Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 37th General Election Held on November 27, 2000
Keeping potential voters, candidates, political parties and the media informed was essential during the election, especially given the new requirements of the Canada Elections Act and the numerous legal deadlines for various stages of the campaign. Our information had to be easy to understand and accessible to every Canadian elector. To achieve this goal, we developed an integrated multimedia information program that adapted our central message to reach various population segments.
On September 15, 2000, shortly after the new Canada Elections Act came into force, we placed full-page newspaper ads in 104 dailies and many weeklies to alert the public to changes in the Act that would affect them during the next election. After this, we made our first direct approach to electors on October 27, one month before election day, when we started publishing advertisements in daily newspapers to tell electors to expect our pamphlet (called a householder, because it went to all households) and the voter information card in the mail. The householder – Look inside for everything you need to vote – explained the voter information card, when to register to vote, how to make changes to information on the voters lists, the hours and dates of voting at the advance polls and on election day, how to vote by special ballot, and how to contact the national Elections Canada office. This pamphlet mentioned that targeted revision could occur in new developments and areas in which people tend to move frequently. It also stated that an elector who did not get a voter information card and had not yet registered could still register to vote on election day, upon presentation of appropriate proof of identification. Like most of our information products, the householder included our toll-free telephone numbers and Web address.
We arranged with Canada Post to deliver the pamphlet to every household in Canada between October 30 and November 1 – 11.6 million bilingual copies in all. In addition to being translated into 31 languages, the householder was made available in Braille, large-print, diskette and audio-cassette versions distributed directly to segments of the public who might otherwise experience difficulty in casting their votes.
Our multimedia national advertising campaign had a simple aim: to catch the attention of as many Canadians as possible, and inform them of the need to register to vote. During the 36-day campaign, our newspaper advertisements appeared between three and five times in up to 104 daily papers and several community newspapers, while our radio and television ads were broadcast in 46 television and 68 radio markets across the country. Each different wave of advertising was timed to coincide with a specific stage of the election calendar:
- just before the householder and voter information cards were to arrive
through the mail, urging people to watch for this important
- just after the voter information cards were scheduled to arrive in the
mail, asking people who did not get a card or who received an incorrect card
to contact Elections Canada
- on or around November 17, to promote the advance polling option,
including registration at the advance polls
- during the last six days before election day, to highlight the fact that people could register to vote on election day
To meet specific needs that emerged during the election period, we also organized three advertising blitzes.
- First, we placed two-page print ads in daily newspapers covering large
metropolitan areas where we expected high numbers of revisions to the voters
lists and where riding names or boundaries could cause confusion: Vancouver,
Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Montréal.
The ads included riding maps and information about the Elections Canada
offices in each area, and appeared on Saturday, November 11, Sunday, November
12 or Tuesday, November 14.
- Second, we developed a revision campaign and public service announcements
on radio that focused on regions where we expected high numbers of revisions
to the voters lists.
- Third, on November 23 and 24, we published ads in daily newspapers in those metropolitan areas where returning officers were having difficulty recruiting staff to work at the polling stations on election day: Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto and Halifax. This campaign was called Looking for work on election day?, and was backed up by advertising using 30-second scripts that were sent to radio stations.
The television ads were designed to encourage as many electors as possible to register before election day, so that voting would not be impeded by large numbers of last-minute registrations. To help people understand their options, we provided information about revision and election day registration in other ads. For example, we used newspapers and radio stations to disseminate information about voting on election day. We placed print advertisements in 102 dailies across Canada between Friday, November 24, and Sunday, November 26, and in 148 weeklies across Canada between Wednesday, November 22, and Sunday, November 26. Another 27 radio stations aired messages specifically to Aboriginal communities in 18 languages, including English and French, from Wednesday, November 22, to Monday, November 27. Advertisements were also aired on more than 300 radio stations across the country on the morning and early afternoon of election day.
In our efforts to reach all potential voters, we often used media tailored to specific groups, such as newspapers published in French outside Quebec or in English within Quebec, rural and community newspapers, as well as student newspapers and cultural newspapers.
The Official Languages Act requires that advertising published in a majority-language newspaper must also be published in a minority-language newspaper if there is one in the same area. Where there is none, the ad can be published in both languages in the majority-language newspaper. During the election period, we bought a mix of radio, television and print ads in the minority language, wherever those media were available.
To complement our advertising in daily newspapers, we placed ads in no less than 172 community newspapers, as well as in weekly, student and cultural newspapers. Most of the community newspapers we selected were published in smaller towns and rural areas, where large dailies did not enjoy the strongest readership.
