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Survey of Electors Following the 41st General Election

Identification at Polls

This section reports on issues related to voter identification at the polls. The questions in this section were asked of respondents who said they voted, excluding those who voted by mail, and to respondents who said they encountered problems with voter ID requirements when they went to vote. Footnote 21

Widespread Awareness of Need for Voter ID, Less So for Address Requirements

Nearly all respondents (97%) said they were aware prior to the election that voters must present proof of identity in order to vote at federal elections. Fewer, but still a substantial majority (89%), said they were aware, before the election, that voters must present proof of address in order to vote at federal elections. These results reflect an increase in awareness of the proof of identity requirements since 2008, when 94% were aware prior to the election of the need to prove their identity and 85% were aware of the need to prove their address.

Aboriginal electors were less likely than the general population to know that voters must show proof of identity (87% vs. 97%) and proof of address (79% vs. 89%). Youth were roughly comparable to the general population on both of these issues.

Knowledge of Voter Identification Requirements graph
Text description of "Knowledge of Voter Identification Requirements" graph

Sociodemographic differences

Those who said they voted in the 2011 election were more likely than those who said they didn't know that voters must show proof of identity (98% vs. 91%) and address (91% vs. 76%).

Also, the likelihood of knowing that voters must show proof of address was higher among:

  • Francophones (94% vs. 88% of Anglophones).
  • Electors interested in politics (90% vs. 84% of those not interested).
  • Electors who followed the campaign closely (91% vs. 84% who did not).

Elections Canada – Top Source of Learning about Voter ID Requirements

All those aware of the voter identification requirements (n=3,445) were asked to identify how they heard about these requirements. The Voter Information Card was identified most often, by a considerable margin, cited by 41% of respondents who were asked this question. This was followed by experience/prior knowledge (36%) (multiple responses accepted).

An array of other information sources were identified, including the following: television (15%), word of mouth (12%), radio (10%), newspapers (9%), an Elections Canada brochure/householder (5%), learning at the time of voting (3%), Elections Canada's website (2%), and having worked in elections (2%). Included in the 'other' category are the Internet (unspecified), the polling station, school or work, a telephone call, a poster or sign, a citizenship test, and that it is common sense to assume such requirements.

Sources of Information About Voter ID Requirements graph
Text description of "Sources of Information About Voter ID Requirements" graph

Since 2008, there has been a marked increase in the proportion of electors who identified the Voter Information Card (41% in 2011 vs. 27% in 2008) and experience/prior knowledge (36% vs. 6%) as their source of information about the voter identification requirements. Conversely, there has been a decline since 2008 in those who identified mainstream media sources, including television (15% vs. 32%), radio (10% vs. 22%), and newspapers (9% vs. 22%). There has also been a decrease in those identifying the EC brochure/householder/reminder card (5% vs. 14%).

Youth and Aboriginal electors were less likely to cite the Voter Information Card as a source of information, with less than one in three Aboriginals (28%) and youth (27%) identifying it, compared with 41% of the overall population. Conversely, they were more likely to learn of the requirements through word of mouth. While just over one in ten (12%) respondents mentioned this overall, 17% of Aboriginals did so, along with 46% of youth.

Sociodemographic differences

The likelihood of hearing about identification requirements from the Voter Information Card was lower amongst:

  • Students (23% vs. 35‑44% of others).
  • Electors with high school education or less (34% vs. 38‑46% of others).
  • Francophones (37% vs. 42% of Anglophones).
  • Men (38% vs. 43% of women).
  • Electors not interested in politics (35% vs. 42% of those who are).
  • Electors who did not follow the campaign closely (32% vs. 44% who did).
  • Those who said they did not vote (18% vs. 45% who said they did).

The likelihood of hearing about the requirements through word of mouth was higher amongst:

  • Students (32% vs. 6‑17% of others).
  • Electors not interested in politics (17% vs. 10% of those who are).
  • Electors who did not follow the campaign closely (17% vs. 10% who did).
  • Those who said they did not vote (19% vs. 10% who said they did vote).

Students were also less likely than others to learn of the requirements through television (6% vs. 19%) or a previous election (6% vs. 12%).

