Secondary menu

Policy on Voter Identification with Regard to Registering and Voting in Person in Federal Electoral Events

Printable PDF version

Last updated: August 31, 2015

Table of Contents

1. Purpose

This policy defines the requirements regarding voter identification to ensure coherence and consistency in the application of the provisions of the Act. The policy reflects the Canada Elections Act as of December 19, 2014.

The policy sets out the considerations and principles for administering the voter identification requirements of the Act when registering and voting in person in federal electoral events. It explains to Canadians, Parliament and political entities how Elections Canada establishes the list of authorized pieces of identification and how it intends to administer the identification provisions at the polls.

The policy includes the list of pieces of identification authorized by the CEO pursuant to the Act. The list serves to allow all eligible electors to exercise their right to vote freely and without undue burden while maintaining trust in the electoral process. Trust in the electoral process includes both confidence in the integrity of the process, as well as confidence that it is administered in a fair, consistent, effective and transparent manner.

2. Definitions

"Canada Elections Act; the Act": Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c. 9.

"Chief Electoral Officer; the CEO": Refers to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.

"Correspondence": On the list of pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, the term correspondence is deemed to include all statements of account, transcripts and communications between a school, college or university and an elector.

"Election officer": An individual appointed under section 22(1) of the Canada Elections Act. For the purposes of this policy, election officers include returning officers, deputy returning officers, and registration officers at the polls.

"Elections Canada; the agency": Refers to the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.

"Electoral event": Refers to a federal general election, by-election or referendum. The Canada Elections Act states that an electoral event must be a minimum of 36 days. An electoral event commences when the writ is issued and concludes on polling day.

"Identification": Refers to an elector providing an election officer with satisfactory proof of his or her name and address.

"Piece(s) of identification": Refers to all pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada for proving identity and/or residence.

"Voter Identification Policy": Refers to Elections Canada's Policy on Voter Identification with Regard to Registering and Voting in Person in Federal Electoral Events.

3. Application

This policy applies at a federal general election, by-election or referendum.

It applies to electors who are registering and voting in person on polling day (ss. 161(1), 143) or at a mobile poll (s. 125(4)), electors who are registering and voting in person on advance polling days (ss. 169, 171), and electors who request a special ballot in person at the office of the returning officer (s. 237.1(1)).

4. Effective Date

This policy came into force on December 19, 2014, and was last updated on August 31, 2015.

5. Considerations

Three key considerations have guided the development of the Voter Identification Policy:

  • accessibility for electors who may face barriers in providing documentary proof of their ordinary place of residence
  • the integrity of the vote, including public confidence in the electoral system
  • the efficient administration of electoral events, whereby the process is seamless and the requirements are applied consistently

With regard to accessibility, a continued challenge in the identification regime is the difficulty some electors face in providing documentary proof of their residence. Among the larger challenges is that no piece of identification issued by the Government of Canada contains all three elements required in a single piece by the Act: the elector's photograph, name and address.

Furthermore, few pieces of identification issued by provincial, territorial or local governments contain these three elements. The most commonly held piece of identification that satisfies these criteria is the driver's licence. It is estimated that 86 percent of the Canadian population (18 years of age and older) holds a driver's licence. It is estimated that 28 percent of seniors (65 and older) and 19 percent of youth (18 to 24) do not have a driver's licence.Footnote 1

The following categories of electors are more likely to experience difficulty in proving their identity and, in particular, their place of ordinary residence:

  • Aboriginal people (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) and electors living on First Nations reserves: Aboriginal people are among the fastest-growing population groups in Canada.Footnote 2 Additionally, the Aboriginal population is much younger than the general population.Footnote 3
  • Electors living in long-term care facilities: Seniors make up the fastest-growing age group in Canada. In 2011, an estimated 5 million Canadians were 65 years of age and older, a number that is expected to double in the next 25 years to reach 10.4 million by 2036.Footnote 4 The number of electors aged 85 and older, comprising roughly 2 percent of the total population, is expected to nearly triple to 5.8 percent of the total population by 2041.Footnote 5
  • Youth and students: Among the estimated 1.9 million Canadian students enrolled in post-secondary education,Footnote 6 those living away from home face difficulties in proving their place of ordinary residence.
  • Electors who are homeless: Single adult males in urban areas make up the highest percentage of the homeless population in Canada.Footnote 7
  • Electors who have recently moved or who have difficulty proving their physical address (such as those with rural PO boxes): More than 3 million electors move every year.Footnote 8 This represents approximately 13 percent of all electors in the National Register of Electors.Footnote 9

6. Legal Context

The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada is responsible to exercise the powers and perform the duties and functions that are necessary for the administration of the Canada Elections Act (s. 16(d) and s. 143(2)). In the exercise of his discretion under s. 143(2)(b) of the Act, the CEO takes into account s. 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and FreedomsFootnote 10 that guarantees every Canadian the right to vote and to be a candidate as well as case law on the identification regime.

