Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 37th General Election Held on November 27, 2000
Elections Canada is dedicated to helping Canadians exercise their democratic right to vote. We want to make voting as accessible as possible, by reaching out to all potential voters and by using modern technology creatively.
We carry out the mandate entrusted to us by Parliament in three mutually complementary ways:
- by maintaining a constant state of readiness to conduct elections, by-elections and referendums
- by delivering these electoral events
- by offering public education and information programs, and providing support to parliamentarians, political parties and other concerned Canadians as they deal with electoral issues
Since the 36th general election held on June 2, 1997, we have improved our state of readiness for events, we have delivered 10 by-elections, and we have continued to expand our information and educational programs. The following three sections (Event readiness, Delivering electoral events, and Public education, information and support) review our main activities since 1997, as an introduction to the November 27, 2000, general election.
Elections Canada's ability to conduct elections, by-elections and referendums depends on maintaining a constant state of readiness. Because the precise timing of these events cannot be predicted, we have to make sure that the information in the National Register of Electors is as current as possible, that our databases and computer systems are tested, that election supplies are ready to go, and that a core of trained staff and election officers is readily available.
Being prepared for elections during 2000 was made more challenging by the introduction of a new Canada Elections Act. First passed by Parliament as the Dominion Elections Act – and amended or replaced many times over the past 80 years – the Act governs Canada's federal electoral system and the work of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer. The new Act received royal assent on May 31, 2000, and took effect on September 1, 2000, after formal notice was posted by the Chief Electoral Officer in the Canada Gazette. This Act reflects extensive study and debate by members of Parliament, and modifies several aspects of the electoral system to make it more accessible, fair and transparent.
From the time the Act received royal assent until it came into effect three months later, we rewrote, revised and reprinted hundreds of training manuals, forms and information packages, trained local office staff, modified several computer systems, adapted our office processes, and kept the public, parliamentarians and political parties informed. Among other changes, the new Act affected the financing rules for parties and candidates, election advertising by third parties (that is, groups or persons other than candidates, registered parties or their riding associations), the rules for election advertising and publishing or broadcasting survey results, and it created alternative ways of enforcing the Canada Elections Act by the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
The National Register of Electors is a permanent list of Canadians who are eligible to vote. Following the final door-to-door enumeration of electors just before the 1997 general election, the Register was completed in time to produce the preliminary voters lists for the March 1998 by-election in Port Moody–Coquitlam, British Columbia. Since then, information from the Register has been used to establish the preliminary lists in every by-election.
Maintaining the Register
The National Register of Electors must be kept up-to-date and accurate between general elections, so that it may generate reliable preliminary voters lists. We also produce updated voters lists from the Register in October of each year for members of Parliament and political parties, as the Canada Elections Act requires.
The Register is regularly updated with data from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, provincial and territorial motor vehicle and vital statistics registrars, and electoral agencies in British Columbia and Quebec (which have permanent voters lists). Voters lists from some provincial and territorial elections have also been used to update the Register, and we are pursuing additional agreements with various provincial, territorial and municipal electoral organizations to use their voters lists.
The Canada Elections Act stipulates that active consent is required from individuals for the transfer of their information from federal sources to maintain the Register. Through a service provided by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, for example, 82 percent of new Canadians consented to be added to the Register in 2000. The results of the first year of our agreement with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (for the 1997 tax year) show that close to 80 percent of tax filers consented to have their names, addresses, and date-of-birth information forwarded to Elections Canada to update the Register, which is above our original estimate of 70 percent. The rate of consent for the 1998 tax year increased to 83 percent, and increased again to 84 percent for the 1999 tax year. The data from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency are used only to update information for electors already in the Register. New names cannot be added directly from this data, because Canadian citizenship must first be confirmed.
Canadians have the right to remove their names from the Register without losing their right to vote, and to ask that their information not be shared with other jurisdictions for electoral purposes. From June 1997 to June 2000, fewer than 900 electors opted out of the Register, and 45 opted out of sharing their information with electoral agencies in other jurisdictions.
As part of the Register's maintenance program, starting in 1999 we sent 270 000 verification notices to electors whose information appeared to be incorrect or to have been added more than once to the Register as a result of the 1997 enumeration, and asked them to confirm or correct their information and mail back the notice. This allowed us to remove some 195 000 duplicate records.