Widespread Positive Attitude towards Proof of ID and Address Requirements

The large majority of respondents (96%) rated their attitudes towards the idea that electors must prove their identity when voting as positive (with 78% rating it as very positive). Only slightly fewer (91%) rated their attitudes towards the idea that electors must prove their address as positive (with two-thirds rating it as very positive). These results are slightly more positive than those of 2008, when 94% of respondents rated their attitudes towards the proof of identity requirement as positive (74% very positive) and 88% did so regarding the proof of address requirement (62% very positive).

Aboriginals were less likely than others to hold positive views of identity requirements (90% vs. 96% overall) and address requirements (85% vs. 91% overall). Youth were comparable to the rest of the population regarding the former, but were less positive regarding the latter (86% vs. 91% overall).

Attitude toward Proof of Identity graph
Text description of "Attitude toward Proof of Identity" graph

Attitude toward Proof of Address graph
Text description of "Attitude toward Proof of Address" graph

Sociodemographic differences

Electors who were satisfied overall with service from Elections Canada staff were more likely than those who were not to hold positive views on the identification requirements. Of those who were very satisfied with service from Elections Canada, 97% held at least somewhat positive views on the proof of identity requirements, and 94% on the proof of address requirements. Of those who were not at all satisfied with service, 88% held somewhat positive views on the identification requirements, and only 60% on the proof of address requirements.

The likelihood of holding positive views on the proof of address requirement was lower amongst:

  • Unemployed electors (82% vs. 90‑93% of others).
  • Anglophones (90% vs. 96% of Francophones).
  • Electors not interested in politics (87% vs. 92% of those who are).
  • Electors who did not follow the campaign closely (89% vs. 92% who did).
  • Those who said they did not vote (84% vs. 93% of those who said they did).

Negative Attitudes to Requirements Tend to Focus on Need to Prove Address

Those who rated their attitude to one or both of these requirements as negative (n = 342) were asked to explain why. Explanations tended to focus on the requirement to prove one's address. Indeed, three of the top four reasons were explanations of negative attitudes towards the requirement to prove one's address. These include the impression that people with no permanent address should be able to vote (17%), the general impression that voters should not have to prove their address (16%), and the view that someone's address may not be up-to-date or accurate at the time of an election, for example if they move frequently (9%).

Other reasons identified with some frequency include the impression that Canadian citizenship (14%) or a Voter Information Card (9%) should be sufficient to allow one to vote. Reasons given by small numbers (5% or less) include the views that proving ID should not be required where one is known by all and/or in a small town, that some people lack ID or have difficulty proving their ID, that requirements involve too much time/ money/resources, that these requirements prevent people from voting, and that one should not have to prove one's ID.

Reasons for Negative Views of Voter ID Requirements graph
Text description of "Reasons for Negative Views of Voter ID Requirements" graph

Explanations in the 'other' category include a preference for online voting, the view that one piece of ID should be sufficientFootnote 22, criticism over a perceived lack of clarity/communication regarding the requirements, and general negativity about the political process.

In sum, these negative views can be grouped under three main themes: opposition in principle to the idea of requirements, the view that the requirements are excessive, and the view that they are inconvenient or constitute a barrier.

Virtually All Had Required ID When Voting

Virtually all voters who voted at polling stations (99%) said they had the required identification documents with them when they went to vote. This is very similar to 2008, when 98% of voters reported bringing the required identification with them.

Aboriginals were somewhat less likely than the general population to have had the required identification documents with them (94% vs. 99%). This represents an increase in the proportion of Aboriginals who had the required documents with them since 2008 (94% vs. 89%). Youth did not differ significantly from the general population in their likelihood to have had the required documents.

Missing Pieces of ID

Voters who said they did not have the identification required for voting at polling stations (n=62) were asked which pieces of identification or documentation they were missing. They were most likely to say they were missing a document proving their address, had no identification at all, or were lacking photo ID. A few said they did not need anything (meaning they were allowed to vote without showing ID) or said they lacked their Voter Information Card, a second piece of identification, or a document with their name on it. The only respondent who went to a local Elections Canada office without the required identification was lacking a document showing his or her name.