As part of our drive to register Canadian electors living outside the country to use the special ballot, we published messages in the New York Times and Le Francophone International. We knew that, in November, many Canadians would be spending time in warmer areas of the United States. For our Snowbird Campaign, as we called it, and with the advice of the Canadian Snowbird Association, we targeted Canadians in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida by advertising in 15 widely read newspapers in those states.
As well, in Canada our print ads in 104 daily and many weekly newspapers asked people to notify friends or family who were away that Canadians abroad can vote.
Young people aged 18 to 24 are less likely than other electors to exercise their right to vote. We embarked on our largest effort to reach young Canadians directly during this election. This was done in parallel with our advertising directed to young electors – such as youth-oriented television spots on popular music stations, radio spots on rock stations and ads in student newspapers – and the youth section on our Web site.
The Chief Electoral Officer wrote to all student associations and organizations, describing his plan to write to Canadians who had turned 18 since the June 1997 general election, and enclosing a copy of his letter. The personalized letter, mailed to some 428 000 young Canadians on November 2, 2000, noted that electors should register early so that they could vote, and gave information about contacting Elections Canada. The Chief Electoral Officer also told the student associations about our Web site (enclosing a small colour poster describing the site), and asked for their help in encouraging young electors to register and vote.
On several Web portals popular with youth, we placed a banner advertisement that linked to the householder and other information on our own Web site. And as mentioned above, we advertised in several student newspapers published by major colleges and universities.
The returning officer of the Algoma–Manitoulin riding in Ontario was particularly hospitable to future voters when a Grade 5 class asked to visit one of his polling stations to see how elections work. Although groups of non-voters are not normally allowed in a polling station, he secured the Chief Electoral Officer's permission to let the students visit one of the advance polls, to the delight of all concerned.
One of our basic communications principles was to ensure that Canadians from various backgrounds could recognize themselves in our information material. To encourage voting by Canadians who may not be fluent in either official language, we undertook several public relations and advertising projects informing members of ethnocultural communities about the election and the electoral process.
As well as providing the householder pamphlet in 31 heritage languages on the Web and in print, we distributed information kits to 33 national ethnocultural associations, 26 Citizenship Judges and 34 Citizenship Courts, and sent out a letter and order form for the householder to 1 822 ethnocultural organizations. In response to these mail-outs, we received requests for information in all of the languages from 151 ethnocultural organizations and associations, and we mailed out 79 640 copies of the householder for the associations to distribute within their communities.
We produced newspaper ads in 19 heritage languages for 60 dailies and weeklies across the country, radio ads in 24 heritage languages for airing on 30 radio stations, and television ads in English and French illustrating Canada's multicultural mosaic, which were broadcast on eight stations targeting ethnocultural audiences.
Elections Canada recognizes and respects a fundamental value of Aboriginal communities: the special role of Elders and youth. Since the 1993 general election, our Elders program at polling stations on certain First Nations reserves has offered information and interpretation services for electors, and generally provided assistance to voters who may not be familiar with the federal electoral process. At the 1997 general election, the program was extended to Inuit and Métis communities, and young people from the community joined Elders in providing election day support.
For this general election, returning officers (or Aboriginal liaison officers appointed by them) were responsible for the Elders and youth program in the 114 eligible ridings. More Aboriginal communities participated in the program than in previous elections: 91 communities, compared to 62 in 1997. The communities were located in 31 ridings, up from the 20 that participated in 1997.
We distributed information kits to five national Aboriginal associations, published print versions of the householder in five Aboriginal languages (Plains Cree, the northern dialect of James Bay Cree, Ojibwe, Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut) and on our Web site, and sent a letter and order form for the householder in Aboriginal languages to 1 175 provincial and regional Aboriginal organizations, tribal and band councils and Friendship Centres. We received requests for information in the five languages from 24 Aboriginal organizations and associations, and mailed out more than 4 000 copies of the householder for the associations to distribute in their communities.
We also published general information ads in English, French and four Aboriginal languages in 44 Aboriginal publications across the country, aired ads in English and 23 Aboriginal languages on 28 specialized radio stations, and broadcast television ads in English, French, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.
Producing suitable election information for potential voters with special needs involved several different formats, as well as the advice and active co-operation of a number of associations. For example, we provided a general information kit in Braille, large print and on audio-cassette and diskette, prepared the householder in plain language, promoted access to our teletypewriter (TTY) phone service for electors with a hearing impairment in our publications and advertisements, aired our news releases on Voiceprint and La Magnétothèque (an audio news and information service for people with impaired vision), and hired a special needs liaison officer to communicate with target associations during the event.
