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Canada at the Polls!

2. The ABCs of Elections



Who Can Vote or Be a Candidate?

Who is entitled to vote?

Any Canadian citizen who is 18 years of age or older on election day

The right to vote was obtained

Who is not entitled to vote?

Who can be a candidate?

Any Canadian citizen:

A candidate is not required to reside in the electoral district in which he is running for election. Nor is he required to belong to a political party; he may run as an independent candidate, or as a candidate with no affiliation.

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Main Steps in the Election Process

This section provides some basic information on the federal electoral process to help you prepare your election simulation. For further information, please consult the publication entitled The Electoral System of Canada, available on Elections Canada's Web site.

The House of Commons is elected for a maximum of five years. This term of office is entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A bill passed in 2007 now requires federal elections to be held every four years, on the third Monday in October. Here are the main steps in the election process:

  1. Parliament is dissolved by the Governor General and an election is called.
  2. The Chief Electoral Officer sends a writ of election to the returning officer in each of the 338 federal electoral districts in Canada (as of the 2015 federal general election).
  3. Preliminary voters lists are prepared from the National Register of Electors and a voter information card is sent to every registered elector.
  4. Political advertising can begin.
  5. Candidates submit nomination papers to the returning officers.
  6. Advance voting takes place at special polling stations for those who will not be able to vote on election day.
  7. The voters lists are revised.
  8. Electors who do not wish to go to the polling station can vote using a special ballot.
  9. Advertising by political parties must stop.
  10. Election day.
  11. Returning officers validate the results after election day.
  12. There is a judicial recount if the difference between the first- and second-place candidates is less than one one-thousandth of the votes cast.
  13. Each returning officer declares a candidate elected in the electoral district and returns the writ of election to the Chief Electoral Officer.
  14. The new members of Parliament are sworn in and the new Parliament is convened.
  15. Candidates and political parties file their financial reports.

Note: See diagram showing the steps in an election.

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Assignment of Roles in Your Group

Everyone in your class or group takes part in the election simulation, but some people play specific roles. Assign the roles randomly or by any other method you prefer, considering the characteristics of the group and your objectives. Everyone is an elector.

The simulation requires:

Depending on the time available, you can also add:

Who does what?

The returning officer :

The duties of the deputy returning officer, poll clerk and candidates' representatives are described in detail in the following pages. In general, the deputy returning officer controls the comings and goings at the polling station and prevents crowding, hands out the ballots to the electors, ensures that no partisan material is left behind the voting screen, and counts the vote. The poll clerk is responsible for the voters list and tallies the ballots counted by the deputy returning officer. On behalf of the candidates, the candidates' representatives supervise the voting process and tallying of votes.

Role of the Deputy Returning Officer
Opening the polling station

After swearing the oath, the deputy returning officer should:

The voting process

When an elector comes to vote, the deputy returning officer asks him for ID to prove who he is and his address, to make sure he is voting at the right location. After the poll clerk has crossed out his name on the voters list, the deputy returning officer should:

image of how to fold a ballot

Counting the votes

Once voting is completed, counting can begin. Only the deputy returning officer may handle the ballots. He must:

Role of the Poll Clerk

The poll clerk is responsible for keeping the poll book.

Voting procedure
Counting the votes

The poll clerk adds up the ballots counted by the deputy returning officer and writes the total on the tally sheet.

image of poll clerk counting the votes

Role of the Candidates' Representatives

The candidates' representatives oversee the voting procedure and the counting of the vote on behalf of the candidates they represent.

Candidates' representatives may:


Candidates' representatives may not:

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The Ballot Papers, Ballot Box and Polling Station

The ballot papers are central to any election. The diagram opposite shows a sample ballot for a federal election (the candidates' names are based on names of Canadian cities). Included in the Appendix to this kit are various models of blank ballots, according to the number of candidates running for election. Use the model you need and make as many copies as necessary for your class or group, allowing at least 10 percent extra for spoiled ballots.

diagram shows a sample ballot

Note: This ballot paper is not actual size.