In terms of what voters at polling stations who did not have the required identification did, some said they were allowed to vote without showing ID (n=21), went home to find the missing documents and returned to vote (n=16), swore an oath and voted (n=12), or went home and did not return (n=10). The respondent who went to a local Elections Canada office without the required identification said he was allowed to vote without showing ID. While the number of respondents who indicated that they did not have the required identification at the polls increased in 2011 over 2008 (n=62 vs. n=35), the number of intended voters who responded by going home and not returning to vote is virtually unchanged (n=10 vs. n=8), indicating that the identification requirements did not prevent most intended voters from voting.

Driver's License – Main ID Used for Voting

In terms of the types of documents that voters at polling stations brought with them to prove their identity and address, the vast majority (90%) said they used their driver's license for this purpose. The only other types of documents identified with any frequency were a health card (16%) and a Voter Information Card (14%) (multiple responses accepted).

All other documents were used by small numbers (6% or less) and include a Canadian passport, utility bill, birth certificate, Social Insurance Number card, and Citizenship card. A host of documents were identified by very small numbers and included in the 'other' category, such as a provincial/territorial identification card, certificate of Aboriginal status, firearms possession or acquisition license, a bank or credit card statement, Veterans Affairs health card, an Old Age Security identification card, and a Canadian Forces identity card, among other documents.

Over half (53%) said they provided one single piece of identification, while 46% said they presented two pieces of identification. These results reflect an increase over 2008 in the proportion of electors who said they used only one piece of identification (from 40% to 53%), and a corresponding decrease in the proportion who used two pieces of ID (from 60% to 46%).

Documents to Prove Identity and Address graph
Text description of "Documents to Prove Identity and Address" graph

Sociodemographic differences

The likelihood of using a driver's license was higher amongst employed electors (93% vs. 77‑86% of others) and electors with higher household incomes, with 80% of those with less than $40,000 in household income mentioning it compared with 92‑95% of those with larger incomes.

The likelihood of using a health card was higher amongst Francophones (31% vs. 11% of Anglophones) and electors with smaller household incomes, with 25% of those with less than $40,000 in household income mentioning it compared with 11‑16% of those with higher household incomes.

VIC as ID

Despite the introduction of new voter ID requirements in 2007, the Voter Information Card (VIC) had never been considered a valid piece of identification when voting. However, during the 2011 General Election, Elections Canada used a new procedure in certain target locations, introduced during the 2010 by-elections, by which the VIC could be accepted, along with another document, to prove one’s address. Target locations included student residences, Aboriginal reserves, long-term care facilities, and seniors residences

Therefore, it can be said that most electors (91%) who reported using their VIC as ID did so in conjunction with another piece of ID that rendered its use superfluous. Very few (n=32) reported having used the VIC by itself, which represents an incorrect use of the VIC, and even fewer (n=2) took advantage of the new procedures for acceptance of the VIC as a proof of address.

One can see from the graph below, that the 2011 general election saw an increase in electors saying they brought their Voter Information Card with them to the polls to prove their identity and address (3% in 2008 vs. 14% in 2011). The acceptation of the VIC to prove one's address in certain areas, as noted above, does not account substantially for this increase.

The proportions that brought other documents are roughly comparable from 2008 to 2011.

The large majority (90%) said they used their driver's license, followed at a distance by a health card (16%). Smaller numbers reported using a Canadian passport (6%), a utility bill (4%), a birth certificate (2%) a SIN card (2%) or a citizenship card (2%). Half said they provided one piece of identification, while 44% said they presented two pieces of identification. The same type of behaviour was evident among those who voted at a local Elections Canada office.

Documents to Prove Identity and Address (Over Time) graph
Text description of "Documents to Prove Identity and Address (Over Time)" graph

Documents Brought to Prove ID by Aboriginal Electors

As for the population in general, the driver's license remains the most commonly used document amongst Aboriginal voters to prove their identity and address when going to vote, with almost three-quarters (73%) identifying it in 2011. It has, however, declined somewhat in prominence since 2008 when 78% of Aboriginal voters mentioned it. Following at a distance is the Certificate of Indian Status, used by 20% Aboriginal electors in 2011, down from 27% in 2008. Health cards were the third most frequently-cited document among Aboriginal respondents in both 2008 and 2011, with 15% of Aboriginal voters identifying them in both years.Documents to Prove ID $ Address Amongst Aboriginals (Over Time) graph
Text description of "Documents to Prove ID $ Address Amongst Aboriginals (Over Time)" graph

As is the case with the general population, Aboriginal voters were more likely to say they brought their Voter Information Card with them as an identification document in 2011 than in 2008 (12% vs. 2%). However, the possibility offered on reserves to accept the VIC as a proof of address does not substantially account for this increase.