We first distributed information kits to 25 national associations for persons with special needs, including literacy organizations, and then sent out a letter and order form for materials in alternative formats to 1 722 special needs organizations. We also issued a nationwide news release on the many voting options available, and posted an order form for information kits in alternative formats on the Web site. We received requests for information in alternative formats from 303 special needs organizations and associations, and the TTY service responded to numerous requests for information.
We mailed more than 75 000 large print, 11 000 audio-cassette and 800 Braille householders, covering all members of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and 5 000 householders in the same mix of formats to members of the Institut Nazareth et Louis-Braille in Quebec. Officers of the Canadian Council of the Blind also received the backgrounder, Accessibility of the Electoral System.
The Movement for Canadian Literacy worked with Elections Canada to produce the householder in plain language, posted it on their Web site and distributed it to literacy educators across the country. Similarly, the Fédération canadienne pour l'alphabétisation en français helped us to prepare the plain-language householder in French, and distributed 5 000 copies to more than 300 francophone literacy educators and their students.
The Canadian Association of the Deaf produced an American Sign Language video, highlighting important dates in the election calendar and information on the voting process. The video was distributed to more than 150 of their affiliates and member agencies. A similar video was produced in LSQ (langage des signes québécois) and distributed through appropriate community associations.
We improved the features and capacity of our Web site during the summer of 2000, and once the election was called, we continued to use the Web for a significant portion of our communications activities. We had added an expanded electoral districts database, for example, that let users find a profile of any riding (its population, estimated number of electors, and so forth), the past election results for the riding, a map, the name, address and phone numbers of the returning officer, and the addresses of any additional local offices where they existed. We provided links to provincial and territorial election information, and we updated the list of candidates daily until all candidates were confirmed on November 8. And for election night, we included a link to each riding's on-line results.
A new feature was a set of answers to frequently asked questions about the general election, with new questions and answers added during the election period as we analyzed requests made to the Enquiries Unit. A map showed the voting hours for each time zone in Canada, and we updated the site daily with news releases and other information for the media. The news releases usually appeared on the Web less than an hour after the media relations team issued them.
After the election was called, the large number of calls to our 1 800 INFO-VOTE line led us to ask our Web team to add the capacity for visitors to search for ridings by postal code and to find the office of any returning officer. It took our team, including staff from our Electoral Geography section and the Internet service provider, three days to add the feature to the electoral districts database. All an elector had to do was log on to the Web site and enter a home postal code to find out the name of the riding and the address and phone number of the office of the returning officer. This is a good example of the type of new functions we will add to our Web site to make it more relevant and useful.
On-line election publications
On the day the election was called, we posted the Web version of the householder in English and French, and within two weeks, we had it on our Web site in 31 languages. We wanted to make sure that language was not a barrier to receiving information on the election.
One of the more popular Web documents was Voting by Canadians Away from Their Homes or Their Electoral Districts, the application and guide for registering to vote by special ballot. The registration form was downloaded in PDF format by 39 400 people. Another very popular item was the targeted revision registration form, which was downloaded by 56 782 visitors.
Our Web site included a searchable database of contributions to candidates and their election expenses, a searchable database of election expenses incurred by registered political parties, and a list of registered third parties, updated daily as the list grew. A redesigned electronic candidate's return on the Web site (also available on CD-ROM) let candidates and their agents produce and submit their financial returns in electronic form, and we posted a number of downloadable manuals and forms for third parties, candidates, political parties and their agents and auditors.
For young Canadians
Reaching out to young electors – and introducing young Canadians to elections and voting – are important priorities for Elections Canada. Beginning in late September 2000, we introduced the much-enlarged on-line youth section of our Web site. During the election, young people could download two educational kits: Canada at the Polls! and I Can Vote!
The text of our householder was available, as was our Web module, Explore A History of the Vote in Canada, and an order form for the free CD-ROM, Exploring Canada's Electoral System. We invited younger visitors to play our on-line trivia game SElections, and offered election-related links to other youth sites.
The Web site was promoted through banner ads on the most popular Canadian portals. The youth section attracted more than 54 000 visitors during the election period. I Can Vote! was downloaded 6 414 times, and Canada at the Polls! totalled 3 851 downloads.
