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Responding to Changing Needs – Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the 40th General Election

Foreword

Maintaining a healthy democracy requires an electoral process that is responsive to societal changes, while continuing to foster accessibility, integrity and public trust.

This recommendations report reflects the experience gained during the 39th and 40th general elections of January 2006 and October 2008, respectively. It is based on a number of evaluation activities carried out in the aftermath of these elections and on the feedback received from electors as well as candidates, political parties, parliamentarians and election staff. Most of the issues raised in the Report on the Evaluations of the 40th General Election of October 14, 2008, published in June 2009, are echoed in the recommendations contained in the present report.

After each electoral event, Elections Canada reviews and improves its procedures. Since the 40th general election, we have improved the recruitment and training of election officials, increased the number of polling sites (particularly in rural areas, in order to make advance polling more accessible) and begun to update our computer systems. We are planning to add the voter information card to the list of authorized pieces of identification for electors who face challenges in proving their residence at the time of voting so that voting remains accessible to them. We are also planning, with the prior authorization of the appropriate parliamentary committees, to test equipment that would allow electors with disabilities to vote completely independently. These are but a few of the administrative measures designed to promote a more accessible, inclusive and efficient electoral process.

While these improvements will make a difference, more could be achieved if the Canada Elections Act provided some flexibility in administering the voting process. This is why we are seeking authority, in Chapter I of this report, to run pilot projects to test different ways of operating. Any such pilot would be subject to the prior approval of parliamentarians and be limited in time. For example, a pilot could involve testing a new approach to the organization of work at polling sites with a view to improving services to electors, enhancing the consistency of administration and specializing tasks in order to alleviate the burden on poll workers.

Increasingly, Canadians expect to be able to carry out their affairs electronically. Chapters I and III provide recommendations that would enable electors to register or update their information electronically. Such a service would, for instance, allow youth who have just turned 18 or who have recently left the family home to use the Internet to register for the first time or to update their address. Similarly, as a result of the recommended changes, political entities would be able to complete the filing of their various reports and returns on-line without having to send a signed paper copy of the same documents. Such services would be more convenient and efficient for electors and political entities as well as for Elections Canada.

Legislators in Canada and around the world have long recognized the need to regulate the role of money in the democratic process. The current federal political financing rules are anchored in the core values of transparency, integrity, fairness and accountability. As a result of multiple legislative reforms over the years, the regime has become increasingly complex and, in some respects, has lost part of its coherence. With the experience acquired in administering the new rules, we can now suggest specific amendments both to reduce the regulatory burden where it is not really required and to promote greater accountability where the current rules are lacking. Along those lines, Chapter II of this report recommends, for example, changes to the treatment of unpaid claims as well as introducing a requirement for political parties to submit documentation in support of their electoral expenses returns, upon request.

Chapters III and IV of the report provide recommendations that would clarify certain aspects of the legislation as it relates to governance as well as dealing with a number of more technical issues. Some of the changes proposed would, if adopted, confirm or realign certain of the Chief Electoral Officer's authorities and allow for broader collaboration with other Canadian electoral agencies.

It is important to note that there are a number of issues not addressed in this report that, nonetheless, deserve Parliament's consideration. These include the premature transmission of voting results on election night (the "blackout" period), the implications of fixed-date elections on the nature and duration of election campaigns, the role and impact of new media and the persistent decline in voter turnout an even more fundamental concern. These matters raise important policy questions that should more appropriately be examined and acted upon by Parliament and the government than by the Chief Electoral Officer.

We trust that Parliament will recognize the merit of our recommendations. We will be pleased to support parliamentarians as they review this report and to share our view of how the proposed changes can strengthen the Canadian electoral process, ensuring that it remains a model for many jurisdictions around the world.

Marc Mayrand
Chief Electoral Officer of Canada