workers.

Starting the election officer recruitment process afresh for each election has negative implications for achieving high levels of procedural compliance. Ideally most election officers would work upward through increasing levels of responsibility for compliance in successive elections, and would willingly return to build on their expertise in successive events. While this happens sometimes, at the moment it is the exception to the rule.

The "Mirror Test"

Many Returning Officers say they need to "apply the mirror test" in the final stages of recruiting election officers to fill positions for Election Day.

The "mirror test" refers to the fact that, in the last rush to fill positions before polling day, election officers' qualifications sometimes must be compromised to the extent that anyone whose normal breath would fog a mirror must be considered seriously for assignment.

Pressed to describe the desperate recruitment situations they may find themselves in, many experienced Returning Officers describe what they believe to be three general categories of staff recruited at every election.

The first described category they label the "capable" of the election delivery world. These are individuals who see working as election officers to be a public service, and regard their participation as a societal contribution of great importance. They are motivated by the concept of participating in the operational mechanics of electoral democracy; dedicated to making sure election procedures are properly executed; positive in their outlook and can usually be depended upon to work at every successive election. They estimate the proportion of capable employees at an encouragingly high 40 percent.

The second category they label the "willing". These are people who are truly interested in the work, and have the skills and wherewithal to perform well as election officers. They may not have related experience but express a strong desire and willingness to learn, and see election work as something unique and different that promises to be a worthwhile and interesting job experience. The proportion of this group is estimated at another 40 percent.

The final 20 percent of the election officer workforce was described as the "needed". These are the warm bodies looking for any work that pays. They are not particularly interested in elections, democracy or politics, nor in learning much procedural detail; they tend to ask more questions about how much and when they will be paid than about what the position actually requires. This is not to say that these personnel are incapable or do not fulfill their election officer duties faithfully. But when desperation dictates hiring individuals to work in an election that is just days away, Returning Officers privately wonder about how well these "mirror test" employees actually perform and how well they comply with the required procedures.

Clearly, compromising staff quality cannot help but have a negative impact on levels of procedural compliance on Election Day.

Summary Recruitment as a Causal Theme

The recruitment challenges set out in the current legal framework and administrative arrangements contribute to non-compliance because:

4. Training

Senior management at Elections Canada freely concede that their current arrangements for training election officers are inadequate.

They admit that, during successive minority governments between the 2004 and the 2011 general elections, they did not comprehensively update the training regimen or modernize their approach to applying adult education principles. In that era, there was a constant focus on "readiness" joined with an assumption that prior training methods would have to serve for an election that could happen at any time. However significant legislative changes during this period substantially increased the number of "exception" processes as well as overall procedural complexity.

During the review process a great number of criticisms of current training arrangements included:

Review participants generally agreed that good quality training is absolutely essential to ensure compliance with required procedures. Discussion frequently evolved to agree on three basic learning objectives for election officer training:

  1. Learning what it is they are required to do.
  2. Learning how they are to perform the tasks required.
  3. Learning why they need to perform those tasks in the way described.

Obviously, inadequate training carries significant negative implications for procedural compliance. However, the logistical challenge of training 500-800 election workers, many of whom have day jobs, in the two-and-a-half weeks prior to Election Day presents enormous challenges. Making this training effective, practical and enjoyable adds further dimensions of difficulty.

Significant discussion centred on the topic of whether, simply, more training could improve compliance. Most review participants didn't think so. Many suggested that actual classroom training time could be significantly reduced from the average two-and-a-half hours given to most election officer positions.

However, those who advocated such an approach generally made the fundamental assumption that most "exception" training should be on the job, while supervised by a knowledgeable poll supervisor. "Learning on the job" and always having an authoritative on-site resource to answer questions was seen as especially appropriate for any procedure that involved oaths, special poll book entries or recording formal objections from candidate representatives.

Summary Training as a Causal Theme

Shortcomings in the training of election officers can easily result in procedural non-compliance because:

5. Quality of List of Electors

"A good list makes for a good election." This is an adage used by election administrators around the globe.

Ideally, everyone qualified and wishing to vote will already be registered and entered accurately on the voters list at their current address of residence.

Canada's reality is that many qualified individuals (eight percent) who wish to vote on Election Day find that they are not on the list of electors for the polling station serving the polling division in which they reside.

Many such voters question why they are not on the list, feeling quite certain that they were registered at a previous election, or that they registered at the time of voting for that previous election. They question why they need to complete a Registration Certificate when they clearly remember doing it before. And many state dissatisfaction with having to line up at a Registration Officer table and go through the time-consuming process of registering to vote, which involves proving identity and address of residence, ensuring a Registration Certificate is completed accurately, signing the registration form and then being told to go to their polling station with the form in order to vote.

