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Elections Canada has compiled a glossary of electoral terms. Click on a letter below to move to the terms that begin with that letter, or simply use your browser's scroll bar to view all of them.


Accessibility (accessibilité)

The extent to which obstacles to a place or activity have been removed. Voting at a federal electoral event is very accessible. All election day polling places, with only a few exceptions, have level access. Voters who are unable to mark the ballot can receive help. There is a voting template for persons with a visual disability. All advance poll sites have level access.

Advance voting (vote par anticipation)

The polls are open between noon and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before election day, for those who want to vote early. The ballots are kept in a sealed envelope until election day and are counted at the same time as the other ballots.


Ballot (bulletin de vote)

A piece of paper on which are printed the names of the candidates, their political parties and a place for the voter to indicate the preferred candidate. (At a referendum, the ballot has a printed question and spaces for the voter to answer "Yes" or "No.") Canada uses the secret ballot, which means no one except the voter knows the choice that was made.

Ballot box (urne)

A cardboard box with a narrow slot on top, into which all ballots issued to electors are placed until the polls close and the votes are counted. There is one ballot box at each polling station.

Bill (projet de loi)

New legislation, or changes to an existing law proposed to Parliament. Bills must be debated and passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate before they become laws.

By-election (élection partielle)

An election held in a particular electoral district to fill a vacancy in the House of Commons at any time other than during a general election. Several by-elections may be held on the same day.


Canada Elections Act (Loi électorale du Canada)

The law that governs the conduct of federal elections in Canada.

Candidate (candidat)

A person who seeks election to public office. A candidate running in a federal election or by-election is trying to be elected a member of Parliament. The candidates' signs dot the landscape in each electoral district.

Candidate's representative (représentant de candidat)

A candidate's representative may be present at the polling station during the voting and counting of the ballots. Often called a scrutineer.

Central polling place (centre de scrutin)

A voting site containing more than one polling station.

Central poll supervisor (superviseur d’un centre de scrutin)

The returning officer's representative at a polling place with four or more polling stations. This person supervises the staff, including the deputy returning officers and poll clerks.

Chief Electoral Officer (directeur général des élections)

The independent officer of Parliament responsible for the management of federal elections and referendums. Marc Mayrand is the sixth Canadian to hold this office since it was established in 1920.


See Electoral district

Counting of the votes (dépouillement du scrutin)

The process of counting the votes received at a polling station. The count is carried out by the deputy returning officer for the polling station, assisted by the poll clerk, after the close of the polling station. Candidates or their representatives are entitled to be present for the count and to receive a copy of the statement of the vote showing the number of votes cast for each candidate at that polling station.


Deputy returning officer (scrutateur)

The election or referendum officer who supervises a polling station. The deputy returning officer's tasks include making decisions about a person's eligibility to vote, counting the ballots and certifying the results.


Election day (jour de l’élection)

The day most people go to vote. Also known as polling day. Election day must be a Monday, and at least 36 days after the writs are issued. If that Monday happens to be a holiday, election day is the following Tuesday.

Elections Canada (Élections Canada)

The non-partisan agency responsible for the running of federal elections, by-elections and referendums. Also known as the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer.

Elector (électeur)

A person who is a Canadian citizen at least 18 years old, and therefore eligible to vote.

Electoral boundaries (limites des circonscriptions)

The lines defining the outer limits of electoral districts. The boundaries are readjusted by independent electoral boundaries commissions (one for each province) after each decennial (10-year) census conducted by Statistics Canada. The boundary adjustments reflect changes and movements in Canada's population. This process is known as redistribution. The most recent redistribution was conducted in 2012–2013, taking effect for the 2015 general election. It provided 15 additional ridings for Ontario, 6 more each for British Columbia and Alberta, and 3 more for Quebec, bringing the total number of seats in the House of Commons to 338.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Loi sur la révision des limites des circonscriptions électorales)

The law that outlines the rules for readjusting electoral district boundaries.

Electoral district (circonscription)

A geographical area represented by a member of the House of Commons; often called a riding or constituency. There are 308 federal electoral districts in Canada (338 as of the 2015 general election).

Electoral district association (association de circonscription)

Also known as a riding association or a constituency association, it is a local association of members of a political party in an electoral district. If an electoral district association of a registered political party wants to accept contributions, provide goods and services or transfer funds, it must apply to the Chief Electoral Officer to be registered.

Electoral event (scrutin)

A generic term used to describe a general election, by-election or referendum.

Electoral system (système électoral)

Canada uses a first-past-the-post system. In this system, the candidate who gets more votes than any other candidate in the electoral district wins. It is thus not necessary to obtain an absolute majority of the votes (50 percent plus one) to be elected.

Enfranchisement (admission au suffrage)

Extension of the right to vote to a particular group of people. Some examples include the 1918 extension of the franchise to women and the 1970 lowering of the voting age from 21 years to 18.

Expenses limit (plafond des dépenses électorales)

Maximum amount that a candidate or registered political party is authorized to spend during an election period. The limit is calculated on the basis of the number of registered electors in the electoral district in which the candidate is running, or in all the electoral districts in which the registered party is running confirmed candidates. It is indexed every year for inflation.


Franchise (droit de vote)

The right to vote.


General election (élection générale)

An election held simultaneously in every electoral district in Canada.


Identification (identification)

To receive a ballot at the polling station or to register to vote at the advance polls or on election day, electors must prove their identity and address. They can: (1) show one original piece of ID with the elector's photo, name and address, such as a driver's licence; (2) show two original pieces of identification from a list authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada – both with the elector's name and one with the elector's address, such as a health card and hydro bill; or (3) prove identity in the prescribed manner and swear a written oath of residence, attested to by another elector whose name appears on the list of electors in the same polling division and who has acceptable pieces of ID.