Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the Sherbrooke By-Election
The Sherbrooke by-election
On May 1, 1998, the Honourable Jean Charest, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and Member of Parliament for Sherbrooke, resigned his seat in the House of Commons. On August 9, 1998, the Governor in Council announced that the by-election to replace Mr. Charest would be held on September 14, 1998.
Upon this announcement, the Chief Electoral Officer issued a writ to the returning officer for Sherbrooke, directing him to hold a by-election. Table 1 provides an overview of the important milestones between the calling of a by-election and the return to the writ.
|Date||Election calendar day||Event|
|May 1|| Member of Parliment for Sherbrooke,
the Honourable Jean Charest, resigns
|August 9||Day 36|| Issue of the writ; preparations
made to open the
office of the returning officer
|August 9 to 15||Days 36 to 30 (midnight)||Advertising blackout period for political parties|
|August 11||Day 34|| Proclamation published –
candidates can file
|August 12||Day 33|| Preliminary list of electors produced;
revision of list of electors begins
|August 21||Day 24||Targeted revision begins|
|August 19 to 21||Days 26 to 24|| Mailing of notices
of Confirmation of
Registration to all registered electors
|August 24||Day 21 (2 p.m.)||Close of nomination of candidates|
|September 3||Day 11||Revised list of electors distributed|
|September 4, 5 and 7||Days 10, 9 and 7||Advance polls|
|September 8||Day 6 (6 p.m.)||Revision and special ballot registration ends|
|September 11||Day 3||Official list of electors distributed|
|September 13 and 14||Days 1 and 0||Advertising blackout period for political parties|
|September 14||Day 0||Election day|
|September 15||Day -1||Official addition|
|September 22||Day -8||Return to the writ|
An important part of Elections Canada's task in the Sherbrooke by-election, as in all electoral events, was to generate awareness – among the general public, political parties, candidates, and the media – of the by-election and of the key dates in the election period.
The principal means of communicating with the general public was a householder, or pamphlet, sent to all residences in the electoral district within days of the issue of the writ. This short publication provided basic information, including the name and phone number for the office of the returning officer, information about the National Register of Electors, and details on how to have names added, or corrected, on the list of electors. It also gave information on deadlines for the return of special ballots, key dates for advance polls, procedures for registering and voting on election day, and the residency requirements for voting in a by-election. It also stressed the importance of keeping the notice of Confirmation of Registration until election day.
The notice, which arrived several days after the householder, provided details of where and when electors could vote, including the many alternatives that Elections Canada provides for electors unable or unwilling to go to their local polling station on election day. According to research undertaken by Elections Canada in Sherbrooke, this is the one piece of information found most useful by electors; 79 percent of electors in Sherbrooke remembered receiving it, and three-quarters of those remembered the information it contained.
The notices of Confirmation of Registration for the Sherbrooke by-election were produced directly in a camera-ready format by the returning officer, working from the SITES database – an automated database of addresses of all polling sites for advance and regular polls maintained by Elections Canada. This pilot project eliminated the need for the printer to enter and typeset the information, reducing both the possibility of errors and the amount of time needed to produce the cards.
All material was produced in both official languages. Census data revealed no ethnocultural or Aboriginal communities whose numbers would warrant translating basic information into other languages. However, key information was made available in alternative formats, including Braille, large print, and audio cassette, for those who required it.
Print advertisements were run in daily and community newspapers on two occasions. The first ad ran at the beginning of the revision period to explain how to have a name added to or corrected on the list of electors. The second ran a week before election day to remind electors that their polling station location was printed on their notice of Confirmation of Registration, and that they could register to vote at the poll. The advertisements were developed based on the campaign used in the last general election.
Elections Canada also worked closely with local media to ensure that residents had necessary information, supplying a media information kit containing the launch news release, the householder, an electoral district profile, and a calendar of key dates. In addition, the kit contained background information on a variety of topics, ranging from the electoral process and the role of Elections Canada, to the Special Voting Rules, the National Register of Electors, and elections expenses and contributions.
Over the course of the 36-day campaign, Elections Canada issued 10 news releases highlighting key deadlines, election day reminders, and clarification of what the media could and could not report on the weekend preceding election day.
