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Meeting Summary – Technical Meeting – November 20 and 21, 2017

Elector Services in Remote Indigenous Communities

Susan Torosian, Executive Director, Policy and Public Affairs, presented Elector Services in Remote Indigenous Communities (ESRIC), a pilot project designed to provide returning officers (ROs) with the time, opportunity and tools to engage leaders within remote Indigenous communities to collectively plan appropriate election services in those communities. This approach aims to build relationships between ROs and community leaders in an effort to improve access to voter services in remote areas. It also seeks to ensure the ESRIC project accounts for the unique cultural characteristics of Indigenous communities and their capacity to contribute to the optimal administration of an election.

Ms. Torosian noted that the 42nd GE saw an unprecedented increase in Indigenous voter turnout, which created some service gaps that were particularly evident in remote Indigenous communities: ballot shortages, lack of advance voting options, and voting delays due to high polling day registration. She explained that, compared to the general population, Indigenous electors have lower registration rates, less access to advance voter services, and lower levels of awareness and/or less access to information on the electoral process. That is why Indigenous electors are among EC's three priority groups (the other two being new voters and people with disabilities) that face significant barriers to voting compared to the general population.

To supplement EC's existing services for Indigenous electors, such as community relations officers Indigenous (CRO-Is), the Indigenous Elders and Youth Program, voter information products in 11 Indigenous languages, and on-reserve polling sites (advance and regular), EC is proposing the following service enhancements to support Indigenous participation:

  • A change in how ballots are allocated to address the risk of shortages
  • Enhancements to e-registration
  • A new approach to the allocation of advance polling locations
  • Authorizing mobile advance polls in low-density areas (CEO recommendation A18, subject to legislative change)
  • Ensuring the vote-on-campus program also meets Indigenous needs
  • More engagement of Indigenous organizations between elections
  • A pilot project in remote Indigenous communities (ESRIC)

Ms. Torosian described the project's background and shared EC's sources of evidence informing ESRIC, such as administrative data from the 42nd GE, the Assembly of First Nations' report Facilitating First Nation Voter Participation for the 42nd Federal General Election, stakeholder consultation with national Indigenous organizations, facilitated discussions with ROs and assistant returning officers (AROs), interviews with election administrators (EAs) and input of the Field Working Group. The findings from the qualitative research show that EAs need more time, opportunity and tools to engage with remote Indigenous communities to provide better service. These findings helped EC to formulate the problem statement and to shape the proposed project deliverables that will provide EAs with the time, opportunity and tools to engage Indigenous community leaders, and will support EAs as they collaborate with leaders of these communities to provide better services for Indigenous electors.

The ESRIC project seeks to address the three aspects of the problem statement using a variety of methods. Which methods each RO chooses to use will be based on consultation with the community and an understanding of their needs.

Problem Statement ESRIC Will...
Lower registration rates Encourage registration at community events, offer registration kits to community leaders and integrate registration into mobile polling tours
Less access to advance voting services Offer alternative voting options to communities that identify a need for them
Lower levels of awareness / less access to information on the electoral process Seek to increase the awareness of community leaders and electors through engagement at community events (as invited), targeted publications and CRO-Is

To determine the scope of the project, EC had to determine which were the "least-served" communities by looking at two indicators from administrative data from the 42nd GE: on-reserve polling divisions (PDs) with higher-than-average polling day registration, and PDs with a higher-than-average distance to advance polls. The 96 PDs that scored high on both of these indicators were scoped into the project. These 96 PDs are distributed throughout 28 electoral districts.

To address challenges faced by both remote Indigenous communities and ROs, ESRIC will encourage communication between ROs and community leaders at several points in the electoral cycle, beginning approximately 1.5 years prior to the election and continuing through the election period. With community leaders' consent, ROs will periodically consult and share information via telephone, e-mail, social media and visits to community events. ESRIC will also enhance elector services in the scoped-in communities, which may include increasing the number of CRO-Is in remote Indigenous communities, potentially hiring community liaison staff to help build relationships before the election, and increasing the number of alternative voting options in these communities (depending on their needs).

In closing, Ms. Torosian informed participants of the project's evaluation plan, which will examine ESRIC's success from a number of perspectives, including election data, interviews and discussions with field staff, and contracted evaluation activities with communities whose PDs were scoped into the project. Should ESRIC's initiatives prove successful, EC plans to expand them to other areas where they might benefit Indigenous electors, both within remote communities and, as appropriate, in non-remote areas.

Round Table Discussion

ACPP members appreciated EC's proposed approach to elector services in remote Indigenous communities. There were questions regarding early voting options in those communities, and more specifically whether EC is considering adding more mobile polls. Mr. Perrault explained that, because reserves differ so much from one another in terms of their realities and needs, ESRIC will be about going to communities in advance and hearing what they want and need, and that will inform EC's decisions on how to deliver its services in those communities.

Some members wondered whether EC would also focus on addressing issues other than service issues, to which Ms. Torosian responded that EC's main focus is making voting accessible to all electors, and ensuring its service package responds to their needs so that they know when, where and how to vote. EC already provides key information in 31 heritage languages, and the intent is to be as inclusive as possible. EC also offers an interpretation service at our service desk, but this service demands more planning from both EC and the elector. It is hard to get the message out on the interpretation service. EC staff can communicate in different languages, but EC cannot operate in all of those languages.

There was a suggestion that ESRIC should be extended to candidates because, in remote areas, the notion of running as a candidate might not be as well understood as voting and there might be individuals who wish to run a campaign as an independent candidate but for whom, in remote areas, there are huge barriers.