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Election Worker Recruitment in a Pandemic EnvironmentCEO Appearance on Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response)

Fact Sheet

Key Messages

  • Recent surveys have indicated that while interest in working the next general election (GE) has generally declined since the start of the pandemic, particularly among older Canadians, interest in working the next GE remains high among those poll workers who worked during the last election.
  • Recruitment for a 2-day period could significantly diversify the pool of available workers, and enable student recruitment; People are generally more inclined to work at the polls on weekends. However, recruiting workers available for both the weekend and the Monday would be challenging.
  • Administrative and operational measures are being implemented to mitigate some of the recruitment challenges seen in the 43rd GE and improve working conditions, and clarify health and safety provisions.


  • Elections Canada hired 232,000 election workers and office staff during the 43rd GE, approximately 60% of whom were 55 years old or over. Throughout the GE, there were significant poll worker drop-outs; over 10,000 did not show up for work on election day, mainly due to illness or conflict with school or work.
  • Since then, Elections Canada reached out to election workers from the 43rd GE, to determine, among other things, if they would work during the pandemic. The primary objective of the survey was to provide a refreshed inventory of potential poll workers that could be shared with returning officers (ROs) to directly support their recruitment activities for GE44. The results showed a high interest in working the next election among respondents, but reaffirmed concerns about working during COVID-19 and about long hours of work 1 .
  • A recent study conducted during the pandemic reveals that overall, Canadians are less likely to work at an election compared to before the pandemic. The same study also showed that people are generally more inclined to work at the polls on weekends.
  • During the 43rd GE, many election workers felt their pay did not reflect the complexities, long hours and stresses of the work.
  • Based on lessons learned from the October 26, 2020 federal by-elections, and provincial general elections held during the fall of 2020, election workers were largely happy with health and safety measures but they are still concerned about exposure to COVID-19.
  • After the October 26, 2020 by-elections, Elections Canada conducted a survey of workers in Toronto Centre and York Centre to verify and validate that safe working conditions were in place and determine if they would work for the 44th GE. The findings of this survey were used to refine Elections Canada's approach to provide a safe and healthy working environment for the 44th GE.

Elections Canada is changing its RO office and poll staffing models

  • Reviewing the staffing model (positions, salaries, tasks and job titles) and improving working conditions for election workers (i.e., providing opportunities for breaks and shifts, and providing overtime and holiday pay).
  • Consolidating the poll clerk and deputy returning officer (DRO) duties into one role to enable physical distancing parameters and reduce the total number of poll workers required.
  • The reduction in staff will be offset by the hiring of additional election workers to monitor the application of social distancing measures, clean and disinfect polling places, provide more frequent breaks to fellow election workers due to personal protective equipment (PPE) fatigue, assist with ballot counting at the end of the day and perform quality assurance to ensure integrity of the voting process.
  • Elections Canada will also need to hire more local office staff during the 44th GE to serve electors who want to vote by mail, and to process the count of the mail-in ballots.
  • Given the minority government context, ROs will have significantly less time to ramp up their recruitment activities, and to confirm polling places as a first step. A longer election period would help mitigate this challenge.

Elections Canada is implementing new initiatives to enhance recruitment for the 44th GE:

  • Increasing the ratio of stand-by election workers from 10% to 30% in order to be in a position to respond to questions about safety measures and working conditions and have sufficient workers in case of drop-outs.
  • Creating the regional recruitment coordinator (RRC) function in order to monitor regional trends and better coordinate the distribution/placement of stand-by resources to better manage drop-outs on polling day.
  • Delivering an enhanced national digital recruitment campaign during the writ period, with a media placement cost of approximately $425K, to raise awareness of opportunities. The paid advertising campaign will be supported by engagement with a network of civil society groups and earned media efforts. In 2019, prior to the drop of the writ, the agency launched a small national digital campaign with a media placement cost of roughly $100K.

Background from poll worker surveys

Study on Canadian attitudes towards voting during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Interest in working at the polls has decreased, especially among older Canadians.
  • Among individuals aged 55 and older, interest in working has declined from 52% pre-pandemic (summer 2019) to 41% now (January 2021). Notably, this age group represented approximately 60% of poll workers in the 2019 GE.
Younger people are generally more inclined to work at the polls on weekends
  • Among those 18-34, 45% indicated a willingness to work on Saturday, 48% on Sunday, but just 35% on Monday.
GE43 poll worker survey:
Interest in working the next GE was high among previous poll workers who responded:
  • 92% (66,038) of respondents said they were interested in working the next GE, including 77% (55,935) who said they were very interested 2 .
Issues with the hours or working conditions were cited ahead of COVID-19 as the main reason for not being interested in working again:
  • Among the 8% (5,851) of respondents who were not interested in or not sure about working the next GE, 1 in 4 (24%) mentioned the hours or working conditions as the main reason, followed by 1 in 5 (21%) who cited concerns about COVID-19.
Being at high risk for COVID-19, or having an immediate contact who is at risk, had the greatest impact on interest in working the next GE:
  • About a quarter (24%) of respondents said they consider themselves or someone in their immediate social circle to be at high risk for COVID-19.
  • Those who consider themselves or an immediate contact to be at high risk for COVID-19 were much less likely to be very interested in working the next GE (65%) compared with those who do not (83%).


1 "Dec 16, 2020 — Ottawa Public Health states that the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 increases progressively with age, particularly beyond 50 years of age […] [and] recommends that older adults avoid non-essential trips in the community" (Older Adults and COVID-19 - Ottawa Public Health)

2 See the survey report for necessary cautions around these figures.