The Sherbrooke by-election posed a particular challenge because of the presence of five colleges and universities in the electoral district. To be eligible to vote, electors had to have their place of ordinary residence in the electoral district by the 33rd day before election day, or August 12, 1998. Most students were not eligible to vote in the by-election, as they generally had not arrived on campus at that early date. Nonetheless, Elections Canada distributed some 2 300 brochures explaining voting procedures to students living in residences and set up an information booth at the Université de Sherbrooke to ensure students were aware of residence requirements for voting. No problems ensued concerning this matter.
A special by-election segment was also established on Elections Canada's Web site. The list of official candidates, the electoral district map, the address and telephone number of the office of the returning officer, and the Election Handbook for Candidates, Their Official Agents and Auditors were included in this segment, along with general information on the voting process and voting by mail-in ballot. On election night, results were posted on this Web page as they became available.
As well, Elections Canada Enquiries Unit staff were available to answer questions and distribute information to electors. The unit received 310 phone requests over the course of the campaign.
Once again, data from the National Register of Electors were used to produce the preliminary list of electors for the Sherbrooke electoral district. This was the Register's second use in a by-election. Before the list was generated, the portion of the Register applicable to the district was updated to reflect the removal of deceased electors and those who requested to opt out of the Register
Residents of Sherbrooke who were eligible to vote but whose names were not on the preliminary list of electors, or those whose name and/or address were incorrect, were advised to contact the office of the returning officer to obtain a registration form or correct the error.
As in the Port Moody–Coquitlam by-election, those wishing to have their names added to the list of electors could do so by supplying their name, address, gender, signature, previous address, and date of birth. Further identification was required only if this information could not be corroborated with information already in the National Register of Electors. This process was aided by the use of the Elector Search Utility (ESU), a confidential, secure, and bilingual system that permits electoral officials to search for pertinent registration information. First used in the Port Moody–Coquitlam by-election, the ESU was updated for the Sherbrooke by-election.
With the advent of the National Register of Electors, Elections Canada has modified its procedures for revising the list of electors, intensifying revision activities in specific areas of an electoral district as needed. This activity is referred to as targeted revision. For the Sherbrooke by-election, Elections Canada undertook a targeted revision to add the names of electors from new housing developments and high-mobility areas to the preliminary list of electors. Agents distributed 168 kits to new housing developments and another 1 505 kits to areas of high mobility, such as high-rise apartment buildings. As well, revising agents went to institutions such as long-term care facilities to revise the list to include those residents eligible to vote and not already on the preliminary list of electors. As a result of these three initiatives, 677 electors were added to the list.
Figure 1 shows the percentage of electors registered by each method of registration.
Methods of registration,
September 1998 by-election in Sherbrooke
N = 6 863 voters added
(the final list contains 75 700 names)
The period for revision of the preliminary list of electors lasted from August 12, three days after the writ was issued, until September 8, six days before election day. Changes to the list of electors during this 28-day period and the number of electors on the final list of electors, including those who registered at their polling stations on election day, are recorded in Table 2.
|Lists of electors||
|Preliminary list2||74 793||Day 33 to day 11||149||3 581||4 702||- 1 121|
|Revised list3||73 672||Day 10 to day 6||21||932||624||+ 308|
|Official list4||73 980||Election day||247||2 350||630||+ 1 720|
Day 33 to day 6
|417||6 863||5 956||+ 907|
|Final list||75 7005|
1 Excluding lists of electors voting
by special ballot outside Canada, in detention centres or as members
of the Canadian Forces.
2 The preliminary list is prepared at the beginning of the electoral period with data extracted from the National Register of Electors.
3 The revised list is produced so that voting can be held at advance polling stations.
4 The official list is produced so that voting can be held at regular polling stations on election day.
5 This figure corresponds to the final list, prepared as soon as possible after the election.
A total of 37 027 electors cast their ballot in the Sherbrooke by-election. The majority voted on election day, September 14, 1998, at one of the 210 polling stations located throughout the electoral district. Polling stations were open from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. For those unable to vote on election day, advance polls were held on September 4, 5 and 7. Table 3 provides details about polling places.
|Total number of polling stations||Accessible polling stations||Percentage|
As is always the case during elections or by-elections, residents of the electoral district unable to vote at the advance or ordinary polls, as well as residents who were travelling or residing outside Canada temporarily, could vote by special mail-in ballot under the Special Voting Rules. Canadians abroad were notified of their opportunity to cast a ballot in the by-election by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade through its diplomatic missions and consular posts. Soldiers posted to Canadian Forces bases, whether inside or outside Canada, were informed of their right to vote by the Department of National Defence (please see Table 4).
|Categories of electors asking to vote under the Special Voting Rules||Number of ballots requested|
|Members of the Canadian Forces||301|
|Electors residing outside Canada temporarily||37|
|Group 1 subtotal||401|
|Electors temporarily outside their electoral districts||0|
|Electors voting in their electoral districts||342|
|Group 2 subtotal||342|
|Total number of registrations||743|
1 The three lists of electors registered
under group 1 of the Special Voting Rules are separate from the list that
is revised during an election.
