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Report on the October 24, 2016, By-election in Medicine Hat–Cardston–Warner

Executive summary

In response to section 164.1 of the Canada Elections Act, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was engaged to perform an independent, statutory audit and report on whether deputy returning officers (DRO), poll clerks (PC) and registration officers (REGO) have, on all days of advance polling and on polling day, properly exercised the powers conferred on them, and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them, under sections 143 to 149, 161 to 162 and 169 (hereinafter referred to as "the relevant sections") of the Canada Elections Act (CEA or "the Act") for each general election and by-election. This report is in relation to the by-election held in Medicine Hat–Cardston–Warner on October 24, 2016.

In addition to other roles required to prepare for and support advance polling and election day, each returning officer (RO) is responsible for appointing a DRO, a PC and a REGO (collectively referred to as "election officials") to perform election related duties at a polling site. One DRO and one PC is required per polling station and typically, one REGO is assigned to each central polling site/place. It is the duties of these specific election officials that are included in the scope of this audit under S.164.1 of the Act.

The scope of the duties of election officials as prescribed in the relevant sections of the Act require election officials to register electors, request and examine each elector's proof of identity and address as well as administer and complete prescribed forms and certificates on all days of advance polling (held October 14–17, 2016) and on election day (held on October 24, 2016) in relation to the by-election in Medicine Hat–Cardston–Warner (ED).

Any Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years of age on election day may vote in the ED in which they reside. The CEA provides procedural safeguards designed to protect the integrity of the electoral process, one of which requires electors to prove eligibility (identity and residency) before receiving a ballot. For most electors who are already registered at their current address and therefore included on the List of Electors, election day procedures involve a simple, efficient check of one or more pieces of acceptable identification to confirm identity and address of residence. Based on our testing results, approximately 85% of electors voted in this manner. The remaining 15% of electors tested required special administrative procedures prior to being issued a ballot.

Election officials must administer special procedures for all electors whose residence is going to be attested to, who are not on the List of Electors, whose name has been previously crossed off the List of Electors in error or who require minor corrections to their information. Depending on the circumstances, special procedures include initiating the appropriate certificate, administering a verbal or written oath/declaration to the elector and administering a verbal warning/written oath to an elector and their attestor.

Our audit did not validate election results, assess whether election officials other than DROs, PCs and REGOs performed their specific legislative duties, assess performance of legislative duties that are not specifically referred to in S.164.1 of the Act nor did it assess the administrative controls of EC beyond those implemented for purposes of supporting election officials in the conduct of their duties under S.164.1 of the Act.

Our audit findings and conclusions are presented at an aggregate level. For this electoral event, the by-election was called for one ED. Accordingly, our results are presented at the ED level. Our results are not attributed to any specific polling site, polling station or election official. Our major findings and other observations are described below. Our recommendations are included in Appendix A to this report.

We performed our audit in accordance with the Canadian Standard on Assurance Engagements 3001: Direct Engagements (CSAE 3001).

Audit criteria

For this audit, the principal criteria and therefore our audit mandate are specifically prescribed in the relevant sections of the Act described above. For the purpose of this audit, a significant deviation in the exercise of powers and the performance of the duties and functions of election officials was based on two levels of controls and procedures as well as reporting thresholds. Key controls and procedures are those performed by election officials which establish a person's qualification and entitlement to vote. Secondary controls are those which support/reinforce the elector's established qualification/entitlement to vote and are typically more record-keeping in nature. Our audit criteria for this audit is consistent with our audit criteria reported on in our independent audit report on the performance of the duties and functions of election officials dated February 16, 2016 in relation to the 2015 general election.

The establishment of thresholds for reporting purposes was critical during the planning of the audit. The reporting thresholds were agreed with management and reflect the relative importance of the control. For key controls, a deviation of 5% or more was considered a major finding. For those same key controls, a deviation of 2%–4.9% was considered as other observations. For secondary controls, a deviation of 11% or more was considered as other observations. The reporting thresholds are consistent with our report on the 2015 general election.

Approach

In order to provide reasonable assurance as to whether election officials performed their duties and functions as prescribed by the CEA, we selected a sample of polling sites within the ED and gathered sufficient and appropriate evidence to conclude on the audit objective. Evidence gathering techniques comprised of direct observation, enquiries and inspection of election documents (representing the certificates, forms, reports and other paperwork required to serve an elector and document the results).

In order to assess whether DROs, PCs and REGOs properly performed the duties imposed on them under the relevant sections of the Act, we determined that it was necessary to perform audit procedures on site at polling sites and stations at advance polls and on election day (October 24, 2016). Our sample included polling sites designated as urban or rural dispersed across the ED and resulted in PwC auditing approximately 200 electoral interactions.

We evaluated the design and implementation of specific administrative controls – specifically the training of election officials and associated guidebooks/other materials. This included a review of the content of the training program, attendance at a sample of training sessions and interviews with the RO, the recruitment officer and one training officer. During advance polls, as well as on election day, we posed a series of questions to election officials to obtain their perspective on their training experience and supporting materials.

Summary of findings

We concluded that:

On all days of advance polling and on election day, election officials properly exercised the powers conferred on them, and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them under the relevant sections of the Act with respect to regular electors (representing approximately 85% of electors). We did not note any major findings or other observations relating to deviations in key and secondary controls and procedures with respect to regular voters.

On all days of advance polling and on election day, election officials properly exercised the powers conferred on them and properly performed the duties and functions imposed on them under the relevant sections of the Act with respect to electors subject to special procedures (approximately 15% of electors). We noted one major finding from a deviation related to key controls relating to special procedures. We noted that some of the administrative procedures were not performed consistently but these deficiencies were record-keeping in nature (secondary controls).

The content of the training programs and the delivery of these programs was effective. Election officials reported that the guidebooks and other aids were useful in performing their responsibilities and troubleshooting when they were unsure of how to proceed. We identified opportunities to streamline the training curriculum to enhance the delivery of scenarios and the associated duties and functions that lead to the administration of special procedures.

EC asked us to report any other relevant observations that we captured during the course of our work that might assist them to improve or enhance their processes. In this context, we did not identify additional observations other than those already noted in our report on the 2015 general election.

Summary of recommendations

In our report on the 2015 general election, we identified three primary recommendations for consideration by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). More specifically,

  1. Modernize the electoral process, including automation of components. EC agreed with this recommendation and since has begun to identify elements of the electoral process at the polls that could benefit from automation.
  2. Explore opportunities for streamlining procedures at advance polls and for special procedures. EC agreed with the findings and the recommendation in this area. EC since has begun to review functions and procedures at the polls in order to simplify them and has made recommendations to Parliament to modify the Canada Elections Act in line with this objective.
  3. Consider enhancements to the existing training program to ensure that the necessary focus/time is given to the administration of the special procedures and to ensure election officials understand why/how to complete the activities. EC agreed to consider this recommendation in conjunction with any changes that result from automation and simplified procedures and functions at polling places. PwC's assessment of the training program for the by-election was included in the scope of the report and all findings and corresponding recommendations have been incorporated into this report.

While some of the recommendations above are still relevant, the recommendation below is in relation to the audit pertaining to this by-election only. It is suggested that the recommendation be fully evaluated and if a decision is made to proceed, it should be tested fully before full implementation. The proposed recommendation is summarized as follows:

In relation to the by-election, we propose the following recommendation:

  1. We recommend that the CEO consider further enhancements to the existing training program to ensure that the necessary focus/time is given to the administration of the special procedures.

Full recommendations and EC's responses are presented in Appendix A to this report.