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Vote by Mail under current legislationCEO Appearance on Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response)

Fact Sheet

Key Messages

  • Elector surveys show that between 20% and 30% of Canadians would rather vote by mail during the pandemic. This may represent up to 5 million electors which is a significant increase from past elections.
  • A number of safeguards are in place to make voting by mail safe and secure.
  • While only special ballots received before the deadline set by the Canada Elections Act will be accepted, it will take several days for all mailed ballots to have been counted to ensure accuracy and transparency of the counting process.


Method of voting in past two general elections (GEs)
2015 2019
Special ballot 619,000 3.5% 660,000 3.6%
Absentee (From outside electoral district) 190,000 1.1% 263,000 1.4%
Local (From inside electoral district) 429,000 2.4% 397,000 2.2%
Advance polls 3,677,000 20.8% 4,879,000 26.6%
Day of the election 13,416,000 75.7% 12,811,000 69.8%
Total votes cast 17,712,000 18,350,000
Proportion of special ballots voted by mail, 43rd GE in 2019
Ballots cast By mail Percent
Absentee electors 263,000 50,000 19.0%
Local electors 397,000 5,000 1.3%
Totals 660,000 55,000

Voting by mail and voting by special ballot: Basic concepts

  • Electors who do not wish to or cannot vote at their designated polling station, either at their advance or ordinary poll on election day, may vote by special ballot.
  • They may apply and vote by special ballot at any local Elections Canada office, or points of service set up to serve transient populations or communities who face particular challenges exercising their right to vote.
  • If they do not wish to or cannot vote at the nearest Elections Canada point of service, they may also apply to vote by mail. They may do so in writing and must provide copies of proof of identity and address to their returning officer (RO) or to the Special Voting Rules Administrator (SVRA) in Ottawa.
  • They can also request a special ballot online. The same rules apply: they must upload images of their proof of identity and address. Online applications eliminate the need for data to be captured manually by Elections Canada employees or election workers in the voter registration system, thus reducing the time needed to handle requests. Once an application has been received over the internet, the voting kit is sent via mail services.

Voting by mail involves these steps:

  • An elector completes an Application for Registration and Special Ballot, and submits it to Elections Canada with copies of proof of identity and address (either online or by mail). Canadians who reside abroad may register in advance to vote by mail. All other electors may only apply for a special ballot after the issue of the writs, and may do so only until the 6th day before election day. Once a request to vote by special ballot has been accepted, the elector cannot vote by any other means during the election.
  • Once a request has been verified and captured in the voter registration system, a unique identification number is generated. This number is stored in the Elections Canada voter registration system and recorded on the outer envelope provided to the elector. The name of the elector, as it appears on the piece of ID, is recorded on the outer envelope as well.
  • The special ballot voting kit sent to the elector contains a blank special ballot, a secrecy envelope, the outer envelope identifying the elector, a postage paid return envelope, as well as instruction sheet. Once the elector has received their voting kit, they mark the ballot with the name of their preferred candidate; writing just a political party name is not accepted.
  • A completed ballot is put inside a secrecy envelope, itself inserted into the outer envelope. The outer envelope, which contains the registration number unique to the elector, as well as their name, must be signed by the elector and placed in a postage paid mailing envelope that will be sent to Elections Canada.
  • If the postage paid return envelope is addressed to the Special Voting Rules Administrator in Ottawa, the envelope must be returned by mail or courier to that address and must be received in Ottawa no later than 6 pm Eastern Time on Election Day.
  • If the postage paid return envelope is addressed to the local Elections Canada office in the elector's electoral district (ED), the envelope must be returned by mail, courier or in person to that address and must be received no later than the close of the polls on Election Day.

The count of special ballots involves the following steps:

  • Upon receipt of the mailed ballot, and at a time determined by the returning officer (RO) and communicated to political campaigns, election officers verify that the information on the outer envelope matches the information recorded in the voter registration system at the time of registration, that the declaration on the outer envelope has been signed and it is also marked as received in the system. Once verified, outer envelopes are securely stored until vote counting begins, at which point the inner secrecy envelope is separated from the outer envelope and opened.
  • An elector who has applied to vote by special ballot, whether by mail or at an Elections Canada service point, has their name appear on the voters list used at their designated advance and election day polls. However, an indication on the list shows that such an elector has already applied to vote by special ballot and, therefore, may not vote at these polls.
  • Special ballots cast by absentee electors (persons voting on Canadian Forces bases, incarcerated persons and Canadians abroad) and by electors voting from outside their ED are counted at the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer in Ottawa, where the results are tallied by candidate, by ED. Results are disseminated to local offices, where they are added to the votes counted at the polling stations and at the RO office. During the last GE, there were 263,000 ballots counted in Ottawa.
  • Special ballots cast by local electors are counted at the local RO office. The counting of the special ballot may not begin until all verifications have been made to track and set aside any special ballot cast by someone who also voted at an Advance or Election day polling station.

Considerations around voting by special ballot during a pandemic: Challenges and solutions

  • At the 43rd GE in 2019, 3.5% of all voters cast a special ballot. Of those, just 0.3% cast their special ballot by mail. Electors voting by special ballot within their ED did so primarily through in-person transactions at Elections Canada offices and points of service. In rare cases, they voted by mail; this amounted to approximately 5,000 votes.
  • In the New Brunswick provincial election, 13,000 absentee ballot packages (3% of votes cast) were prepared. In the British Columbia provincial election, 17% of voters opted to vote by mail, while in Saskatchewan 12.7% of voters preferred to vote by mail.
  • Elector surveys show that between 20% and 30% (survey conducted in April 2021) of Canadians would rather vote by mail during pandemic. Based on figures from the last GE, this may represent up to 5 million electors.
  • Elections Canada is developing a new system and new process capacity to serve up to 5 million electors who are expected to ask to vote by mail, from their home, during a GE held during the pandemic.
  • If these forecasts hold true, the mail traffic generated by voting by mail will reach unprecedented levels in federal elections – up to 10 million mail transactions between the electors and Elections Canada. Accordingly, Elections Canada has been working with the Canada Post Corporation on a new business model that would include having the elector mail their ballot back free of charge for the elector.
  • During the 43rd GE, there were 397,000 ballots counted at local offices on election night. The projection is that local offices would have to count up to 5 million ballots in the next GE (with an average of just over 14,000 electors per ED).
  • Local mail-in ballots would continue to be counted at local offices and mail-in ballots from electors voting outside their ED or internationally would continue to be counted at Elections Canada headquarters.
  • It is important to note that the automation of labour-intensive activities at the local Elections Canada offices will have been completed, tested and readied for an election in early spring 2021.
  • The projected increased volume of mail-in ballots and the extra integrity controls we put in place will delay the count of special ballots by between 2 to 5 days depending on the ED. Other counts (votes casts at advance polls and polling day) will be available and reported on election night.