When such new registrants move on to their assigned polling station with proof of registration in hand, they face yet another delay because they must show their identity documents again, and the Poll Clerk must record their new registration information in the poll book before the Deputy Returning Officer can issue them a ballot. As exasperated voters openly question the need to wait for what appears to be unnecessarily redundant identity checks and paperwork, full compliance with these checking and recording procedures undoubtedly becomes problematic.

All three groups of workshop participants front-line election workers, election field managers and political party "technical experts" agree that compliance levels would significantly improve if less voter registration work had to be done at the time of voting. This is, after all, the largest "exception" process election officers need to manage on Election Day, and moving as much as possible of the current eight percent of voter volume from the "exception" to the "regular" voting process would be a great plus.

Elections Canada's official figures for electors who registered on Election Day at the time of voting for the past four elections are as follows:

Election E-Day Registrants E-Day Voters % E-Day Registrants
41st General Election May 2, 2011 757,539 12,490,692 6.06%
40th General Election October 14, 2008 730,939 11,935,356 6.06%
39th General Election January 23, 2006 796,101 12,700,392 6.27%
38th General Election June 28, 2004 764,185 11,978,806 6.38%

These figures indicate a surprisingly consistent percentage of persons were required to register at the time of voting over four successive elections. It should also be noted that the conformity audit national sample, a summary of which appears in Annex B, indicates a figure closer to eight percent as the proportion of electors are required to register at the polls prior to voting. The discrepancy is explained by various types of procedural non-conformity measured in the audit.

In 1997 Canada passed laws mandating the development of the National Register of Electors (NRoE) and moved to a continuous voters list methodology. Elections Canada now maintains the information in the NRoE electronic register centrally, using information derived from various sources, notably change of address updates from provincial driver's licence files and federal tax files, and formal data exchange linkages with permanent voter registers maintained by provincial and territorial electoral agencies.

Voters can update their registration information at Elections Canada's web site, and major "revision" activities are undertaken by Returning Officers to improve the quality of the list of electors prior to deadlines for voting.

With a continuous register as the basis for the voters list, the major challenge is maintaining the address currency of registrants. Canadians move residences relatively often Statistics Canada reports an average of 20 percent of the population moves annually.Footnote 21

Despite the measures Elections Canada takes to keep the register information as current as possible, automatic updates received from various government data sources do not provide a list that is fully accurate when an election is called. For this reason diverse list revision activities are undertaken during each election period, including door-to-door list revision activities of some 10 percent of dwellings where mobility is high. Nevertheless, approximately eight percent of voters still need to go through some type of voter registration process at the time of voting before they can be issued a ballot.

Measures to significantly improve registration coverage and registrant address currency on the voters list before Election Day clearly lie outside the scope of this review. Beyond that, other issues underlie challenges to voter registration compliance within current arrangements.

Observation at the by-elections, and a review of instructions to election officers regarding registration, indicates much confusion over when to complete new registration certificates and when to use correction certificates.

The issued instructions require a new registration certificate to be completed if a voter is not on the list for the polling division in which they currently live. Registration officers were usually not provided with correction certificates and as a result only had new registration certificates available to them.

Printed instructions for DROs and PCs, who did have correction certificates issued in their supplies, restricted their use to "correcting errors". Those instructions state:

"If you believe that the name and address on the list of electors correspond to those of the elector before you (e.g. a spelling or typographical error, a legal name change has occurred or the elector wishes to provide additional information relevant to his address), a Correction Certificate (EC 50051) must be completed. The elector then votes following the regular voting procedure." Footnote 22[Emphasis added]

Based on the results of the conformity audit, it is evident that many thought the "additional information relevant to his address" would logically include address change information. However, the immediately following paragraph in the DRO/PC manual states:

"Note: If the difference in the elector's name or address is irreconcilable, or if the elector has moved, a Registration Certificate (EC 50050) must be completed to allow the elector to obtain the ballot. Do not complete a Correction Certificate (EC 50051)." [Emphasis added]

Making it a requirement that electors complete a new registration certificate even though they have only moved to a different address is clearly counterintuitive for both election officers and voters. Election officers question why it should be necessary to register people who are already registered. They do not understand the logic of why a change form can be used when an elector has changed their surname, but cannot be used when a voter has moved. Even quite experienced staff at workshops debated what the correct process was to follow for "moves" and many were unsure of what to do.

A full picture of how voter registration decisions and processes are expected to work at a polling location under the current arrangements is captured on a flow chart that appears in Annex F. However, during the by-elections the required versions of voters lists, maps, street indexes and knowledgeable Registration Officers to support these processes was not always available for Election Day operations.

The unfortunate reality is that most persons who are required to complete a registration certificate on Election Day are already registered as voters. It should be possible to simply have them indicate their changed registration information in order to be "updated", legally regarded as duly registered, and so able to cast a ballot efficiently.