In 2010, Canada's identification requirements, which were initially adopted by Parliament in 2007, were challenged in Henry v. Canada (Attorney General)Footnote 11 wherein it was argued that the identification provisions in the Act infringed on the right to vote guaranteed under section 3 of the Charter.

The British Columbia Supreme Court found the identification rules at issue in that case were a reasonable limit on Canadians' electoral rights. Nonetheless, the Court noted that the Charter "creates a positive obligation on the state to put in place appropriate arrangements for the effective exercise of the right to vote" (para. 140). This constitutional right does not only guarantee citizens the right to vote, but obligates the state to ensure that this right can be exercised. 

The Court affirmed the CEO's responsibility to expand and/or modify the pieces on the list of identification as a means to increase accessibility, while continuing to balance concerns surrounding integrity.

Identification requirements – Options to Prove Identity and Residence

According to sections 143(2)(a) and (b) and 143(3) of the Act, electors are required to provide documentary evidence of both their name and their address to register and to cast a ballot at a polling station. The Act provides three options to this end.

Section 143(2) and (3) of the Canada Elections Act

143. (2) If the poll clerk determines that the elector's name and address appear on the list of electors or that the elector is allowed to vote under section 146, 147, 148 or 149, then, subject to subsection (3), the elector shall provide to the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk the following proof of his or her identity and residence:

  • (a) one piece of identification issued by a Canadian government, whether federal, provincial or local, or an agency of that government, that contains a photograph of the elector and his or her name and address; or
  • (b) two pieces of identification of a type authorized under subsection (2.1), each of which establishes the elector's name and at least one of which establishes the elector's address.

(2.1) The Chief Electoral Officer may authorize types of identification for the purposes of paragraph (2)(b). For greater certainty, any document – other than a notice of confirmation of registration sent under section 95 or 102 – regardless of who issued the document, may be authorized.

(3) An elector who proves his or her identity by providing two pieces of identification of a type authorized under subsection (2.1) that establish the elector's name may instead prove his or her residence by taking an oath in writing in the prescribed form – the form including the statement that he or she has received the oral advice set out in subsection 143.1(1) – if he or she is accompanied by another elector whose name appears on the list of electors for the same polling division who

  • (a) proves their own identity and residence to the deputy returning officer and poll clerk by providing the piece or pieces of identification referred to in paragraph (2)(a) or (b), respectively; and
  • (b) attests to the elector's residence on oath in writing in the prescribed form, the form including the statements that
    • (i) they have received the oral advice set out in subsection 143.1(2),
    • (ii) they know the elector personally,
    • (iii) they know that the elector resides in the polling division,
    • (iv) they have not attested to the residence of another elector at the election, and
    • (v) their own residence has not been attested to by another elector at the election.

Option 1

The elector shall provide one piece of identification issued by a Canadian government, whether federal, provincial or local, or an agency of that government, that contains a photograph of the elector and his or her name and address (s. 143(2)(a)).

Examples of these pieces may include a provincial or territorial driver's licence, a provincial or territorial identification card, a band membership card and, in some cases, a provincial or territorial health card.

Option 2

The elector shall provide two pieces of identification of a type authorized by the CEO, each of which establishes the elector's name and at least one of which establishes the elector's address (s. 143(2)(b)).

Under this option, according to section 143(2.1) of the Act, the CEO has the authority to determine which types of identification may be used to establish an elector's identity and residence in order to vote and to register to vote.

Option 3

An elector may prove his or her identity and residence by providing two pieces of identification authorized by the CEO, both of which prove his or her identity, and may instead prove his or her residence by taking a written oath. The elector must be accompanied by another elector whose name appears on the list of electors for the same polling division, who knows the elector personally, and who attests to the elector's residence (s. 143(3)).

The elector who accompanies someone without proof of residence must have the required piece or pieces of identification proving identity and residence, and must not have attested for another elector, or have had his or her own address attested to, at the same election. He or she must also take an oath.

For all three identification options, the election officer must be satisfied that the elector has established his or her identity as well as residence.

7. Policy Statement

Objectives

  • To establish the CEO's list of authorized pieces of identification and to clarify its application
  • To maintain the integrity of the voting process, enhance accessibility, and strengthen the efficiency of the voting process

Expected Results

  • Electors establish their identity and residence at the polls in accordance with the Canada Elections Act
  • Electors have various alternatives for proving their identity and residence in order to vote
  • Elections Canada supports the effective and efficient administration of the list of authorized pieces of identification by election officers

8. Policy

8.1   Policy with Regard to Specific Provisions of the Act

Consistency of Proof of Residence with List of Electors

Section 143(3.1) and (3.2) of the Canada Elections Act

143. (3.1) If the address contained in the piece or pieces of identification provided under subsection (2) or paragraph (3)(a) does not prove the elector's residence but is consistent with information related to the elector that appears on the list of electors, the elector's residence is deemed to have been proven.

