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Behind the Scenes

As soon as a general election or by-election is called, the Elections Canada team goes into high gear. Equipment and supplies must be delivered to the ridings, the appropriate administrative systems must be put in place, and returning officers informed of the latest changes to procedures; documents must be updated and all the resources needed to keep electors well informed must be deployed.

The tasks of the March 25, 1996, by-elections were barely completed when the system had to swing into action again for the June 17, 1996, by-election in the federal riding of Hamilton East. The election was called less than one and one-half months after the March by-elections in six federal ridings.

Nevertheless, the event was carried out without a hitch, thanks to the administrative structures and computer systems that enable Elections Canada to handle any eventuality. We introduced a number of measures at this by-election to further improve electoral management.

Innovations

For the Hamilton East by-election, the communications team based its advertising strategy on the distribution of three flyers (rather than just one) to all households in the riding. These three flyers, delivered at strategic times during the election period, were complemented by advertisements in local newspapers.

The three-flyer approach was adopted as the result of surveys conducted following the March by-elections, when it was first tested. Respondents reacted favourably to the strategy, which is economical when used on the limited scale of a by-election, and meets Elections Canada's information mandate by enabling us to provide satisfactory basic information to all electors.

As part of our Election Management System (EMS), and in response to requests from returning officers, an e-mail link was established between the office of the Hamilton East returning officer and our Ottawa office. In addition to enabling rapid and ongoing communication, electronic mail supports effective document exchange. The tests confirm that this is an extremely useful tool that we should plan to use on a larger scale in the future.

Each candidate's official agent has four months from polling day to submit a written report on the candidate's campaign expenses and contributions. Most of the agents draft this sizeable document manually, as Elections Canada provides no electronic format for this purpose. The day after the Hamilton East vote, as part of a pilot project begun in March 1996, the finance team sent a questionnaire to the 13 agents concerned, inviting them to complete a prototype electronic form supplied by Elections Canada. The agents who filed the electronic version of the report were asked to include comments that will be taken into account as we continue to develop teleprocessing. In addition to eliminating problems related to illegible handwriting, report teleprocessing opens the door to complete computerization of the election expenses system and increases transparency in the disclosure of candidates' contributions and expenses.

At the time of the election in Hamilton East, the finance team also gave the returning officer and her deputy a credit card to cover office expenses. In light of this trial, we plan to distribute credit cards to all returning officers and deputy returning officers at the next electoral event.