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Federal Voter Turnout in First Nations Reserves (2004–2011) (Research Note)


Elections Canada’s methodological approach to collecting geographic data for Aboriginal populations has evolved over time. In 2004 and 2006, identifying reserves involved combining data from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), Natural Resources Canada and Statistics Canada. Elections Canada then turned to returning officers to indicate the polling divisions that best correspond to Aboriginal communities.

In 2008, pursuant to the development of computerized geocoding applications, Elections Canada began using actual maps of reserves provided by AANDC, superimposed onto maps of polling divisions.

The table below provides the number of polls on reserve that have been identified through both methods described above. It appears that the computerized (geocoding) method used in 2008 and 2011 resulted in a more comprehensive database.

Table 1: First Nations On Reserves Poll Counts and Methodology (2004–2011)

General Election On-reserve Polls Data Collection Method
2004 519 Returning officers
2006 602 Returning officers
2008 1,352 AANDC/Geocoding
2011 1,353 AANDC/Geocoding

It should be noted that, subject to the location and availability of polling sites, reserve boundaries for the purpose of voting do not necessarily form a clean line. For instance:

Also, while some polling divisions may be completely contained within a reserve, the majority are only partially contained. In 2004 and 2006, returning officers were asked to identify any polling division serving at least 90 percent of Aboriginal electors. With the geocoding approach, all polling divisions that overlapped a reserve, in whole or in part, were kept in the analysis.

In this study, turnout rate is calculated by dividing the number of valid votes by the number of electors on the final lists of electors. However, the number of electors on the list can vary over time, across regions, and also based on certain socio-demographic features. In the case of electors living on reserve, it is important to keep two considerations in mind. First, the vast majority of reserves are located in rural and Northern areas, where registration rates are typically lower. Secondly, the median age in the Aboriginal population is 27 years old, compared to 40 years old for the general population. For a variety of reasons, youth electors are less likely to be registered (around 75 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds, compared to 92 percent and over in older groups).

Consequently, to the extent that registration rates are lower in reserves, the turnout rates presented in this study are likely to be somewhat overestimated. However, relying on the number of registered electors remains the most sensible approach in the absence of official on-reserve population counts.