On election night, Web site visitors had the opportunity of watching the results unfold in real time, with a wide menu of choices. They could look at the results Canada-wide, province-wide, or city-wide, as well as by riding; or they could call up results for party leaders, or the candidates leading in each riding. Visitors could also compare the incoming results with those of the 1997 general election, and view up to 144 results pages on one screen.
Right from the beginning of the campaign, visitors were able to plan what results they wanted to see on election night by setting up a customized presentation window and saving it by various means. They could also choose to have the final election results of the ridings they selected e-mailed to them after election night. These features were designed to be accessible even to users of low-end computers.
On election night, our Web site started showing election results at approximately 10:15 p.m. Eastern standard time (EST), as it was illegal for anyone to publish election results nationally before all the polling stations closed at 10:00 p.m. EST. We continued to publish updated real-time results until all polling stations reported in.
Anticipating a high demand, we had set up 10 computer servers to show results instantly on election night. The very large number of simultaneous hits at 10:00 p.m. delayed the showing of initial results by about 15 minutes. Although many visitors found that pages were slow to load for part of the evening, our Web servers did not break down. Our site received more than 137 000 visitors on election day alone (amounting to approximately 9 million hits), compared to nearly 980 000 visitors for the whole 36-day election period. This represents significant growth in comparison to the 1997 election, when some 70 000 people visited our site over the same number of days.
To serve media outlets in all parts of the country, we established a temporary network of regional media representatives. During the campaign, they handled local and regional requests from the press, radio and television, gave interviews and advised returning officers on media issues. They received and replied to some 6 200 media enquiries, including about 600 requests for interviews. The regional representatives were also responsible for establishing links with local radio stations and community newspapers, introducing themselves by distributing the printed and CD-ROM versions of our media guide. Our Web site included a section specifically for the media, where they could easily find most of the information of interest to them in one place.
Our media relations team at Elections Canada dealt with national issues, provided senior managers with media-monitoring reports, coordinated media requests for interviews with the Chief Electoral Officer, and issued 41 news releases, which were also posted on our Web site. The releases were generally of two kinds: informative (such as reminders about deadlines and special stories of interest to electors), and responses to specific issues (such as a court decision on third parties and voter turnout at the advance polls). The national media tended to give greater coverage to topics like the homeless vote, youth participation, the Internet, the National Register of Electors, and comparisons between the Canadian and American electoral systems. The Chief Electoral Officer was interviewed 25 times by various national radio, television, newspaper and magazine journalists, and by CBS News and the BBC. RDI – Radio-Canada's French all-news television channel – produced two special documentaries on what goes on behind the scenes of an election, broadcast on November 26 and 27. Their introduction to election night included a series of interviews with election workers to find out what happens before voting begins and after the polling stations close.
We also used news releases and letters to the editors of newspapers to keep electors up-to-date with accurate information when difficulties arose. By the end of the campaign, nine explanatory and clarifying letters to newspaper editors from the Chief Electoral Officer were published on a variety of topics in the National Post, the Financial Post, The Edmonton Journal, The Leader-Post (Regina), The Windsor Star, The London Free Press, Le Devoir and The Ottawa Citizen.
One matter reported in the media was the large number of calls affecting access to the 1 800 INFO-VOTE telephone information service; as we progressively added more staff and became increasingly effective, we issued two news releases telling electors about the expanded phone enquiries capacity.
Since the Chief Electoral Officer's report on the September 11, 2000, by-elections in Kings–Hants and Okanagan–Coquihalla, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages received six complaints about our print advertisement "Canada's Election Law Has Changed," published in all daily newspapers and several community newspapers across Canada in mid-September. These complaints have been resolved to the satisfaction of the Commissioner's Office.
For the general election, all election officers were trained to carry out their responsibilities to provide service in both official languages. As usual, returning officers were instructed to recruit bilingual workers. In areas of the country where it was difficult to recruit bilingual staff, an alternative was to give unilingual election workers descriptive cards explaining to electors how to obtain service in either official language. A toll-free 1 800 number for bilingual service from Elections Canada was available, all election-related information was available in both official languages, and our Web site is fully bilingual.
Early in the election period, staff of Elections Canada and of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages established procedures for responding to complaints within 24 hours. During the election, the Commissioner received 46 formal complaints (compared to 52 during the 1997 general election). Given that some 166 000 election officers across Canada were interacting with up to 20 million electors over a 36-day period, we were encouraged by the small number of complaints. We are confident that our hiring, training and awareness measures were largely successful.
The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages is currently completing its analysis of all the complaints before submitting a final report on each complaint to Elections Canada.