Compendium of Election Administration in Canada: A Comparative Overview
E. Voting Process
For voting purposes, each electoral district is divided into polling divisions, established by the returning officer for that electoral district. Each polling division has at least one polling station, to which electors are assigned to cast their ballots. All jurisdictions, except Saskatchewan, require every polling station to provide level access for electors with a disability or in wheelchairs.
The minimum election period, from the issuance of the writ to polling day, ranges from 21 days in Newfoundland and Labrador to 36 days in Canada. In Canada, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, polling day is a Monday, unless that day is a holiday. In that case, the following day is designated. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and British Columbia, polling day must be a Tuesday. In Ontario, it must be a Thursday, while in Alberta, no day is specified. Electors are allowed between 10 and 13 hours for voting on polling day (10 in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nunavut; 12 in Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Yukon; 13 in Manitoba; 10.5 in Quebec; and 11 in the rest). All jurisdictions have legislated fixed election dates, with the exception of Nova Scotia and Yukon. Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have also legislated alternative fixed election dates where the writ period overlaps with a federal election.
In addition to the ordinary polls on polling day, all jurisdictions have established alternative methods of voting to ensure that all electors can cast their ballots. These supplementary methods include advance polls (or an advance voting opportunity in the Northwest Territories), mail-in or special ballots, voting at the office of the returning officer and mobile polls. Some jurisdictions also allow proxy voting, a method by which an elector who is absent from his or her polling division on polling day authorizes a relative or another elector to cast his or her ballot. Proxy voting is permitted in Yukon and Nunavut.
Mobile polls are travelling polling stations, usually meant for hospitals or senior citizens' care facilities. In Quebec, they visit the facilities in the 10th, 9th, 6th, 5th and 4th days preceding polling day; in other jurisdictions, they are made available at the time of the advance polls, or on polling day, or at any time designated by the returning officer between those dates. Mobile polls are provided in 11 jurisdictions (Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut). The Northwest Territories also permits the establishment of multi-district mobile polls when the Chief Electoral Officer deems it to be necessary.
All jurisdictions provide opportunities for advance voting at polling stations. In all jurisdictions but the Northwest Territories, these are referred to as advance polls. Any electors who will not be able to vote on polling day may cast ballots at an advance poll. Advance polls usually take place on two or three different days, one week before polling day. In the Northwest Territories advance voting opportunities may take place in different locations during different hours. The locations and hours are determined by the returning officers for the electoral districts in which the specified polling divisions are situated, allowing for greater flexibility.
All jurisdictions have introduced mail-in or special ballots. As a rule, this method of voting is available to any elector, though it is especially meant for those unable to vote on polling day or at an advance poll. Electors must apply for a special ballot before a specified deadline, and ballots must be received by a specified time to be counted. Deadlines for both the application and the return of the ballot vary from one jurisdiction to another. However, except in Saskatchewan, the deadline for receipt of the ballot never falls after polling day, nor are mail-in ballots received after the deadline counted toward the final vote.
All jurisdictions also permit assistance if an elector needs help to vote. The deputy returning officer (or another election officer), a friend, or a relative may accompany the elector behind the voting screen to help mark the ballot, with slight variations among jurisdictions. A template is provided for electors who have difficulty seeing or reading, although not in Prince Edward Island, Yukon or the Northwest Territories (although a template is not legislated in Nova Scotia, a template is, in fact, provided). In all jurisdictions except Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, legislation states that an interpreter may also be provided.
All jurisdictions ensure that electors are entitled to time off from their employment for voting. In most jurisdictions, employers must allow electors up to three consecutive hours for voting, but in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, British Columbia and Yukon, employers must allow up to four consecutive hours. In Prince Edward Island, employers must provide not less than one hour. In Nunavut, employers must provide two consecutive hours.
In Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the legislation allows the issuance of transfer certificates to candidates or their agents, election officers, and electors with a disability. In Ontario, electors who have recently moved are also eligible. In Canada, electors whose polling station has moved are eligible to receive transfer certificates. Electors with certificates may vote on polling day at a polling station other than the one to which they were assigned, either because they are employed at another polling station or their assigned polling station does not have level access. The certificates are usually provided by the returning officer or election clerk.
Immediately after the close of polls, the deputy returning officer is responsible for counting the votes at each polling station. In New Brunswick, either designated Ballot Counting Officers or Tabulation Machine Officers are responsible for tabulating the votes. The official addition of the votes (validation of the votes in Canada) usually takes place at the office of the returning officer some time later, as prescribed by law. In most jurisdictions, a judicial recount must occur if the number of votes separating the candidates who placed first and second at the official addition is less than a given number or fraction. A judicial recount may also be requested if there is reason to believe that there may have been irregularities in the official addition of votes. The applicant for such a recount usually has to make a deposit. An appeal of a judicial recount is permitted in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In the case of a tie between the first two candidates after a judicial recount, the seat is generally declared vacant and a by-election is called. In New Brunswick and Ontario, the returning officer casts the deciding vote, while in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Yukon the returning officer must draw lots or toss a coin.
In a number of jurisdictions (Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Nunavut), the Act authorizes the Chief Electoral Officer to explore alternative voting methods, procedures and/or technology, including electronic voting machines. In some cases, prior approval of Parliament or the legislative assembly is required.
Table E.1 Polling divisions, polling stations and polling day
|Jurisdiction||Number of electors per polling division||Polling station level access||Electoral period||Polling day||Hours of voting|
|Canada||At least 250 electors||Yes||Minimum 36 days||3rd Monday in October every four years (scheduled for October 19, 2015)||
|Newfoundland and Labrador||No more than 275 electors||Yes||Minimum 21 days, maximum 30 days||2nd Tuesday in October every four years (scheduled for October 13, 2015)||8:00 a.m.8:00 p.m.|
|Prince Edward Island||Approximately 350 electors||Yes||Minimum 26, maximum 32 days||
||9:00 a.m.7:00 p.m.|
|Nova Scotia||Approximately 450 electors||Yes||Minimum 30, maximum 46 days||Must be a Tuesday||8:00 a.m.8:00 p.m.|
|New Brunswick||As directed by Chief Electoral Officer||Yes||
||4th Monday in September in the 4th calendar year following the most recent general election (scheduled for September 24, 2018)||10:00 a.m.8:00 p.m. (must be open for 10 full hours)|
|Quebec||No more than 425 electors||Yes||Minimum 33, maximum 39 days||
9:30 a.m.8:00 p.m.
|Ontario||As directed by Chief Electoral Officer||Yes||Minimum 30 days, may be extended up to 7 days so polling day does not fall on a day of religious or cultural significance that is unsuitable for voting||1st Thursday in October every four years (scheduled for October 1, 2018)||
||7:00 a.m.8:00 p.m.|
|Saskatchewan||No more than 300 electors||||Minimum 27, maximum 34 days||
||9:00 a.m.8:00 p.m.|
|Alberta||No more than 450 electors||Yes||Must be 28 days||Any time between March 1 and May 31 every four years (scheduled for 2016)||9:00 a.m.8:00 p.m.|
|British Columbia||No more than 400 electors (rural areas) and 700 electors (urban areas)||Yes||Must be 28 days||2nd Tuesday in May every four years (scheduled for May 9, 2017)||8:00 a.m.8:00 p.m.|
|Yukon||400 electors||Yes||Minimum 31 days||Must be a Monday||8:00 a.m.8:00 p.m.|
|Northwest Territories||No more than 450 electorsFootnote 1||Yes||Minimum 28 days||
||9:00 a.m.8:00 p.m.|
|Nunavut||No reference to polling divisions; however, not more than 550 voters per polling station||Yes||Maximum 35 days, or 36 if election day falls on a holiday||Last Monday in October every four years (scheduled for October 30, 2017)||9:00 a.m.7:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, as modified by Daylight Saving Time when applicable, for all constituencies|
Return to source of Footnote 1 Polling divisions with fewer than 200 registered electors may be amalgamated into adjacent polling divisions.
