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Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the November 29, 2010, By-elections Held in Dauphin–Swan River–Marquette, Vaughan and Winnipeg North

1. New Measures Implemented During the November 2010 By-elections

Following the 40th general election, the Chief Electoral Officer submitted a report to Parliament in June 2010 entitled Responding to Changing Needs. This report recommended amendments to the Canada Elections Act aimed at improving various aspects of Canada's electoral process. Parliament is in the process of examining these recommendations.

In the meantime, certain administrative improvements can be made within the context of the existing legislative framework. To that end, Elections Canada took advantage of the November 2010 by-elections to implement numerous measures aimed at improving the management of elections, services to electors and the accessibility of the voting process. Highlights are included in this section. All of the other aspects of the November 2010 by-elections are dealt with in Section 2.

1.1 Assistive voting device pilot project

During the November 2010 by-elections, Elections Canada conducted a pilot project, under the terms of section 18.1 of the Canada Elections Act, to test an assistive voting device for persons with disabilities. The device was intended to enable electors with a visual impairment or limited dexterity to mark a ballot independently and in secrecy. It was tested only in the electoral district of Winnipeg North, in locations serving a large number of electors. The pilot itself went well, but the results showed that the device does not constitute a practical solution for enabling electors with disabilities to mark a ballot independently and in secrecy.

Elections Canada will continue looking for more ways to make voting easier for these electors. This involves continuing the dialogue, already well under way, with organizations representing persons with disabilities. Elections Canada will also continue to offer the many assistive tools and services (voting template, sign language interpreter, etc.) that are already in place to make voting easier for electors with special needs.

A complete report on the pilot project, along with the results, can be found in the annex to the present report.

1.2 Remedial measures following the Hughes ruling on the accessibility of polling sites

In February 2010, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal upheld a complaint against Elections Canada that level access was not provided at a Toronto polling site during the March 2008 by-election and October 2008 general election. In the months following this ruling, Elections Canada worked with the parties involved in the dispute, namely the elector who had filed the complaint, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, in order to improve its procedures and carry out the remedial measures ordered by the Tribunal.

Certain changes were already in place at the time the November 2010 by-elections were called. Thus, during advance polling and on ordinary polling day, the polling sites were to be verified at least three times a day to identify and rectify any accessibility issues. In addition, electors had various means at their disposal, including a new form, to file a complaint if they encountered difficulties accessing the polling site, and there were posters notifying them of the new complaint mechanism. All returning officers were trained on these new procedures in September 2010.

The new Polling Site Accessibility Feedback Form was available at polling sites and on the Elections Canada Web site. In all, 62 forms were completed by electors, containing a total of 15 complaints on various aspects of polling site accessibility: seven complaints about parking; three about signage; two about building access; two about aisles and corridors; and one from an elector who claimed to have been misinformed about the location of his polling site and to have made the trip for nothing. The returning officers contacted the electors who had filed the complaints and committed to take the necessary corrective actions to address their concerns.

An analysis of the complaints received and of their resolution shows that three of the problems reported involved structural elements of the building housing the polling site (door threshold, interior corridors). In at least one of the cases, it was decided that another site would be chosen for the next election. This shows the importance for returning officers of strictly applying the accessibility criteria when selecting a polling site. Eight of the problems reported had to do with the operating conditions of the polling site on election day, as opposed to any structural elements of the building. There were complaints about signage in some of the parking lots and snow clearing from certain entranceways. The latter cases highlight the importance of the role played by returning officers in ensuring that polling sites remain accessible throughout the day.

Since the November 2010 by-elections, Elections Canada has implemented other measures, such as updating its various tools for determining the accessibility of potential polling sites. In addition, Elections Canada has decided to institute a program to assess the accessibility of the 20,000 or so polling sites used for general elections, an initiative that we aim to complete by October 2012.

1.3 Voter information card as proof of identity and address

The assessments carried out after the last general election indicate that certain groups of electors have more difficulty than others in meeting the voter identification requirements. In particular, electors living in seniors' residences or long-term care facilities, Aboriginal persons living on reserve and students living away from home have more trouble producing proof of address. One way to reduce this problem is to add the voter information card (VIC) to the list of authorized pieces of identification, on the proviso that it always be accompanied by a second authorized piece of identification.

For the November 2010 by-elections, Elections Canada amended the list of authorized pieces of identification to include the VIC for polling sites serving seniors' residences, long-term care facilities, Aboriginal reserves and on-campus student residences. During these elections, the VIC was accepted as an authorized piece of identification at 14 polling stations located on Aboriginal reserves as well as a number of seniors' residences and long-term care facilities served by 26 mobile polls, for a total of 105 polling sites (the three electoral districts in question had no student residences). Observers were present at 19 polling sites to assess the effectiveness of this initiative.

From what we observed, the proportion of electors who used their VIC with another authorized piece of identification (e.g. hospital bracelet) in seniors' residences and long-term care facilities was nearly 80 percent. In targeted polling sites on Aboriginal reserves, the proportion of electors who used their VIC with another authorized piece of identification (e.g. Certificate of Indian Status) was about 36 percent. The initiative made the voter identification process run more smoothly and reduced the need to produce letters of attestation of residence. Thus, it was well received by both the affected electors and the institution and reserve administrators. For the next general election, we plan on expanding this measure to all electoral districts, and the returning officers have been tasked with identifying polling sites where the measure will apply.

1.4 Community relations officers – seniors

Previously, Elections Canada's community relations officers served four groups of electors: youth, ethnocultural communities, Aboriginal communities and the homeless. During the November 2010 by-elections, we added another group: seniors, who can encounter specific difficulties, particularly when it comes to information, as evidenced by feedback received after the 40th general election.

Therefore, the three returning officers concerned had the opportunity to hire a community relations officer assigned specifically to seniors. Two community relations officers were hired for this purpose, one in Dauphin–Swan River–Marquette and the other in Winnipeg North. They were to visit seniors' residences and long-term care facilities to provide residents with information, mainly on voter identification requirements and the option of using the voter information card as proof of identity and address. In Vaughan, this function was carried out by the revision supervisor.

According to the returning officers, the results were positive. Consequently, we plan to allow all returning officers to hire community relations officers to serve seniors during the next general election.