In 2011, Aboriginal voters were slightly less likely than in 2008 to say they brought their birth certificate/SIN card/OAS card, though they were slightly more likely to bring a utility bill (7% vs. 4%) or a Canadian Passport/Citizenship Card.

Documents Brought to Prove ID by Youth

In 2011, a driver's license is the main document that youth used to prove their identity and address, with 82% mentioning it. It has declined somewhat since 2008, when 86% did so. Following at a distance are health cards, with 22% identifying them in 2011, versus 24% in 2008. Canadian passports and Citizenship Cards rank third in both 2011 (13%) and 2008 (7%), though they have grown in prominence over time.

As is the case with the general population, youth are increasingly citing their Voter Information Card as a document brought for identification purposes. The new procedure allowing the VIC as a form of identification on all university campuses does not account for this increase. Following this, smaller yet comparable proportions identified a utility bill and a birth certificate/SIN card.

Documents to Prove ID and Address Amongst Youth (Over Time) graph
Text description of "Documents to Prove ID and Address Amongst Youth (Over Time)" graph

Meeting Proof of ID Requirements Seen as Easy

Virtually everyone who voted (97%), whether at polling stations or at a local Elections Canada office, said it was easy to meet the identification requirements. Specifically, among voters at polling stations, 83% said this was very easy, with 14% describing it as somewhat easy. Only 2% judged this to be difficult. Among voters at a local Elections Canada office, 78% said this was very easy, with 20% describing it as somewhat easy.Perceived Ease of Meeting Proof of ID Requirements graph
Text description of "Perceived Ease of Meeting Proof of ID Requirements" graph

Aboriginals were slightly less likely than the general population to view meeting the proof of ID requirements as easy (95% vs. 97%) and, in particular, less likely to consider it very easy (73% vs. 83%). Youth were comparable to the general population in considering this easy, but less likely to consider it very easy (74% vs. 83%).

Sociodemographic differences

There is a positive correlation between likelihood to say that it is easy to meet the identification requirements and likelihood to be satisfied, overall, with the service provided by Elections Canada staff. Ninety-eight percent of those who were very satisfied with service from EC staff said it was easy to meet the identification requirements, compared with 95% of those who were somewhat satisfied, 89% of those who were not very satisfied, and 77% of those who were not satisfied at all.

These results for the general population of electors are almost identical to those from 2008.

Perceived Ease of Meeting Proof of ID Requirements (Over Time) graph
Text description of "Perceived Ease of Meeting Proof of ID Requirements (Over Time)" graph

In 2011, the vast majority (95%) of Aboriginal electors said it was easy to meet the identification requirements, an increase from 2008 when 89% said so. For youth, these findings are similar to those of 2008.

Ease of Meeting Proof of ID Requirements Amongst Aboriginals (Over Time) graph Text description of "Ease of Meeting Proof of ID Requirements Amongst Aboriginals (Over Time)" graph

Ease of Meeting Proof of ID Requirements Amongst Youth (Over Time) graph Text description of "Ease of Meeting Proof of ID Requirements Amongst Youth (Over Time)" graph


Footnote 21 In this section, the term "polling station" includes advance polls and regular polling stations on election day. Voting at local Elections Canada offices and by mail involves different identification requirements. Given the different identification requirements for voting at local Elections Canada offices, respondents who voted at a local Elections Canada office (n=51) or by mail (n=11) were removed from the sample for the questions in this section (i.e. questions 23, 27) and their responses to these questions are analyzed separately.

Footnote 22 It should be noted that one piece of ID is sufficient as long as it proves both one's identity and address (e.g. a driver's license).

Footnote 23 Caution should be exercised when interpreting the results. It is a known fact that national surveys, because of the sampling method and randomness involved, tend to overlook or underestimate situations that are less prevalent in the population.