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Independent audit report on the performance of the duties and functions of election officials – 42nd General Election

1. Introduction

1.1 Background

The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), commonly known as Elections Canada (EC), is an independent, non-partisan agency that reports directly to Parliament. The CEO, an agent of Parliament, is responsible for directing and supervising the conduct of elections and referendums at the national level and monitoring compliance under the Canada Elections Act (CEA or "the Act").

On June 19, 2014, Bill C-23 received Royal Assent. C-23 amended the Act by adding section 164.1 to introduce a legislated audit. Section 164.1 of the Act states the following.

For each general election and by-election, the Chief Electoral Officer shall engage an auditor that he or she considers to have technical or specialized knowledge – other than a member of his or her staff or an election officer – to perform an audit and report on whether deputy returning officers, poll clerks and registration officers have, on all days of advance polling and on polling day, properly exercised the powers conferred on them, and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them, under sections 143 to 149, 161 to 162 and 169.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) was engaged to perform an independent audit and report on the performance of the duties and functions of election officials in relation to sections 143 to 149, 161 to 162 and 169 of the Act (hereinafter referred to as "the relevant sections of the Act"), including our assessment on the degree to which administrative controls established by EC support election officials in this regard for the 42nd General Election. The relevant sections of the Act pertain to an elector's proof of identity and residence, attestation to an elector's qualification or residence, registration of electors who are not on the List of Electors and record-keeping duties.

The scope of the duties of election officials as prescribed in the relevant sections of the Act require election officials to register electors, request and examine each elector's proof of identity and address as well as administer and complete prescribed forms and certificates on all days of advance polling (held October 9–12, 2015) and on election day (held on October 19, 2015).

1.2 EC's operating context

The statutory mandate of EC is highly operational. The writ for the 42nd General Election was issued on August 2, 2015. Once the writ was issued, EC and an appointed returning officer (RO) in each of the 338 electoral districts (ED) started mobilizing hundreds of thousands of temporary workers to prepare for the election. The ROs have a very small window of time to hire and train these temporary workers before election day. In addition to other roles required to prepare for and support advance polling and election day, each RO is responsible for appointing a deputy returning officer (DRO), a poll clerk (PC) and a registration officer (REGO) (collectively referred to as "election officials") to perform election related duties at a polling site. One DRO and one PC is required per polling station and, typically, one REGO is assigned to each central polling site/place. It is the duties of these specific election officials that are included in the scope of this audit under S.164.1 of the CEA.

The delivery of the election is highly dependent on the ROs' ability to hire and train a temporary workforce of approximately 285,000. These individuals are the ones who, for advance polls and election day polls, confirm appropriateness of identification provided by the elector, confirm that the individual is at the appropriate polling station and is on the List of Electors, confirm that the individual has not previously voted, strike the individual off the List of Electors, provide the elector with a ballot and confirm that they voted. In special circumstances, the election officials initiate and complete additional steps and associated paperwork to allow electors to vote. With a total of 338 EDs, over 15,500 polling sites and over 67,000 polling stations across Canada, EC has implemented measures to support election officials by providing them with training, tools and guidance to perform their duties and functions. It is our understanding that following the 41st General Election, EC took actions to improve processes and tools, focusing on compliance, and implemented a quality control framework to test these changes in a controlled environment.

Election officials are required to work long days, with minimal breaks, serving electors. In addition, the requirements of the Act result in complexities relative to the procedures they are expected to undertake (i.e. number of different acceptable forms of identification, number and nature of special procedures) throughout the day. In the 42nd General Election, advance polls were open for eight hours a day for four days in a row, and election day polls were open for 12 hours to allow the maximum number of people to vote. The recent election saw an increase in voter turnout. Voter attendance at advance polls increased from 2.0 million to 3.6 million electorsFootnote 1 from the previous election and overall voter participation increased from 13 million to 17 millionFootnote 2.

The current administrative processes required to be completed by the election officials are currently very manual – with only printouts, checklists and booklets available to document the results of the interactions with electors. Human error is unavoidable due to the manual nature of the processes to serve electors and the approximately 285,000 election officialsFootnote 3 required to administer the associated procedures.

