FAQs on Elections
Working in elections
- What are the rules about political signs posted during a federal election?
- How do I make a complaint about election signs?
Electoral process, results
- What measures are in place to ensure voting is secret?
- How are votes counted and validated?
- When will final election results be available?
- When will poll-by-poll results be available?
Election calls and timing
- When are federal elections held in Canada?
- Who calls elections in Canada?
- What was the date of the last general election?
- What's a by-election?
- When are by-elections held? Who calls them?
- Who is eligible to vote in a by-election?
- Is it acceptable to offer electors a ride to a polling site, or repay them for their travel expenses to get to a polling site?
- The Canada Elections Act has a section about cancelling an election due to flood, fire or other disaster. How would this work in a general election?
- What was the cost of the 2011 general election?
Working in elections
How do I apply to work in federal elections?
You can apply on-line to work in a future federal election, by-election or referendum.
When you click the link above, the site will first ask for your postal code, so it can determine your riding (electoral district). After you enter your postal code, you will see the job application.
Returning officers are hired through a competitive hiring process as vacancies occur. There are 308 returning officer positions across Canada (338 as of the 2015 general election). The Returning Officer Employment Corner lists returning officer vacancies, requirements, rates of pay, and how to apply.
Elections Canada's staff is hired through the federal public service recruitment process. All positions are based in the National Capital Region. When an election is called, additional temporary staff is hired to work in offices and warehouses in the National Capital Region.
Full-time students seeking workplace experience at Elections Canada offices in the National Capital Region apply through the Public Service Commission's Federal Student Work Experience Program.
Elections Canada is only responsible for federal electoral events: federal elections, federal by-elections, and federal referendums.
- If you'd like to work in a provincial election, please contact the electoral management body of your province.
- If you'd like to work in a city or municipal election, please contact your city or municipality.
What are the rules about political signs posted during a federal election?
The Canada Elections Act does not deal with political signs outside federal election periods. (The Canada Elections Act is the act that governs Elections Canada's work.)
During an electoral event (a federal election, by-election or referendum), the following rules apply:
Signs on private property
Section 322 of the Canada Elections Act states that property owners do not have the right to prevent tenants from putting up election posters on the premises they lease in an apartment building. However, property owners do have the right to set reasonable conditions on the size and type of poster, and to prohibit posters in common areas.
Signs on public property
Section 325 of the Canada Elections Act states that no one can interfere with the transmission of a public advertisement, such as an election sign. However:
- Government representatives may remove signs that do not respect provincial or municipal laws, after informing the person who authorized the posting of the sign that they plan to remove it.
- Public authorities may remove a sign without notice if the sign is a safety hazard.
How do I make a complaint about election signs?
To make a complaint or allegation of wrongdoing about election signs displayed during a federal election, please write to the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
Political signs displayed outside federal election periods are not regulated by Elections Canada or the Commissioner.
Electoral process, results
What measures are in place to ensure voting is secret?
Several measures ensure the secrecy of the vote.
Ballots are printed on special paper. The number of sheets sent to printers and returned by them is closely controlled.
The ballot paper is divided into three detachable parts: the ballot itself, the counterfoil and the stub, which stays attached to the ballot book. The stub and counterfoil have a matching serial number printed on them. The serial number is strictly a temporary control mechanism used to ensure that the ballot given to the elector is the same ballot that is given back to the deputy returning officer. The serial number does not appear on the ballot itself, and it is not registered anywhere with the voter's name.
Strict procedures at the polling station also ensure the secrecy of the vote. When electors enter the polling station, they present themselves to the deputy returning officer for their polling division. The poll clerk then checks to determine that each elector's name appears on the list of electors for that poll. Once an elector is confirmed to be on the list and has proven his/her identity and address, the deputy returning officer removes an initialled and pre-folded ballot from the book – with its counterfoil still attached – and instructs the elector to go behind the voting screen, mark the ballot in secret and return it, folded, to the same deputy returning officer.
The deputy returning officer takes each ballot that is returned, without unfolding it, and checks that it is the same initialled ballot that was presented to the elector. The serial number on the counterfoil must match the serial number on the stub remaining in the book.
Once satisfied that the ballot is the same that was presented to the elector, the deputy returning officer removes and discards the counterfoil and returns the still folded ballot to the elector. The elector places the ballot in the ballot box, or asks the deputy returning officer to do so.
Once an elector has voted, the poll clerk places a check mark in a column next to that elector's name on the list of electors, indicating that the elector has voted, and crosses the elector's name from the list.
The elector leaves the poll.
Section 163 of the Canada Elections Act states that "the vote is secret."
To further protect the secrecy of the vote, subsection 164(1) of the Act states that "[e]very candidate, election officer or representative of a candidate present at a polling station or at the counting of the votes shall maintain the secrecy of the vote." Contravening this provision is an offence under the Act.
Elections Canada does not collect or hold data on how any individual elector has voted.
How are votes counted and validated?
The deputy returning officer records the number of votes received by each candidate and the number of rejected ballots on a Statement of the Vote. The ballots and other election documents are then sealed in the ballot box and delivered to the returning officer.