Table E.2 Alternative methods of voting
|Jurisdiction||Proxy voting||Establishment eligible for mobile polling||Mobile poll voting time||Advance poll period||Advance poll eligibility and voter identification requirements||Level access necessary for advance poll location||Mail-in or special ballot eligibility||Mail-in or special ballot deadline|
|Canada||||Where there are 2 or more institutions in which seniors or persons with a disability reside||Polling day, at times set by returning officer||Noon8:00 p.m. on 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before polling day||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day. Elector must also sign record of advance voters.||Yes||Canadian Forces electors; public servants of Canada or a province or employees of international organizations of which Canada is a member posted outside Canada; persons absent from Canada less than 5 consecutive years and intending to return to reside in Canada;Footnote 1 incarcerated electors; any other elector in Canada||
|Newfoundland and Labrador||||||||One or more of the 7 days immediately before polling day||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day.||Yes||Electors who would have difficulty voting at advance polls or on polling day and inmates||
|Prince Edward Island||||||||9:00 a.m.7:00 p.m. on Saturday the 9th, Monday the 7th and Friday the 3rd days before polling day||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day.||Yes||Electors who will be unable to vote at advance polls or on polling day and Canadian Forces electors||
|Nova Scotia||||Long-term care facilities||Minimum of 2 hours fixed by returning officer||Saturday, the 10th day before election and Monday to Saturday (8th to 3rd day before election day) from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Open until 8:00 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day.||Yes||Any elector may vote by write-in ballot||
|New Brunswick||||||||10:00 a.m.8:00 p.m. on 9th and 7th days before polling day||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day||Yes||Any elector||
||The 10th, 9th, 6th, 5th and 4th days before polling day, the day and the hours when the polling station will travel to electors are determined by returning officer;
On the last day, voting ends at 2:00 p.m.
||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day||Yes||Electors who leave Quebec temporarily after having been domiciled there for 12 months, up to two years after departure
Exceptions: The two-year delay does not apply to electors posted outside Quebec to a position on behalf of the Government of Quebec or Canada, or to the spouses and dependents of those electors if they are electors themselves
|Ontario||||Canadian Forces sites, hospitals, psychiatric facilities and long-term care homes||At the discretion of the CEO||
||Electors who expect to be unable to vote on polling day. Requires same ID as on regular polling day||Yes||Any elector||
|ManitobaFootnote 3||||In sparsely populated areas, health care and correctional institutions. Also, if the Chief Electoral Officer approves, the returning officer may establish a separate voting area for an apartment, condominium complex or other multiple residence containing fewer than 100 units, where the majority of the residents are seniors or persons with disabilities, or may extend an institutional voting station established to a co-located facility or residence where seniors or persons with disabilities reside||During hours between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. specified by returning officer for institutional polls, or between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. for mobile polls||Noon6:00 p.m. on Sundays, 8:00 a.m.8:00 p.m. other days, from 2nd Saturday before polling day to Saturday before polling day||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day||Yes||Electors who cannot go in person to polling station due to a disability; who are providing care to a person unable to leave home (homebound voters); who expect to be absent during advance polls and polling day (absentee voters)||
|Saskatchewan||||In special or unusual circumstances requiring a mobile poll||Any hours the returning officer deems necessary, from first day of advance polls to 8:00 p.m. on polling day||
||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day||||Electors who provide evidence that they will be unable to vote at advance polls or on polling day, that they are a homebound voter who cannot be visited by an electoral officer, or who are ordinarily resident in a polling division designated as a remote area may vote by absentee ballot||
|Alberta||||In treatment centres and supportive living facilities with at least 10 electors||Fixed by returning officer in consultation with facility staff||9:00 a.m.8:00 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday of the full week before polling day||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day.||Yes||An elector who is unable to vote due to physical incapacity, absence, incarceration; an election or candidate employee working on election day; residing in remote location; or any other prescribed reasons. Also if there is reason to believe regular voting may be a danger to individual's security||