1.3 Special procedures applied for advance polls / election day

Any Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years of age as of election day may vote in the ED in which they reside. The CEA provides procedural safeguards designed to protect the integrity of the electoral process, one of which requires electors to prove eligibility (identity and residency) before receiving a ballot. For most electors who are already registered at their current address and therefore included on the List of Electors, election day procedures involve a simple, efficient check of one or more pieces of acceptable ID to confirm identity and address of residence. As per our testing results, approximately 90% of electors voted in this manner. The remaining 10% of electors tested required special administrative procedures (see table in Section 4.1 for full list subject to audit) prior to being issued a ballot. The typical special procedures administered are outlined below.

Registration certificate

A registration certificate is initiated when an elector has not been previously registered on the List of Electors. This typically can happen if an individual has become eligible to vote or has moved into a different ED or polling division since the last election. This certificate enables the individual to vote in the appropriate polling division and requires the elector to sign a written declaration confirming they are a qualified elector and have not previously requested a ballot in the current electoral event.

Correction certificate

A correction certificate has two purposes. If the information on the List of Electors is noted to have minor errors as compared to the name/address of the elector's official identification, this certificate is used to note the correction so that the List of Electors can be updated for the next election. In this case, a verbal oath is administered to the elector before providing the elector their ballot. The other use of the correction certificate is when the List of Electors already shows that the individual elector has already been crossed off the List of Electors. In this case, the correction certificate is used to document that the elector should not have been previously crossed off the List of Electors. Similar to the registration certificate, the elector is required to sign a written oath confirming that they have not previously requested a ballot in the current electoral event.

Oath of residence certificate

In cases where an individual does not have valid proof of residency, an individual who resides in the same polling division can attest to that elector's residence. Both the elector and attestor must sign written oaths and a verbal warning is read to both parties notifying them of the consequences of falsifying information. An attestor can only attest for one individual and must not have been attested for in the current electoral event.

1.4 Roles and responsibilities of election officials

For an elector who is on the List of Electors and has the appropriate identification, together, the DRO and PC at the polling station are responsible for obtaining and reviewing the elector's identification and establishing that an elector is qualified to vote by performing a series of prescribed (by the CEA) duties prior to providing a ballot and documenting that they have voted.

Election officials must administer special procedures for all electors whose residence is going to be attested to, who are not on the List of Electors, whose name has been previously crossed off the List of Electors in error or who require minor corrections to their information. Depending on the circumstances, special procedures include completing the appropriate certificate, administering a verbal or written oath/declaration to the elector and administering a verbal warning/written oath to an elector and their attestor.

Once the DRO is satisfied that the elector is considered qualified to vote, they are issued a ballot. During the process of serving an elector at the registration desk and at the polling station, the CEA prescribes certain duties that must be performed including record-keeping tasks.

Deputy returning officer

The DRO is responsible for opening their polling station, authorizing and signing pre-filled certificates, verifying acceptable identification, administering oaths and warnings to electors, issuing ballots, counting the ballots and returning materials to the returning office.

Poll clerk

The PC supports the DRO with the primary responsibility of documenting the voting process which includes crossing an elector's name off the List of Electors, assisting in completing certificates if there is no REGO, marking the elector as voted, completing the statement of electors who voted (Bingo Sheet) and recording applicable proceedings in the poll book, as required.

Registration officer

An elector who is not on the List of Electors is required to register with the REGO (or PC if there is no REGO assigned to the polling site). If not on the List of Electors, the REGO is responsible for checking the poll key to determine if the elector is at the correct polling site and pre-filling a registration, correction or oath of residence certificate.

Central poll supervisor

Although not included in the scope of the audit as outlined in the relevant sections of the Act, the central poll supervisor plays a key role at both advance and election day polls. The central poll supervisor swears in candidates' representatives, liaises with the RO, ensures accessibility, oversees the polling site activities, troubleshoots and supports the election officials as they serve electors. The central poll supervisor is also expected to perform some quality assurance procedures to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the documentation produced by the election officials.

Footnote 1 As provided by Elections Canada.

Footnote 2 Idem.

Footnote 3 Idem.