Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
on the 38th General Election Held on June 28, 2004
Elections Canada communicates with Canadians about the electoral process, directly and through media channels. Three objectives defined the communications approach for the 38th general election:
- provide a high level of service to electors seeking information on when, where and how to vote or how to get on the list of electors
- reach out to all electors, and especially groups of Canadians identified as most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic right to vote
- address problems encountered in the previous general election, such as the capacity of the Elections Canada enquiries centre to handle the volume of calls throughout the election period and the volume of users accessing our Web site for election night results
Our communications strategy had five elements:
- The Voter Information Service, used for the first time in this election, provided information by Web and by phone to the public, 24 hours a day, throughout the 36-day election period.
- The Web site offered a wealth of information to the public, journalists, candidates, political parties, third parties and other political entities.
- The advertising campaign delivered messages in print, television, radio and on the Web – to the general public and to youth, Aboriginal electors and Canada's ethnocultural communities.
- We conducted outreach to targeted groups through joint initiatives and partnerships with community organizations.
- Media relations handled thousands of questions from print and broadcast journalists.
The Voter Information Service
The 34th general election, in 1988, was the first in which Elections Canada offered a phone-in enquiry service. In the 47-day period of that election, we received 42,000 telephone calls. By the time of the 38th general election, this number had soared to 734,954 calls in just 37 days (election period and election day).
To deal with the increasing volume of calls for the 38th general election, Elections Canada, in partnership with Bell Canada, developed the Voter Information Service (VIS). This provided new self-service features and consisted of three elements:
- an automated Web-based and speech-enabled Voice Response System
- a partially outsourced call centre, with staff for callers who needed to speak to an agent
- a self-service facility on the Web site
The Voter Information Service was supported by the VIS database, which drew address and geographic information from the National Register of Electors.
In this election, for the first time, the VIS could tell an elector phoning in or on the Web where he or she was to vote; the elector needed only to give his or her postal code or address. The VIS could also provide the information on the elector's voter information card – especially the location of his or her polling station for election day or advance voting (based on the elector's residential address). This saved time for electors and for the enquiries centres.
The Voice Response System
Through a national toll-free number (1 800 463-6868), electors first reached the automated Voice Response System (VRS), which could answer 11 different questions. The close to 735,000 calls that it answered represented a 39 percent increase over the 37th general election. The VRS operated 24 hours a day throughout the election period, and its self-serve option answered more than 140,000 questions from electors.
Calls to the system spiked on June 10 (the 18th day before election day), when 92,278 calls were received. This was the result of the national advertising campaign and the mailing of voter information cards to electors. On election day, the VRS received 57,924 calls.
At any time, a caller connected to the VRS could ask to speak to a call centre agent. In fact, 45 percent of callers did so.
To handle the expected call volume, we had made agreements with partner call centres in Ottawa and Toronto (Elections Ontario, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, and the federal government's Canada Inquiries Centre in Ottawa). Up to 270 agents were available to take calls from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time throughout the election. The extended hours enabled us to provide service to electors across the country.
The VRS could also transfer a call toll-free to the elector's returning office, and did so in 190,739 cases. Alternatively, an elector could choose to call directly to his or her returning officer. In all, returning offices answered 1,146,283 calls over 33 days.
For call centre agents, as well as returning officers, three-way conversations were possible with an outsourced translating service that supported more than 100 languages, including Aboriginal languages.
Web-based Voter Information Service
Electors could also get answers from the Web site's Voter Information Service application. Available at all times, the facility received 676,130 visits during the 37 days of the event.
Figure 3 :
Voter Information Service – 38th general election, 2004
Click on the figure above to view a larger version.
The Elections Canada Web site
The redesigned Web site provided more information than ever before.
For the 38th general election, new features appeared on the Web site:
- a new module on the home page
- an area where Canadians could find out about temporary election employment
- information sections for electors, candidates, parties, registered associations, nomination contestants, leadership contestants and third parties
- financial products and content dealing with the requirements of Bill C-24, which amended the political financing provisions of the Canada Elections Act
- information about the conversion to 308 electoral districts
The site continued to evolve during the election period to present the information that electors and political entities needed to know at each stage of the event.
Elections Canada will continue to give priority to improving our Web site and enhancing the site's ability to provide efficient self-service options.
Almost all Elections Canada's advertising, news releases, voter information and official reports were available at www.elections.ca. Electors could draw from more than 7,000 pages of content, and use advanced search capabilities to reach a suite of databases and applications – all supported by a Web infrastructure consisting of 16 servers located in two separate Internet data centres. Print, Web, radio and television advertising also continually reminded electors that more information was available on the site. After 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on election night, preliminary results posted in real time allowed reporters and electors across the country to track the vote with ease.