Validation of results
Every returning officer validates the results by adding the totals given on each Statement of the Vote. The returning officer then delivers a certificate announcing the validated results to the candidates. In the absence of an application for a judicial recount, on the seventh day after the validation, he or she writes the name of the candidate who has received the most votes on the election writ, signs the writ and returns it to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.
A judicial recount occurs automatically if the two leading candidates are separated by less than one one-thousandth of the total votes cast in the electoral district or if they receive the same number of votes after the validation. As well, any elector may apply for a judge to carry out a judicial recount within four days of the validation of the results, with a $250 deposit and an affidavit that the count was improperly carried out, ballot papers were improperly rejected or the returning officer carried out the validation improperly.
In the very rare cases where the two leading candidates still have the same number of votes after the recount, a by-election is held for that electoral district.
As soon as the returning officer receives the judge's certificate stating the results of the judicial recount, and if there is no tie vote, he or she writes the name of the winning candidate on the election writ and returns the writ to the Chief Electoral Officer.
For more information, see the backgrounder entitled Results, Validation, Recounts, and Contested Elections: What Happens After Voting in a Federal Election.
When will final election results be available?
The Canada Elections Act provides for the publication of the official results from a general election without delay. Between election night, when the preliminary results are announced, and the publication of the final official voting results, the balloting results go through a number of verification stages, the results of which are published as they become available.
The specific timetable for the publication of results as set out in the Act is as follows:
- On election night, once the polls in a district are closed, preliminary results are announced and published on Elections Canada's Web site as they become available. These preliminary results are tabulated from the counts done at each polling station as they come in.
- Within a few days of those published results, returning officers are required to validate the counts submitted from the individual polls. These validated results are made public and published on the Web site as they become available. Validations are usually completed the same day that they start. (The Act allows validations to be delayed up to three weeks, if necessary, to allow all ballot boxes to be delivered to the returning officer.)
- Once a validation is completed, the Act requires the returning officer to wait seven days to formally declare the elected winner. This is to provide an opportunity for a judicial recount to be held where required. An application for a judicial recount must be made to the court within four days of the returning officer's validation of results. The recount itself must start within four days of the judge agreeing to hear the application. Once started, a recount usually takes between one and two days. If a recount is held, the results of that recount are made public and published on the Web site on its completion.
- On the seventh day following the validation of results (or, if a judicial recount was held, on its completion), the returning officer declares the winner and returns the writ of election to the Chief Electoral Officer.
- Elections Canada then collects and publishes the final official voting results without delay, as specified by section 533 of the Canada Elections Act. In preparing the official voting results, Elections Canada does not correct or otherwise alter the results that have been reached either by a returning officer during the validation or by a judge on a judicial recount. It merely collects, collates and reports those results in the official voting results.
The official voting results also report the final count of electors on the list of electors for each poll. In order to do this, Elections Canada must data-capture the revisions made to the list of electors during the election, including the electors who registered at the polls on election day.
When will poll-by-poll results be available?
To protect the secrecy of the vote, Elections Canada does not release any preliminary poll-by-poll results on election night. Instead, we summarize the results for five polls at a time in each electoral district. These summaries include votes cast by special ballot and in advance polls. Candidates' representatives receive a copy of the Statement of the Vote on election night at each poll they attend.
Poll-by-poll results are available in hard copy to candidates and media after validation, which takes place within seven days after election day in most electoral districts. Media can submit their request for these results by contacting the local returning officer before election day.
In a few cases, the results from more than one poll may be reported together where this is necessary to protect the secrecy of the vote in each poll.
Without delay after a general election, a report setting out, by polling division, the number of votes cast for each candidate, the number of rejected ballots and the number of names on the final list of electors must be published. In the case of a by-election, the same report must be published within 90 days after the return of the writ. This report is entitled Official Voting Results.
Election calls and timing
When are federal elections held in Canada?
Since May 2007, the Canada Elections Act provides that a general election be held on a fixed date: the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following the previous general election. As the last election took place on May 2, 2011, the next fixed election date is October 19, 2015. The Chief Electoral Officer may recommend an alternate day for a fixed-date general election if the date set for polling is not suitable for that purpose.
That said, the Canada Elections Act does not prevent a general election from being called at another date.
General elections are called when, on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Governor General dissolves Parliament. The Governor in Council (the Governor General, acting on the advice of Cabinet) sets the date of the election. The Canada Elections Act (section 57) specifies that the election period must last a minimum of 36 days; it does not specify a maximum.
Who calls elections in Canada?
Federal general elections are called as a result of a proclamation by the Governor General, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister.
General elections are called when, on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Governor General dissolves Parliament. The Governor in Council (the Governor General, acting on the advice of Cabinet) sets the date of the election. In the case of fixed-date elections, the Chief Electoral Officer may recommend an alternate day if the date set for polling is not suitable for that purpose.
What was the date of the last general election?
The last general election was held on May 2, 2011. It was Canada's 41st general election.
What's a by-election?