The ballot papers are placed into the ballot box which can be ordered. This box should be closed with the seals included with the box. The deputy returning officer is responsible for affixing the seals. The diagram below shows where the seals are placed on the box.

diagram shows where the seals are placed on ballot box

Note: The number on the ballot box identifies the polling station. An electoral district can comprise 175 to 250 polling stations, each of which has its own ballot box.

At the time of the voting, the deputy returning officer, the poll clerk and the candidates' representatives will all be at the polling station. The diagram below shows how a polling station is set up and where the various participants should be. We suggest setting up one polling station per class or group of 20 to 30 participants. You can set up another polling station if time is limited and/or there are more than 35 people. You should allow at least 30 seconds for each person to vote.

diagram shows how a polling station is set up

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Glossary of Election Terms

Ballot The paper on which a voter marks his choice of candidate in an election or preference in a referendum

Ballot box The box into which electors drop their ballots

Campaign manager A person in charge of organizing a candidate's campaign; can also be the official agent

Canada Elections Act  The law governing the conduct of elections in Canada; a new Canada Elections Act came into force in 2014

Candidate A person who seeks to be elected

Candidate's representative A person appointed by a candidate to represent him at a polling station

Chief Electoral Officer of Canada The non-partisan officer of Parliament responsible for the administration of federal elections and referendums under the Canada Elections Act

Deputy returning officer An election officer who is in charge of the polling station on election day

Election Process during which one or more individuals is selected from among various candidates, by means of voting

Election day Day on which the election is held, also known as polling day

Election officers Persons appointed to run the election (includes returning officers, deputy returning officers, poll clerks )

Elector A person qualified to vote at an election ; in Canada, this is any Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years of age on election day

Electoral district One of the 338 areas (as of the 2015 federal general election) into which the country is divided for the purpose of federal elections (also known as a riding or constituency)

Electorate All the persons eligible to vote in an election

Member of Parliament Person elected in a federal electoral district

National Register of Electors Database of Canadians 18 years of age or older who are qualified to vote. The Register was originally created through a door-to-door enumeration conducted in April 1997. It is updated using information provided by electors at each election or referendum and by obtaining pertinent information from the Canada Revenue Agency and provincial driver's licence records for changes of address and persons turning 18. Information is also gathered from provincial and territorial vital statistics records for deaths, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada records provide the names of new Canadians. Inclusion in the National Register of Electors is optional.

Nomination papers A set of forms signed by persons nominating a candidate and filed with the returning officer so the candidate can seek votes from electors

Oath A declaration to speak the truth

Official agent A person appointed by a candidate to ensure that the candidate's campaign is conducted in accordance with the law; this person is responsible for receiving campaign contributions and paying the candidate's election expenses

Permanent voters list See National Register of Electors

Platform Statement of positions on certain issues by a political party

Political party A group of persons organized to nominate and support candidates running in an election

Poll book A book kept by the poll clerk as a record of all special voting procedures

Poll clerk The official who assists the deputy returning officer at the polling station and keeps the poll book

Polling day See election day

Polling divisions Small areas into which an electoral district is divided, each of which serves a specified number of electors and contains a polling station

Polling station Place where electors vote

Qualified to vote Meeting the requirements to vote as set out in the Canada Elections Act

Referendum Vote during which electors answer "Yes" or "No" to a question

Rejected ballot A ballot improperly marked which is found in the ballot box

Returning officer An elector responsible for conducting the election in the electoral district where he resides

Return of the writ After the validation of the results or a recount, the returning officer declares elected the candidate who obtained the largest number of votes by writing the candidate's name on the writ and returning it to the Chief Electoral Officer

Spoiled ballot A ballot improperly marked but exchanged for a new one

Tally sheet A worksheet used to total the votes for each candidate at each polling station

Valid ballot A ballot that is properly marked and counted

Voters list A list of persons registered to vote

Writ of election An official document sent to the returning officers by the Chief Electoral Officer stating that an election must be held in their electoral districts

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