During the 37-day period of the 38th general election, the Web site had 1,580,672 visits, compared with 899,434 visits in the 37th general election – an increase of 75.74 percent. Of the Web site visitors during the 38th general election, 676,130 chose to use the Voter Information Service on the Web. The site ran smoothly throughout the election, successfully handling an expected spike of 367,717 visitors on election day. A considerable number of people also visited the following sections:
- "38th General Election": 325,672 visits
- "Frequently Asked Questions": 284,019 visits
- "Political Parties, Candidates and Others": 245,888 visits
- "General Information": 232,445 visits
In total, the Web site had 131,174,586 "hits" (page views) in the 37-day period – an average of more than 3.5 million hits per day. These figures show that the site filled a genuine need for information.
Figure 4 :
Visits to the Elections Canada Web site
Click on the graph above to view a larger version
Election Night Results
The new Election Night Results application was made available to the public at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time and immediately started disseminating preliminary results in uninterrupted real time. Anyone with an Internet connection could view results by electoral district, major centre, province, territory, nationally or by party leader. Each results screen also provided users with an electoral district profile, voter turnout and popular vote, in the official language of the user's choice.
Posting election results did not end on June 28. Validated results started arriving the next day and were posted on the Web site as they were received, for the following week. Where applicable, results tables were modified in response to evolving information such as the status of judicial recounts.
A map showing unofficial results was posted on the Elections Canada Web site the day after election day. This map was updated to reflect official results on September 2, 2004, and a paper copy was sent to all members of Parliament, senators, political parties and other stakeholders.
Elections Canada's multimedia national advertising campaign was designed to catch the attention of as many Canadians as possible, to motivate electors to participate, and to let them know about voting in the general election. The campaign featured ideas developed since the previous general election, including:
- television and radio ads designed to appeal to younger voters
- pre-testing of creative concepts and key messages
- an integrated approach linking television, radio, newspaper and Web messages
- the addition of a "launch" phase in the mainstream campaign and the use of television ads to place greater emphasis on voting at the advance polls and on election day
- banner ads on high-traffic Web sites
- a campaign designed to reach Aboriginal electors and ethnocultural communities
- screening of an ad during the final week of the campaign in movie theatres
Starting in 2002, Cossette Communication Group conducted research for Elections Canada with electors in several age groups (19 and under, 20–25, and 26 and older), returning officers, provincial election officials and academics, among others. We also conducted national focus group testing of several creative approaches.
The common theme, introduced for this general election, was: "Why not speak up when everyone is listening?" Targeting different age groups with variations on this theme, the ads emphasized personal responsibility and the value of speaking out when given the opportunity.
During the 36-day campaign, print advertisements appeared four times in 107 daily newspapers and twice in 876 community papers. Advertisements were placed three times in about 95 minority-language papers and 33 ethnocultural papers.
Television ads were broadcast on 143 stations in 47 different markets. Radio advertising encompassed 430 stations in 168 markets across the country. Web banner ads appeared throughout the election period on 24 major youth-oriented and news-related sites. All advertising stressed how easy it was to get more information on the Web site or by calling the toll-free phone number.
Each phase of the advertising campaign was timed to coincide with a specific stage of the election calendar.
- As soon as the election was called, we informed electors of the date of the election and the changes to many electoral districts (the Chief Electoral Officer also called attention to these changes in his news conference on May 25).
- After mailing the voter information cards, we sent a reminder to each household urging people to watch for this important information, to keep their cards, and to contact us if they did not receive a card or if there were errors on the card.
- Before the advance polls opened on June 18, 2004, we let voters know how they could vote in advance, vote by mail using the special ballot, or vote in person at a returning office.
- Toward the end of the election period, advertisement highlighted the fact that people could still register to vote on election day, and encouraged them to vote on June 28, 2004.
For this general election, we increased use of a new advertising medium: banner ads on high-traffic Web sites. The banners were short, animated pop-up ads that stretched across a small portion of a Web page, inviting users to click to reach the Elections Canada Web site. These ads appeared in portals heavily used by younger voters, such as Sympatico, Yahoo! and MSN, in addition to other news-oriented sites frequented by Canadians abroad.
We also placed ads in 25 student newspapers promoting the option of voting by mail (the "I'm Mailing My Vote!" initiative).
Elections Canada worked with friendship centres to keep Aboriginal people informed about the election and to receive guidance about areas for targeted revision. Messages developed with the assistance of an Aboriginal advertising firm were placed in community newspapers and on radio stations and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. The Web site also posted materials in 10 other frequently used Aboriginal languages: Gwich'in, Nisga'a, Plains Cree, Ojibway, Oji-Cree, Mohawk, James Bay Cree, Michif, Innu and Mi'kmaq.
Communities were consulted to develop messages and themes specifically for them. With the help of the National Aboriginal Women's Association, more than 1,700 information kits were sent to First Nations and Aboriginal associations and organizations in English, French and Inuktitut, and 240,000 voter information guides were distributed to Aboriginal communities.