|British Columbia||||As established by district electoral officer||As established by district electoral officer||8:00 a.m.8:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday of the week immediately preceding the week before polling day, and on Wednesday through Saturday of the week before polling day||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day||||Electors who will be away on polling day, have a physical disability, live in remote areas, or who because of weather or for another reason beyond electors' control cannot vote at polls||
|Yukon||Any elector who may be away from Yukon on polling day or who resides in electoral district with no highway access to polling station or regular postal service may by proxy application, appoint another voter or authorize one to be appointed||The returning officer for an electoral district that contains a care centre with ten or more residents shall, after consulting the administrator of the care centre, decide whether or not to hold an institution poll in the care centreFootnote 4||||8:00 a.m.8:00 p.m. on 23rd and 24th days after issue of writs||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day||||Electors who are housebound; unable to vote at advance or regular poll; students in an educational institution in Yukon, but outside electoral district and their accompanying spouses or dependents; temporarily resident in a transition home; unable to vote at polling station on polling day after close of advance poll; voters in electoral district with fewer than 25 voters; those at a hospital or correctional institution; an elector who reasonably expects to not be able to vote neither at an advance poll nor at a polling station on polling day, remote electors who reside at a place in Yukon where there is neither highway access to a polling station nor regular postal service||
|Northwest Territories||||A multi-district poll may be established by the Chief Electoral Officer, if he or she considers it necessary. Mobile poll established by designated election officer upon application by elector who, by reason of disability, is unable to attend the polls||Multi-district poll times established by the Chief Electoral Officer and mobile poll times established by the designated election officer between the 7th and 4th days before polling day||During hours set by returning officers for their electoral districts, starting Monday, the 7th day before polling day, until Thursday, the 4th day before polling day. May also vote in returning office during office hours, starting Wednesday, the 12th day before polling day, until 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, the 2nd day before polling day||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day; may prove identity and residence by acquaintance (is personally known to the election officer) at advance voting opportunity and voting in the office of the returning officer||||Any registered elector may apply for an absentee ballot||
|NunavutFootnote 5||Any elector on the voters list who is unexpectedly absent from his or her constituency and has no other opportunity to vote can apply to vote by proxy from the 5th day before the election until 3:00 p.m. the day of the vote||Any voter who is shut in and unable to vote may call the returning officer to request a visit by a mobile poll. Established by the Chief Electoral Officer and returning officer according to need||As determined by returning officer on advance polling days||Noon7:00 p.m. on 7th day before polling day||Any elector. Requires same ID as on regular polling day||||Electors who believe that they will be unable to vote at a polling station on polling day||
Return to source of Footnote 1 On July 20, 2015, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned an Ontario Superior Court ruling that had found unconstitutional the provision which prohibited Canadians living abroad for more than five years from voting. This provision of the Canada Elections Act (paragraph 11(d)) was thus upheld.
Return to source of Footnote 2 Comes into force on proclamation or on January 1, 2016, if not proclaimed in force before that day. At present, applications are accepted as soon as possible until the fifth day before ordinary polling day.
Return to source of Footnote 3 An applicant may be asked to provide his or her gender and date of birth in an application to vote as an absentee or as a homebound voter.
Return to source of Footnote 4 Polling at an institution poll in a care centre shall be during the hours decided by the returning officer, except that the institution poll must be open for at least two consecutive hours. The poll in a care centre may be moved from place to place (mobile).
Return to source of Footnote 5 Nunavut allows the use of a telecommunications device to cast a ballot. This device is used if the elector is unable to vote by any other methods due to the elector's remote location.