(3.2) Despite subsection (3.1), a deputy returning officer, poll clerk, candidate or candidate's representative who has reasonable doubts concerning the residence of an elector referred to in that subsection may request that the elector take the prescribed oath, in which case his or her residence is deemed to have been proven only if he or she takes that oath.

Where the address found on the elector's piece(s) of identification does not establish his or her residence but is consistent with the information on the list of electors, the elector's residence is deemed to have been proven, unless the election officer has reasonable doubt as to the residence of the elector.

Reasonable doubt must not be founded on the fact that the elector's residence could not be established by the piece(s) of identification presented. In cases of doubt, the elector may only vote if he or she takes the prescribed oath.

The election officer will accept pieces of identification proving residence with a post office box or other mailing address if that information is consistent with the information on the list of electors.

Consistency of Name or Residential Address Information

Section 146 of the Canada Elections Act

146. If a name and address in the list of electors correspond so closely with the name and address of a person who demands a ballot as to suggest that it is intended to refer to that person, the person shall not be allowed to vote unless he or she takes the prescribed oath.

In cases where there are discrepancies between the name and address on the list of electors and on the piece(s) of identification presented by the elector, the election officer will determine consistency based on all information available to him or her, including personal knowledge of changes in street name or municipal designation.

If the deputy returning officer (DRO) is satisfied that the identification documents prove the elector's identity and residence in accordance with the Canada Elections Act, the elector shall be allowed to vote. If the DRO is not satisfied that the elector's name or address, as established by the documents presented, corresponds to an entry on the list of electors, the elector will need to complete a registration certificate before being allowed to vote.

In some circumstances, the DRO may determine that the documents so closely correspond to the name and address of a person on the list of electors that it appears to be the right person and address. In such a case, the DRO may require the elector to take the oath referred to in section 146. Where the error is in the list of electors, a correction certificate may be completed by the DRO.

Candidate's and Scrutineer's Right to Examine

Section 143(3.3) of the Canada Elections Act

143. (3.3) A candidate or their representative may examine but not handle any piece of identification presented under this section.

A candidate or candidate's representative (scrutineer) may examine, but not handle, any piece of identification presented by an elector to the election officer at the polling station or in the office of the returning officer. A scrutineer may request to look at any piece of identification only when the election officer is processing the voter and verifying proof of identity and residence.

When a request to examine an elector's identification occurs, the election officer may either show the identification to the scrutineer or ask the elector to show his or her identification to the scrutineer. If the scrutineer raises an objection, the election officer will make the final decision in accepting or not accepting the identification as valid (s. 143(4)).

Should the elector refuse to show his or her identification to a scrutineer on request, the elector will be allowed to vote if the election officer is satisfied that the elector has established his or her identity as well as his or her residence. In this case, the CEO has instructed that the elector's objection be noted in the Poll Book.

Electors, candidates or candidates' representatives may consult the Guidelines for Candidates' Representatives (EC 20045) for further details.

Notice Setting Out the Types of Identification that Are Authorized

The authoritative list of authorized pieces of identification is published on the Elections Canada website as required by the legislation.

Requirements for proof of identity and residence will be communicated during an electoral event through the Electoral Reminder Program. It provides a comprehensive, multimedia communication platform that informs electors about voter identification requirements as well as when, where and ways to register and vote in a federal general election. It ensures that information is available to the general population of electors and to specific sub-population groups of electors who face barriers to voting.

8.2    Policy with Regard to the Authorized Pieces of Identification

Official Languages

Pieces of identification must be in either English or French. In Nunavut, pieces of identification will also be accepted in Inuktitut.

Currency of Pieces of Identification

Expired pieces of identification are accepted.

8.3    Policy with Regard to the CEO's List of Authorized Pieces of Identification – Applicable to Option 2 and Option 3 Only

CEO's Criteria for Authorized Pieces of Identification

The list may include pieces of identification that are not issued by a government institution and that are not designed or ordinarily referred to as pieces of identification, provided that they meet the requirements of the Act. The criteria guiding the CEO in determining those authorized pieces of identification are the following:

  • inclusion of name or name and residential address information
  • source
  • prevalence of piece generally
  • prevalence of piece among specific groups of electors
  • ease of access

The list of pieces of identification authorized by the CEO is provided in section 9 of this policy.