Elections Canada's internal review of registration processing as a result of registration at the time of voting indicates that, on polling day at the 2011 general election, 70.7 percent of new registrations collected were for citizens already on the National Register of Electors. Most of the corresponding new registration certificates were completed by persons who had simply changed their address of residence. This shows a clear opportunity for more efficient, streamlined processes in Election Day registration. Designed well, a registration update process could reduce elector waiting time, improve compliance with procedures required to ensure every elector is properly registered, and verifies their identity and address before being issued a ballot.

In a related problem, many persons wishing to vote, but not understanding the requirement to vote only at the specific polling station that is assigned for their residential address, would arrive at an incorrect voting location.

This becomes a source of non-compliance if they are allowed to register and vote at an incorrect polling station at that location. But it is also a source of frustration and embarrassment for election officers working with no set procedure or supporting information necessary to definitively inform such electors where they should actually vote, whether or not they are already registered and on the list at the assigned station, and of the best route to reach that location from the current, incorrect, polling location.

Summary Quality of List of Electors as a Causal Theme

The quality of the list of electors has an effect on compliance in that registration at the time of voting is an "exception" process of considerable complexity and multiple opportunities to make errors. The current registration arrangements on Election Day lead to non-compliance because:

6. Historic and Cultural Factors

The current legal framework for providing polling day voting services in Canada has not been updated in any significant way since the secret ballot was introduced.

The concept of a Deputy Returning Officer and Poll Clerk "being in charge" of vote-taking for the qualified voters within a relatively small geographic area has been in place since the late 19th Century.

When this system was first designed and implemented, the polling station and polling location were synonymous terms. Voting took take place in either the residence or work location of the Deputy Returning Officer, and it was required that both officials as well as all voters be residents of the "poll" in which the vote was being conducted. Then communities were small and people knew each other there was certainly no requirement for proving identity and address of residence. Such features were simply "added on"Footnote 23 piecemeal over the decades without due consideration for the fact that every system has finite limits for efficiency.

Times have changed, yet the basic voting service model has not. Most Canadians now vote at central polling locations housing many polling stations, but the law and the procedures still reflect the same basic structure that has existed for elections in Canada for more than a hundred years.

Young people have grounds for describing their first voting experience as feeling like "some kind of time warp": a polling location is a scene of many people working diligently at separate tables, processing hard copies of legal papers and complex forms, crossing names off an official printed list with a pencil and ruler, only allowing voters to be issued a ballot at a specific table, all officers working autonomously or in pairs but never in teams, not a single computer or other piece of modern technology in use anywhere, and so on.

This is a historically-defined process. It uses terms and requires procedures to be performed in the same way they seemingly have always been. All agree that this process has served the country well, so both policy makers and election administrators are hesitant to redefine. Alternate approaches seem to present enormous transition difficulties, with associated costs and risks, especially with another election always seemingly just around the corner. And the challenge of defining a new voting service model with all the formal, intricate, highly evolved even elegant electoral integrity components that the current system embodies is, indeed, daunting.

But, as discussed in the section on Complexity above, steadily piling features onto the existing model whether to increase integrity (e.g. documented proof of identity or vouching required) or to improve accessibility (e.g. allowing registration at the time of voting) has challenged election officers' abilities, even with the best intentions, to deliver high standards of legal and procedural compliance.

Not unrelated to this historic voting service model is the reality that most Canadian election officers tend to be older.Footnote 24 Many have worked in numerous successive elections. Most Canadians tend to regard becoming an election officer as work appropriate for retirees "because they're the folks who don't have jobs to go to on Mondays".

This author spoke with many retirees who indeed had worked at every election for decades. They talked of struggling to understand new procedures as additional complexities were added, such as voter registration corrections at the time of voting, or the various approaches available to each elector to meet new requirements for proving identity and address before being issued a ballot. They remember elections where the "exception" process requirements were minimal and rare; they fail to see value in writing down details of people they know and trust; they strive to ensure that the voters they see at every election do not face unnecessary impediments in having the opportunity to get their ballot and vote. These sentiments are fully understandable, but their implications for procedural compliance are not positive.

Another related theme that has recurred throughout the review is that of the "culture of voter service" that the ordinary Canadians who work as election officers tend to bring to their Election Day roles. Simply stated, many political observers and candidate scrutineers know examples of poll officials who did absolutely everything they possibly could to avoid preventing someone from voting.

However, procedural safeguards are designed to prevent unqualified persons from voting at all, or anyone from voting more than once. Sometimes persons who cannot demonstrate eligibility must be turned away from a polling station. Election officers should not feel compelled to apologize for a need to enforce rules and uphold required procedural standards.

There is a fine balance between facilitating the franchise and protecting an election's integrity. To preserve public trust in the electoral system, this balance has to be defined, understood and respected.