2 The electors registered under group 2 of the Special Voting Rules are also entered on the revised list of electors.
As well, persons in institutions, including hospitals and correctional facilities, were permitted to vote in the by-election under the Special Voting Rules. Registration and voting in acute care hospitals was held on September 7 and 8. To facilitate special voting in correctional facilities, information kits were supplied to the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry societies.
Voter turn-out was 48.7 percent, compared to 36.0 percent for the Port Moody–Coquitlam by-election and 73.5 percent for the Sherbrooke electoral district in the June 1997 general election. Preliminary statistics on the number of ballots cast by all means are presented in Table 5.
|76 1011||34 058||2 582||387||37 028||582||36 446||48.66%|
1 This figure includes electors on the National
Register of Electors (please see Table 2), as well as electors registered
under group 1 of the Special Voting Rules (please see Table 4).
2 Voter turnout is the ratio (expressed as a percentage) of the total number of electors who voted (including those whose ballots were rejected) to the number of electors on the final list established after election day.
The deadline for the nomination of candidates was 2 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, on August 24; 5 p.m. was the deadline for withdrawal or for making corrections to information on candidates' nomination papers. Eight candidates were nominated for the by-election, representing seven political parties. One candidate ran as an independent. Once nominations were closed, lists of candidates were transmitted to Canadian diplomatic missions and consular posts by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and to Canadian Forces bases by the Department of National Defence and were posted on the Elections Canada Web site.
On election night, the returning officer's Election Results System was linked to Elections Canada's central computer; as votes were counted, they were transmitted to the Ottawa server for posting on the Web site.
Bloc Québécois candidate Serge Cardin received the most votes and was elected Member of Parliament for Sherbrooke (please see Table 6).
Of the eight candidates, only the two who received more than 15 percent of votes cast were eligible for reimbursement of part of their deposit and of their election expenses.
Finally, the Chief Electoral Officer has forwarded allegations of irregularities surrounding the Sherbrooke by-election to the Commissioner of Canada Elections for his review. Under the Canada Elections Act, where there are reasonable grounds to believe that an election officer may have committed an offence against the Act, the Chief Electoral Officer can direct the Commissioner to make such inquiry as appears to be called for in the circumstances.
|Archambault, Robert||Progressive Conservative Party of Canada||2 303||6.31|
|Bolduc, Marcel||Reform Party of Canada||934||2.56|
|Bousquet, Jacques||The Green Party of Canada||254||0.69|
|Cardin, Serge*||Bloc Québécois||16 143||44.29|
|Goulet, Sébastien||New Democratic Party||720||1.97|
|Lachapelle, Serge||Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada||72||0.19|
|Pouliot, Robert Y.*||Liberal Party of Canada||15 923||43.68|
|Turmel, John C.||Independent||97||0.26|
* Having obtained at least 15 percent of the valid votes cast, these candidates were eligible for partial reimbursement of their deposit and election expenses.
As part of efforts to ensure that all electoral events are administered in the most efficient manner possible, several members of Elections Canada's staff visited the office of the returning officer during the by-election period to observe and to provide advice as required.
In addition, Elections Canada surveyed all deputy returning officers (DROs) involved in the Sherbrooke by-election. The objectives of the survey, which was conducted on election day, were to assess the usefulness and appropriateness of the materials provided to poll officials; gather information on services to electors at polling stations that is not readily available to election administrators; assess whether the role of candidates' agents (scrutineers) at the polls is fully understood by all concerned and whether candidates exercise their right to be represented; and assess the quality of the training DROs received.
The survey questionnaire was used as a pilot project in this by-election. Once evaluated, it will be adapted for use in future by-elections to give Elections Canada a first-hand account of what goes on at polling stations.