We also mail requests to individuals who turn 18 to confirm their citizenship, and to ask their consent to be added to the National Register of Electors. We identify these potential voters by using information from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and motor vehicle registrars. In 1999, we wrote to approximately 152 000 young people, and 28 percent of them consented to register. A second outreach project in spring 2000 targeted 392 000 new 18-year-olds; the response rate was 25 percent. As part of the project, we tried a pilot mailing of 28 000 reminder postcards to 18-year-olds in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Halifax who had already been sent the request for consent and confirmation of citizenship, encouraging them to complete the form and return it to Elections Canada. The cities to which we sent postcard reminders showed only a marginal improvement in the consent rate. These outreach activities cover all of Canada outside Quebec; they are not necessary in Quebec because we have an agreement with the Directeur général des élections du Québec for quarterly updates that include the names of new 18-year-olds. The Directeur général des élections du Québec automatically adds new electors as information is received from Quebec data sources, such as the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec.
In summer 2000, we commissioned a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of our outreach to 18-year-olds, which found that many of them are unfamiliar with the electoral process and the Register. Some assume that their names are automatically added to the voters lists when they turn 18, or after they check the consent box on the income tax return. We are analyzing this information further to improve the registration rate of young electors.
Advisory Committee to the National Register of Electors
In 1999, the Chief Electoral Officer established an Advisory Committee to the National Register of Electors as a forum for discussing best practices in database management and use. The members came from the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators and the Vital Statistics Council for Canada (representing the data supplier community), from provincial and territorial agencies using permanent lists of electors, and from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Committee meetings are an opportunity to exchange ideas and information about Elections Canada's initiatives for sharing Register data with other jurisdictions, and to discuss new developments in data management. This helps all participants improve the currency of their databases and address information, and avoid duplication of effort. The Committee met for the first time on September 8, 1999, and again on April 19, 2000.
Data-sharing partnerships help to ensure that the quality of the National Register of Electors remains as high as possible, both during and between elections. Since 1997, Elections Canada has signed data-sharing agreements with some 80 electoral organizations at the provincial, territorial, municipal, and school board levels. Revised voters lists from these jurisdictions augment our standard update sources to improve the Register's quality. Under a 1999 reciprocal agreement between Elections Canada and Elections Ontario, we provided data from the Register to build Ontario's new Permanent Register of Electors. Elections Canada, in turn, received Ontario data from lists revised during the 1999 provincial election. Similar agreements were signed from 1997 through 2000 with the Chief Electoral Officers of Alberta and of Newfoundland and Labrador; the city of Winnipeg; and the Ontario Property Assessment Corporation (the agency responsible for establishing the province's preliminary municipal voters lists). We also received data from elections in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and New Brunswick.
Each agreement includes mandatory security measures. Elector data is personal information that is protected by the Canada Elections Act and the Privacy Act. Under the Canada Elections Act, the information may only be used for electoral purposes.
Our original business case for the Register projected some $30 million in savings for each general election or referendum after the costs of creating and maintaining the Register are recovered. Our costs are falling within the estimates. Building the Register cost less than half of what we estimated, and Elections Canada expects to recover the initial investment in the Register along with the corresponding maintenance costs at the 2000 federal election, rather than the one after that, as previously forecast.
The costs of the by-elections held after the 1997 general election, moreover, were on average about $1.50 per elector lower than those of the by-elections held after the 1993 general election. The estimated cumulative net savings of $685 000 are primarily related to using the National Register of Electors instead of door-to-door enumeration. Provinces and municipalities that have used Register data to produce preliminary voters lists have also realized cost savings.
Elections Canada's National Geographic Database – developed and maintained jointly with Statistics Canada to serve each agency's purposes – is a digital map of Canadian streets. Completed in 1999, this national road network is designed for electoral mapping, for making the National Register of Electors more accessible to other jurisdictions, and for readjusting electoral boundaries after the 2001 decennial census. In 2000, we concentrated on updating the database for high-growth centres, in preparation for a potential election call.
For the 2000 general election, we produced 75 000 original maps, with geographical documents, from which we produced over two million copies for use in all the ridings. Based on the results of a mapping survey conducted among returning officers and political parties in 1999, these maps are optimized to fit the needs of users. The maps were first used officially for the September 2000 by-elections in Kings–Hants, Nova Scotia, and Okanagan–Coquihalla, British Columbia.
As new electors are added to the National Register of Electors, or as electors move to new addresses, we can identify where most electors' addresses are located, and in which ridings and polling divisions. Known as geo-referencing, this process allows us to generate lists of electors by polling division for federal electoral events, and to provide lists of electors from our database that can be used by other jurisdictions that have different electoral boundaries. We have geo-referenced 65 percent of elector addresses to date, primarily in urban areas.
The National Geographic Database is proving to be of interest to other government agencies. For example, it was made available to the Department of National Defence for the Year 2000 readiness project carried out by the National Contingency Planning Group. Parts of the database are also being shared with Elections Ontario to support their mapping and electoral operations.