Table E.3 Assistance to voters on polling day
|Jurisdiction||Assistance to vote provided by||Template||Interpreter||Time off for voting||Transfer certificates eligibility||Transfer certificates deadline|
|Canada||Deputy returning officer, friend (may assist only one elector), relative or designated election officer||Yes||Yes||3 consecutive hours||Candidates; election officers appointed to another polling station; electors whose polling station has moved; electors with a disability whose polling station does not have level access|||
|Newfoundland and Labrador||Deputy returning officer or friend||Yes||||4 consecutive hours|||||
|Prince Edward Island||Deputy returning officer or friend who is an elector (may assist only one elector)||||||Not less than 1 hour|||||
|Nova Scotia||An election officer or a person accompanying the elector (the latter may only assist one elector unless he/she is a direct relative or caregiver)||yes
|Yes||3 consecutive hours||Candidates, agents; election officers appointed to another polling station; electors with physical disability whose polling station does not have level access||For candidates and agents or electors with physical disability, application must be received no later than 3rd day before polling day|
|New Brunswick||Election officer or friend (may assist only one elector)||Yes||Yes||3 consecutive hours||Electors with physical disability whose polling station does not have level access. Curbside voting provided if unable to access polling station|||
|Quebec||Spouse or relative, deputy returning officer in presence of poll clerk, or another person in presence of deputy returning officer and poll clerk (may assist only one elector other than relative)||Yes||yes
(only for sign language)
|4 consecutive hours|||||
|Ontario||Deputy returning officer or friend||yes
|Yes||3 consecutive hours||Change of address, restricted mobility, deputy returning officers, poll clerks, scrutineers||Application must be received up to and including the day immediately before polling day|
|Manitoba||Voting officer or another person (may assist two electors)||Yes||Yes||3 consecutive hours|||||
|Saskatchewan||Deputy returning officer, for voter with physical incapacity or inability to read; or friend||Yes||Yes||3 consecutive hours|||||
|Alberta||Deputy returning officer or friend||Yes||Yes||3 consecutive hours|||||
|British Columbia||Election official or individual accompanying voter (may assist only one elector aside from a relative)||yes
|Yes||4 consecutive hours|||||
|Yukon||Deputy returning officer||||Yes||4 consecutive hours|||||
|Northwest Territories||Friend or relative (may assist two electors) or deputy returning officer||||Yes||3 consecutive hours|||||
|Nunavut||Friend or relative (may assist one voter) or deputy returning officer||Yes||Yes||2 consecutive hours||
||Close of polls on election day|
Table E.4 Final tally of all votes
|Jurisdiction||Place||Time||Automatic recount when||Judicial recount may be requested byFootnote 1||Time limits||Deposit required||Appeal of a judicial recount||In case of a tie|
|Canada||Office of returning officer||Stated in Notice of Election. Not later than seven days after polling day||Difference between two leading candidates is less than 1/1000 of votes cast||Elector||Request must be made within 4 days after results are validated; judge must fix a date within 4 days of request||$250||||By-election called|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||At place fixed for official count of the polls||3rd day after polling day, or on the next day when the weather permits||There is a tie or the difference between the two leading candidates is 10 votes or less||Elector or candidate||Chief Electoral Officer must apply within 7 days of official addition of votes; electors or candidates, within 10 days of addition of votes by returning officer||$100||||By-election called|
|Prince Edward Island||Office of returning officer||10:00 a.m. on Monday, 7th day after polling day||||Candidate||Request must be made within 4 days of official addition; judge must fix a time and place within 6 days of request||$200||||Returning officer must toss a coin to determine the winning candidate in the presence of at least two authorized persons|
|Nova Scotia||Office of returning officer||10:00 a.m. on Thursday, 2nd day after polling day||There is a tie or difference between the two leading candidates is less than 10 votes||Candidate or candidate's official agent||Request must be made within 4 days of official addition; judge must fix a time and place within 2 days of request||$100||||Returning officer must draw a lot in the presence of the election clerk, the candidates or their agents (if none are present, then in the presence of two electors) and the judge who conducted the recount|
|New Brunswick||Fixed by proclamation of the returning officer||Fixed in proclamation. Must be before the 4th day following ordinary polling day||||Elector||Request must be made within 4 days of official addition; recount must be held within 4 days of application to judge||$200