A by-election is a federal election that takes place in just one riding (electoral district). By-elections are held after the sitting member of Parliament (MP) retires, steps down or passes away while in office.
Sometimes two or more by-elections are held on the same day, in different ridings.
When are by-elections held? Who calls them?
By-elections are held when seats in the House of Commons become vacant – for example, when a Member of Parliament (MP) resigns. When a seat in the House of Commons officially becomes vacant, the Speaker of the House must inform the Chief Electoral Officer immediately.
The date of the by-election is determined by the Governor in Council (the Governor General, acting on the advice of Cabinet). The by-election must be called between the 11th day and the 180th day after the receipt by the Chief Electoral Officer of the document sent by the Speaker of the House advising of the vacancy. The Canada Elections Act (section 57) specifies that the election period must last a minimum of 36 days; it does not specify a maximum.
Check if there are vacant seats in the House of Commons, for which a by-election will be or has been called.
Who is eligible to vote in a by-election?
To be allowed to vote in a riding's by-election, you must:
- be living in that riding at the beginning of the revision period (usually 33 days before election day), and
- still be living in that riding on election day.
If you're not sure whether you meet these residency requirements, contact Elections Canada. Under election law, it's illegal to vote if you do not meet the requirements.
At your polling place, you'll be asked to prove your identity and address.
Is it acceptable to offer electors a ride to a polling site, or repay them for their travel expenses to get to a polling site?
Sometimes candidates or political parties offer electors rides to polling sites.
It is acceptable to offer a ride or to pay travel expenses if:
- it is offered to help someone, not to influence them
- it is offered with no strings attached – i.e. it is not given on the condition that the person vote or that he or she vote in a particular way
- the money offered covers the actual (or reasonably estimated) cost of travel, and nothing more
Sometimes, rides or travel expenses are offered selectively, to certain voters only – for example, only to voters who are known to support a particular political party. This is still acceptable, as long as it follows the three points listed above.
In contrast, giving a ride or paying for travel expenses may constitute a bribe if:
- it is meant to influence a person to vote, to avoid voting, or to vote in a particular way
- it is given with strings attached – i.e. it is given only on the condition that the person vote, or that he or she vote in a particular way
- the money given is more than the actual cost of travel or a reasonable estimate based on reference values (for example, per-kilometre travel expense reimbursement amounts set by employers)
If the ride or travel expense repayment is offered to influence a voter in this way, it is considered a bribe. It is illegal to offer or to accept such bribes.
The Canada Elections Act does not have a specific section on rides and travel expenses, so what follows is based on a section of the Act that deals with bribes in general, and on case law:
Section 481 of the Canada Elections Act states that it is an offence during an election for someone to offer a bribe to influence an elector to vote or not to vote, or to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate. Similarly, voters who, during an election period, agree to accept a bribe in those circumstances commit an offence under the Act.
In this context, whether it is okay to provide a ride to a polling site or to reimburse voters for their expenses to get to a polling site depends on how the ride and travel expenses are offered.
It is a question of fact and evidence if the provision of a ride or the payment of travel expenses was intended to influence the elector to vote, or to vote in a particular way, or whether the ride, payment or provision was motivated by some other reason. Thus, offering a group of individuals a day's festive outing which is conditional on first stopping at the polls may be a prohibited act where the outing is arranged in order to influence the electors to go to the polls.
Note that returning officers and their staff do not arrange electors' transportation to polling sites.
The Canada Elections Act has a section about cancelling an election due to flood, fire or other disaster. How would this work in a general election?
Section 59 of the Canada Elections Act provides for the cancellation of an election due to flood, fire or other disaster.Cancelling an election in any given electoral district would be done only as a very last resort.
The authority to withdraw a writ and the process to be followed are found in section 59 of the Canada Elections Act. The Act says it has to be impracticable to carry out the election (in French, "pratiquement impossible") by reason of a flood, fire or other disaster (in French, "calamité").
Should the Chief Electoral Officer reach the view that a writ must be withdrawn, a certificate is delivered to the Governor in Council (the Governor General acting on the recommendation of Cabinet). In the certificate, the Chief Electoral Officer must attest to the impracticability of carrying out the election by reason of a flood, fire or other disaster, and must name the electoral district(s) affected by this certification.
Section 59 provides that, on receipt of the certificate, the Governor in Council may order the withdrawal of the writ for any electoral district for which the Chief Electoral Officer has certified that it is impracticable to carry out the election. Once the Governor in Council issues the order, the election is cancelled in these districts, although the general election continues in the rest of the country.
Once an order is made, the Chief Electoral Officer issues a press release advising the public of the decision. Parties and returning officers are also advised.
Following the cancellation of an election under section 59, the Chief Electoral Officer must then issue a new writ for affected districts. The new writ must be issued within three months, and polling day may not be later than three months after the issue of the new writ. As this is a new election, the new election in affected districts lasts a minimum of 36 days, and candidates are subject to new spending limits.
What was the cost of the 2011 general election?
The preliminary estimated cost of the 2011 general election is $291 million, as stated in the Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 41st General Election of May 2,2011.