Testing new returning office systems
Elections Canada's offices in Ottawa now house a permanent Returning Office Technology Centre for testing and coordinating the distribution of computer software and technology used by returning officers in their 301 locations across Canada. The centre also helps to introduce new technology in those offices.
By-elections give Elections Canada an opportunity to test updated technology and procedures. In the Windsor–St. Clair, Ontario, by-election of April 12, 1999, for instance, we tested a version of our new Returning Officer Workstation software. The software integrates the installation, configuration and set-up of all the software applications used by returning officers during elections. It was generally well-received by the returning officer's staff, who reported that it was easier to use than the software for the 1997 general election.
The REVISE field registration and list production system was introduced in the St. John's West, Newfoundland, by-election of May 15, 2000. The new system replaces the Elections Canada Automated Production of Lists of Electors (ECAPLE) system that successfully assisted returning officers in managing their voters lists since 1992. Making use of state-of-the-art database management technology, REVISE facilitates the revision of preliminary voters lists produced from the National Register of Electors.
The new Returning Officers Payment System was tested during the September 11, 2000, by-elections in Kings–Hants and Okanagan–Coquihalla. The system helps returning officers track staff budgets, produce financial reports and prepare payment information for poll officials, office staff and landlords of polling stations, before they send all the information to Ottawa so that Elections Canada can process payments.
The September 2000 by-elections served as proving grounds for two other technological projects. An integrated local area network linking computers in each returning officer's office performed well and, as expected, worked with few problems despite the complexity of introducing new systems in the field. And redesigned Event Results System software helped the returning officers tabulate and send summary election results electronically to the media and to Elections Canada's Web site (www.elections.ca). During a general election, it also allows Elections Canada to gather and verify the poll-by-poll results received from the 301 ridings, and to gather, merge and verify the voting results under the Special Voting Rules.
Improving internal systems
The increasing sophistication of computer software has enabled Elections Canada to improve our processes in other areas as well. Our Electronic Candidate Return system, for instance, allows candidates and their official agents to produce their financial returns in electronic form. A new version includes features that had been requested by official agents, and changes brought about by the new Canada Elections Act. The electronic version of the documents reduces our data-entry time from an average of three hours to 15 minutes per return. Another computer application supports the processing, review and publication of candidates' financial returns, and lets us calculate the amount of reimbursements to qualified candidates quickly and efficiently.
Our improved Event Management System gives a consolidated view of corporate information for performance analysis, planning and decision-making. An easy-to-understand system with links to almost all our information and data sources, it helps executives plan, identify problems, and react quickly to changing requirements. Other new computer programs for internal use include a Supplies Management System, to monitor and track inventories of election material, and a Financial Information Management System that meets the accounting and reporting requirements of Treasury Board's Financial Information Strategy.
Our post-mortem assessment after the 1997 general election revealed several areas for improvement in the working relationship between returning officers and Elections Canada. The issues ranged from the introduction of new technology in the field and the need to train returning officers on new systems, to a need for more information and contact from Elections Canada outside the times of the actual events.
To strengthen the necessary sense of partnership with returning officers, we improved our consultation policies from top to bottom. We have introduced a competencies profile, which specifies the body of knowledge, skills and abilities that a returning officer ought to possess. The profile is intended to help us identify returning officers' needs so that we can offer them customized training, and to help returning officers to evaluate their own strengths. To provide more frequent information and contact, in March 1998 we began publishing a regular news and information Bulletin for all returning officers and assistant returning officers; it is also available electronically to Elections Canada staff, as a summary of field-related activities.
Elections Canada has consulted more than 100 returning officers on all aspects of electoral administration, from the revision of our strategic plan to our communication campaign. Their feedback has been vital to improving our services to electors and our administrative processes.
New returning officers now receive eight-day training courses, whenever possible. To keep them up-to-date on the latest changes to systems and procedures, and to introduce field staff to pilot projects, we hold two-day briefings at Elections Canada for returning officers and other staff members (usually the assistant returning officers and automation coordinators) in those ridings where seats in the House of Commons are vacant and by-elections are expected. After each by-election, we hold one-day post-mortem sessions with the returning officer and assistant returning officer, and depending on the subjects up for discussion, the automation coordinator, revision supervisor and special ballot coordinator.
As part of Elections Canada's plans to be ready for a general election under the new legislation, a comprehensive training program took place between July 31 and August 26, 2000, in Ottawa. The training brought together 301 returning officers, 301 assistant returning officers and 301 automation coordinators with 25 trainers and presenters from nine different divisions at Elections Canada. The election officers received nearly 25 000 hours of training on our new systems and on recent developments in electoral law and administration.