(if request is not about closeness of vote)
|||Returning officer casts a ballot|
|Quebec||Office of returning officer||9:00 a.m. on day following polling day||There is a tie||Any person; any candidate who came second, or his mandatary, where the majority is less than 1/1000 of votes cast||Request must be made within 4 days of addition of votes; recount must begin within 4 days of request||||||By-election called|
|Ontario||Fixed by returning officer in his or her notice of poll||Fixed by returning officer in his or her notice of poll||Difference between two leading candidates is less than 25 votes||Elector or candidate||Application must be made, heard, and decided by a judge within 4 days (excluding Sunday) of official tabulation; recount must be within 10 days of the grant of the application||$200||Any party may appeal, in writing, within two days, a decision of the judge who conducted the recount||Returning officer casts a ballot|
|Manitoba||Fixed by returning officer||As soon as possible after all ballot boxes received from voting officers and the non-resident advance vote and institutional write-in ballots are counted. Fixed by returning officer||Difference between two leading candidates is less than 50 votes||Elector or candidate within the electoral division||Request must be made within 6 days after candidate is declared elected; recount must be within 2 weeks after application received from the court||||Any party may appeal, in writing, within five days, a decision of the judge who conducted the recount||By-election called|
|Saskatchewan||Fixed by proclamation of the returning officer||Fixed by proclamation of the returning officer||Candidate or candidate's business manager have automatic right to request a recount from returning officer if there is a tie or if the difference between two leading candidates is less than total number of all unopened ballot envelopes, rejected ballots, and ballots objected to||Candidate or candidate's business manager||
|Alberta||Fixed by returning officer||Fixed by returning officer||There is a tie||Candidate or candidate's official agent||Request must be made within 8 days of announcement of official count; clerk of Court must fix day and time within 10 days of application||||Any party may appeal decision within two days of receiving notice of decision concerning recount||By-election called|
|British Columbia||Office of district electoral officer. May be changed if notification given||Not before 13th day after polling day. Fixed by district electoral officer in candidate notification||Must recount if requested in writing within three days of election by a candidate or the official agent of a candidate on specific bases. Must request judicial recount if there is a tie or the difference between two leading candidates is less than 1/500 of votes cast||Elector, candidate, candidate's representative, or district electoral officer||Request must be made within six days of official addition||||A candidate may appeal decision within two days of recount||By-election called|
|Yukon||Fixed by proclamation of the returning officer||10:00 a.m. on day fixed by proclamation of the returning officer, not earlier than the Wednesday immediately following polling day and not later than the 10th day after||There is a tie or difference between two leading candidates is 10 votes or less||Any person||Request must be made prior to end of 6th day after official addition; judge must fix day and time within 4 days of request||$200||||Returning officer must draw lots in the presence of a judge and any candidate or agent|
|Northwest Territories||Fixed by proclamation of the returning officer||Fixed by proclamation of the returning officer||There is a tie or difference between two leading candidates is less than 2% of total number of votes cast||Elector or Chief Electoral Officer||Request must be made within 5 days of official addition; judge must fix a date and time within 10 days of request||$250||A party to a recount may appeal decision within 8 days of recountFootnote 2||By-election called|
|Nunavut||Every polling station that was open during the election and in the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer for special ballots||Immediately after close of polls||The difference between two leading candidates is nil or less than 2% of total votes cast in constituency||Voter||Within 8 days of the declaration of results||$250||Any party to a recount may appeal decision within 8 days of the recount||By-election called|
Return to source of Footnote 1 Only when there is reason to believe that there may have been irregularities in the official addition of votes.
Return to source of Footnote 2 Only if the judge conducting the recount failed to comply with sections 209 to 215 of the Elections and Plebiscites Act.