Original Pieces of Identification, Printouts, and Online Versions on an Electronic Device

Pieces of identification are accepted in whichever format they were first issued. In the case of documents issued electronically (such as e-statements or e-invoices), both printouts printed by the elector or online versions shown on a mobile device are accepted.

Photocopies or scanned versions of documents that were not issued electronically (e.g. a Canadian passport) are not accepted.

Handwritten Information on a Piece of Identification

A piece of identification in which the name and/or address of the elector has been added by hand by the issuer may serve to prove the elector's identity and/or residential address.

A passport cannot be used as proof of address because the address is written in by the passport holder; therefore, it may only be used to prove identity.

Source of a Piece of Identification

Electors are allowed to present two different pieces of identification from the same source, if the documents serve different purposes. For example, a student may present a bill for services and a transcript of his or her marks, even if they have been issued by the same school, college or university.

An elector may not provide two pieces of identification from the same source if both documents serve the same purpose. For example, an elector may not provide two telephone bills from the same provider for the same telephone line, even if both documents are for different billing cycles.

Letter of Confirmation of Residence

A letter of confirmation of residence can be issued by a First Nations band or reserve or an Inuit local authority.

It can also be issued by a designated shelter, soup kitchen, student residence, seniors' residence or long‑term care facility, and will be accepted as proof of residence.

The letter of confirmation of residence serves as one of two pieces of identification required by the elector to register and/or vote in person at the polls or at the office of the returning officer. The elector must also bring a second piece of identification proving his or her identity (such as a health card, a label on a prescription container, or a library card).

Elections Canada will accept letters of confirmation of residence signed by those in leadership positions (for example, a band councillor, a chief, a councillor, or a member of a board of directors or management team). In addition, Elections Canada allows this task to be delegated to employees under a leader's supervision.

A template Letter of Confirmation of Residence is available on the Elections Canada website.

A letter printed on the designated establishment's letterhead confirming that the elector is resident or receives services at the establishment is also accepted.

9. List of Pieces of Identification Authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada

  • health card
  • Canadian passport
  • birth certificate
  • certificate of Canadian citizenship
  • citizenship card
  • social insurance number card
  • Indian status card
  • band membership card
  • Métis card
  • card issued by an Inuit local authority
  • Canadian Forces identity card
  • Veterans Affairs health card
  • old age security card
  • hospital card
  • medical clinic card
  • label on a prescription container
  • identity bracelet issued by a hospital or long-term care facility
  • blood donor card
  • CNIB card
  • credit card
  • debit card
  • employee card
  • student identity card
  • public transportation card
  • library card
  • liquor identity card
  • parolee card
  • firearms licence
  • licence or card issued for fishing, trapping or hunting
  • utility bill (e.g. electricity; water; telecommunications services including telephone, cable or satellite)
  • bank statement
  • credit union statement
  • credit card statement
  • personal cheque
  • government statement of benefits
  • government cheque or cheque stub
  • pension plan statement
  • residential lease or sub-lease
  • mortgage contract or statement
  • income tax assessment
  • property tax assessment or evaluation
  • vehicle ownership
  • insurance certificate, policy or statement
  • correspondence issued by a school, college or university
  • letter from a public curator, public guardian or public trustee
  • targeted revision form from Elections Canada to residents of long-term care facilities
  • letter of confirmation of residence from a First Nations band or reserve or an Inuit local authority
  • letter of confirmation of residence, letter of stay, admission form or statement of benefits from one of the following designated establishments:
    • student residence
    • seniors' residence
    • long-term care facility
    • shelter
    • soup kitchen

10. Review of Policy

This policy may be reviewed at the discretion of the CEO at any time, and will be published on the Elections Canada website.

Footnote 1 Elections Canada, National Register of Electors Statistics (2011-2012).

Footnote 2 Statistics Canada, "Projections of the Aboriginal populations, Canada, Provinces and Territories," (2005).

Footnote 3 Statistics Canada, "Canada's population estimates: Age and sex," (2013).

Footnote 4 Statistics Canada, "Population Projections for Canada, Provinces and Territories (2009-2036)," (2010).

Footnote 5 Elections Canada, "Research Note – Canadian Seniors: A Demographic Profile," (2012).

Footnote 6 Statistics Canada, "Table: Postsecondary enrolments by institution type, registration status, province and sex (Both sexes)." (2013).

Footnote 7 Stephen Gaetz, et al., "The State of Homelessness in Canada," (Toronto: Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press, 2013).

Footnote 8 Elections Canada, "Description of the National Register of Electors: Annual Changes to Elector Information," (2014).

Footnote 9 Ibid

Footnote 10 Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c. 11.

Footnote 11 [2010] BCSC. 610.