For this election, we stepped up our efforts to reach young Canadians. For example, we developed a poster for display on campuses, working together with four post-secondary student associations – the Canadian Federation of Students, the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, the New Brunswick Student Alliance, and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Close to 3,200 posters were sent to these associations for distribution to their 119 member associations.
Young Canadians could enter a Canada Road Trip contest, sponsored by Elections Canada, offering three prizes of a trip for two anywhere in Canada. The contest Web site attracted 135,898 visitors; 16,665 of them signed up to receive e-mail updates on the election. Contest entrants totalled 29,438.
The redesigned "Young Voters" section of the Web site offered information on the electoral process and on how young Canadians could get involved. It was visited 103,581 times during the election, with a peak of 17,114 visits on election day.
For members of ethnocultural communities, our message was that voting is a right and an opportunity to shape the future.
Our campaign for ethnocultural communities focused on the two most important phases of the election period: receipt of the voter information card and registration, and voting on election day.
With the theme of "My future, my vote," our campaign adapted our regular television ads with voice-overs in 12 languages; our radio ads were broadcast in 23 languages, and our print ads appeared in 24 languages.
A revised voter information guide was distributed in 26 languages, in print versions and at www.elections.ca. During the election period, ethnocultural associations ordered more than 76,000 copies of the guide, and community relations officers and returning officers requested more than 100,000 additional copies.
Ethnocultural community relations officers helped to deliver this message. In some cases, they set up information booths at community events. Each officer provided community members with a source they could turn to for more information about the electoral process.
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Electors with special needs
The International Foundation for Election Systems – a worldwide non-profit organization that supports the building of democratic societies – has hailed Canada for its work in making elections accessible to persons with disabilities. For electors with special needs who cannot access the usual information channels – for example, persons with a visual or hearing impairment, or limited mobility – Elections Canada has developed a wide range of services, as well as information in alternative formats explaining the many ways of voting and the assistance available in exercising their right to vote.
In addition to placing ads in publications for people with special needs, distributing information kits to 35 national associations, and sending order forms to approximately 2,000 local associations, we worked with several organizations to produce and deliver revised and customized information in accessible formats on such subjects as level access to polling stations, visual aids, voting aids, and the option of having a designated person give assistance if requested. Products made available for the election included:
- extensive electoral information in Braille and plain language, and on video, audio-cassette and diskette
- in collaboration with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), a short information document on the election in Braille, in large print and on audio-cassette, delivered to approximately 80,000 CNIB members
- in co-operation with the Canadian Association of the Deaf and the Centre québécois de la déficience auditive, a sign-language information video for distribution, on request, to members of these two organizations and to the public
- information (news releases, voter information guide, etc.) broadcast on VoicePrint
- jointly with the Movement for Canadian Literacy, an animated Web presentation intended for literacy educators to use in the classroom (a French version was adapted by the Fédération canadienne pour l'alphabétisation en français)
To provide quick and efficient support to media across Canada, we assembled a team of media relations specialists.
Eight media relations advisors in Ottawa served the national media and local media in the National Capital Region and Nunavut. Eight regional media advisors were located strategically across the country. This approach ensured that all media – national and regional, print, radio, television and Internet – had access to reliable and efficient media relations services throughout the election. The team included former journalists with hands-on experience in covering elections and skilled communicators who had provided this kind of support to the media during previous national and provincial elections.
The Ottawa and regional media advisors were available evenings and weekends and worked with the 24 field liaison officers to answer reporters' questions during key hours of media operation in every province and territory. A media phone line was established, available toll-free from anywhere in Canada. Reporters' calls to this number were automatically directed to the appropriate regional advisor, through a system of area code recognition. During the election, the media relations team responded to more than 3,000 requests from media across Canada and abroad.
For reporters covering the election and for others interested in the electoral process, we published a pocket-sized Media Guide, which was also posted on the Web. This quick-reference handbook describes Elections Canada and the electoral process, with facts, figures and contacts. Informal comments from journalists indicated that they found the Media Guide a helpful source of election basics and consulted it often, both in hard copy and on the Web.
A total of 45 news releases and media advisories were issued during the election period and the subsequent judicial recounts. In addition to distribution on the news wire and to the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery, all news releases were posted on the Web site. Journalists could sign up to receive e-mail alerts about new information on the site.
News conferences with the Chief Electoral Officer
At the start of the election period, on May 25, the Chief Electoral Officer held a news conference attended by national media and simultaneously webcast on the Elections Canada Web site. He highlighted a number of topics, including Canada's new electoral districts, the quality of the lists of electors and the importance of the revision period, the different steps in the electoral process for electors, the variety of ways to vote, and the groups specially targeted in outreach and advertising campaigns (young Canadians, Aboriginal persons and ethnocultural communities).
The Chief Electoral Officer reinforced these messages in a second news conference – also webcast – on June 25. After both news conferences, the Chief Electoral Officer granted several one-on-one interviews to ensure that his messages reached a broad range of Canadians.