Summary Historical and Cultural Factors as a Causal Theme

Historic and cultural reasons that election officers may be non-compliant with rules and procedures include:

Footnote 6 Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9.; last amended on April 1, 2012; consists of 22 Parts, 577 Sections, 338 pages. A consolidated version is available online at:

Footnote 7 Ordinary Poll Deputy Returning Officers' and Poll Clerks' Manual EC 50340 (07/09), pp. 41-45. This document is available online at: /res/pub/ecdocs/EC50340_e.pdf.

Footnote 8 This conclusion was derived from the Annex B - Conformity Audit table using the error rates reported in the 2011 General Election column. Lines 14 and then 17 to 24 were added together. This calculation indicates that for 974,403 estimated registrations, 695,593 errors are estimated to have occurred during this event. Multiple errors were often found within the same registration certificate.

Footnote 9 Using the same approach as for the voter registration error rate calculation, this conclusion was derived by adding Annex B line 30 to line 28. Line 31 was not included as it extensively duplicates the measurement of error indicated in line 30. For 120,171 voters estimated as needing to be vouched for, 95,559 errors are estimated to have occurred. Multiple errors on a single voter record often occurred, making it inappropriate to derive a precise percentage error rate from this figure.

Footnote 10 This is an estimate made by the Reviewer based on feedback from elections field staff collected during the course of this Review. The actual numbers of participating voters who do not have a driver's licence or equivalent piece of identity documentation to prove their identity and address of residence is not captured at the time of voting. In an Elections Canada voter survey following the May, 2011 general election, 90 percent of those who voted stated that they had used their driver's licence for identification. Because one percent of the voting population is measured to require vouching, this would indicate that the number of voters who need to provide two pieces of documentation to prove their identity and address could be as high as nine percent.

Footnote 11 Fifteen percent of voters require one or more of 17 different "exception" processes: eight percent need to go through (#1) a voter registration process; five percent need to provide (#2) two pieces of acceptable identity documentation that, in combination, shows proof name and residential address; one percent need to either have (#3) a registered voter from the same polling division vouch for their identity in order to be issued a ballot or have that voter vouch in both voter registration and ballot issuance procedures; and another one percent need to go through a special administrative process (#4-17) from the list of 14 shown on the preceding page.

Footnote 12 Canada Elections Act, section 283 (1).

Footnote 13 For an overview of these legal requirements, the reader is encouraged to scan the frequency of the DRO designation in the table of legislated responsibilities assigned to polling day election officers appearing in Annex A.

Footnote 14 This is an interpretation based on the example provided in Canada Elections Act section 148.1(2) where the Returning Officer takes an appeal from an elector and may then direct allowance of a vote, in essence overriding a DRO's decision. Other interpretations argue that each Deputy Returning Officer is autonomous in their decision-making and those decisions, except in a very few circumstances, are not subject to any escalation procedure.

Footnote 15 Canada adopted legal provisions for administering elections that were originally developed in the United Kingdom in the 19th Century. Discussion of Returning Officers, their Deputies and Poll Clerks appear throughout an 1826 publication entitled 'A Digest of the Law of Elections containing the Proceedings at Elections for all places in England, Ireland and Scotland'. View this publication online at:

Footnote 16 Canada Elections Act, section 124 (2).

Footnote 17 See EC 50355 Central Poll Supervisors' Manual; EC 50456 Information Officers' Manual; EC 50357 Registration Officers' Manual; EC 50340 Deputy Returning Officers' and Poll Clerks' Manual. Each of these manuals are accessible online via the search function at Elections Canada's web page: htttp://

Footnote 18 Rates of pay for election officer are not set by Elections Canada. The Tariff of Fees must be approved by the Treasury Board.

Footnote 19 Training fees are a component of the Tariff of Fees set by the Treasury Board.

Footnote 20 In June 2010, the Chief Electoral Officer formally recommended legal mechanisms to allow earlier appointments. This recommendation was not supported by the Parliamentary Committee that reviewed the requests for legislative change. See 'Responding to Changing Needs Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer', section 1.2, available online at:

Footnote 21 Statistics Canada, 'Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada', July 20, 2011. Available online at:

Footnote 22 Ordinary Poll Deputy Returning Officers' and Poll Clerks' Manual EC 50340 (07/09), p. 64. This document is available online at:

Footnote 23 In addition to identify documentation requirements, there are many other examples of evolving complexity in the poll officials' Election Day work environment. These include an increased emphasis on personal privacy, sensitivity to the accessibility needs of the disabled, accommodation of culturally sensitive traditions and practices, provision of ballot access and marking instructions through language translation, an expectation of procedural efficiency, etc.

Footnote 24 Forty-five percent of Deputy Returning Officers and Poll Clerks employed in the 41st General Election held in May 2011 were over the age of 60; 65 percent were over the age of 50.