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Elections Canada through the decades

Black and white image of half a dozen workers in an office seated at typewriters with large rolls of paper spilling out over their desks
Elections Canada workers in the 1960s. Credit: National Film Board, 68-10217

The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, commonly known as Elections Canada, has expanded and evolved since it was created in 1920. Here is a look back at some developments that have helped shape the agency through the decades.


  • The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer is created on July 1, 1920.
  • Oliver Mowat Biggar is appointed Canada's first Chief Electoral Officer.
  • Work begins to improve the administration of Canadian elections and develop accurate federal voters lists.
  • Elections Canada administers its first federal election in 1921.
  • Jules Castonguay becomes Canada's second Chief Electoral Officer in 1927.


  • Elections Canada begins using enumerators–people who would go door to door to make a list of those who were eligible to vote–to create and revise federal voters lists.
  • The agency tries to create a permanent voters list for the first time in 1934 but abandons the process for financial reasons.
  • Registered voters in the 1935 federal election receive a postcard telling them where to vote but this practice is discontinued until 1982.


  • Elections Canada conducts a national referendum in 1942 on whether military service should be compulsory during the Second World War.
  • Nearly 350,000 overseas military members vote by mail during the 1945 federal election.
  • Changes to election laws allow Canadians three hours off work to vote.
  • Nelson Jules Castonguay, son of outgoing Chief Electoral Officer Jules Castonguay, becomes Canada's third Chief Electoral Officer in 1949.


  • Elections Canada begins setting up polling stations in sanatoriums and chronic care hospitals to make it easier for patients to vote.
  • Canadians who have been taken prisoner in the Korean War (1950–1953) are able to designate someone to vote on their behalf.
  • Elections Canada implements extended advance voting, allowing anyone who thinks they will be away on election day to vote in advance.


  • Parliament asks Elections Canada to provide data and technical support in the new, impartial process of redrawing Canada's federal electoral districts every 10 years.
  • The agency assists with the first redistribution process using the new system in 1964.
  • Jean-Marc Hamel becomes Canada's fourth Chief Electoral Officer in 1966.


  • In 1972, Elections Canada administers the first federal election in which Canadians 18 and older are allowed to vote.
  • Parliament assigns Elections Canada the role of regulating new campaign expense limits in 1974.
  • Elections Canada is tasked with creating a register of federal political parties that meet requirements outlined in the Canada Elections Act.
  • Elections Canada begins adding each candidate's political affiliation beside their name on the ballot.


  • The agency starts using cardboard ballot boxes at some polling stations instead of the metal ones that had been used for decades.
  • Voters begin receiving a personal Voter Information Card in the mail before each election, with information on where and when to vote.
  • Elections Canada offers a phone-in enquiry service for Canadians for the first time. Workers receive 42,000 calls in 47 days during the 1988 election.


  • Jean-Pierre Kingsley is appointed as the fifth Chief Electoral Officer of Canada in 1990.
  • Elections Canada conducts the 1992 national referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, a set of proposed changes to Canada's constitution.
  • Parliament adds informing and educating the public to Elections Canada's responsibilities.
  • Elections Canada's website,, goes live for the first time in 1995.
  • In 1997, Elections Canada launches the National Register of Electors, a permanent, continually updated database of Canadians who are eligible to vote.


  • Elections Canada assists with international missions in Iraq and Haiti as part of ongoing work to share best practices with developing democracies.
  • Legislative changes establish a fixed date for federal elections: the third Monday of October, four years after the previous federal election.
  • Marc Mayrand becomes Canada's sixth Chief Electoral Officer in 2007.
  • Elections Canada implements legislative changes that require voters to prove their identity and address before they can vote.


  • In 2015, Elections Canada administers Canada's longest federal election, which lasts for 78 days.
  • In 2018, Stéphane Perrault, the current Chief Electoral Officer, becomes the seventh person to hold this position.
  • Parliament directs the agency to create a Register of Future Electors for Canadian citizens ages 14 to 17.
  • Elections Canada works with national security agencies to strengthen cybersecurity during the 2019 election.