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Ballot Production Process (as-is in 2021)CEO Appearance on the study on Indigenous languages on ballots before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Key Messages

  • The ballot production process is a highly organized activity, coordinated within three headquarters (HQ) teams, all 338 Returning Officers (ROs), and over 200 printing companies across Canada, in very tight timeframes, to meet the legal requirements of the Canada Elections Act.
  • The notes below describe the existing process. This includes collecting names, producing images, printing ballots, and assembling ballots into booklets with counterfoils, as well as delivery to RO offices, quality control (QC) by the ROs, and tracking each ballot to a specific poll worker.


Overview of the process:

  1. Day 34/33-21: Nomination period – collection of candidate names
  2. Day 30-29: Ballot paper shipped to printing companies
  3. Day 21 (2:00 p.m.): End of nomination process
  4. Day 19: (2:00 p.m.): End of the nomination approval process
  5. Day 21-18: Preparation of ballot images – finalize nominations, prepare lists of candidates and perform QC, prepare ballot images and perform QC, email printing companies
  6. Day 18: Ballot proof preparation – printing companies produce the ballot proofs
  7. Day 18-13: Production of the ballot booklets – printing companies print, perforate, cut and assemble the sheets into ballot booklets
  8. Day 14-13: Delivery of first booklets to ROs
  9. Day 13-11: Perform quality control of booklets and preparation for advance poll: perform QC of booklets, preparation for advance polls, and tracking of every ballot booklet to an Election Officer (EO)
  10. Day 11-7: Advance polls – QC performed by EOs, and issuance at the polls
  11. Day 13-6: Preparation and delivery of election day booklets to RO
  12. Day 6-1: Perform QC of booklets and preparation for ordinary polls
  13. Day 0: Ordinary polling day

The details of each of the steps are found below:

  1. Day 34/33-21: Nomination period

    Candidate nominations are open, and candidates may submit their nomination forms, including their name as it should be printed on the ballot. The nominations close on Day 21 at 2:00 p.m. and the deadline for withdrawals is 5:00 p.m. local time. The ballot process cannot start before this occurs as the list of candidates is not yet finalized.

  2. Day 30-29: Ballot paper shipped to printing companies

    Each printing company is contacted to ensure: that they are still available; to update the estimated number of ballots/booklets to be printed and assembled; and to reconfirm their shipping address and contact information. Elections Canada (EC) then ships the ballot paper to the companies, and confirms receipt by Day 24. Any printers no longer available are replaced.

  3. Day 21-18: Preparation of Ballot images

    Returning officers do final verifications of any candidates that submitted their nominations on Days 22 and 21.

    Elections Canada HQ staff from the Voting Operations and Planning, Candidate Services, and Creative Services teams perform the following steps:

    1. Review information in any last-minute candidate nominations and ensure that names and other information are captured correctly into nomination system,
    2. Generate a list of candidates Verification Report for each electoral district (ED) listing the candidate and party names,
    3. Generate ballot PDF images for each ED,
    4. Send the Verification Reports to the ROs, who must confirm the information is correct
      1. Follow-up with ROs as necessary until a response is received, and
      2. Perform QC inspection of ballot PDF images (performed simultaneously with RO review to save time),
    5. After the RO has confirmed the information on the Verification Report and the ballot PDF for that ED has also passed a QC inspection, ballot PDF images are emailed to the printing company.

    If the RO identifies an issue with the information on the Verification Report or the HQ quality control inspection turns up a problem, the data for that ED must be corrected and the process restarted, with a new Verification Report and ballot PDF image.

    Approximately 20 EDs with exceptional challenges to printing and distribution are completed first, during the evening of Day 21. A first review of the data indicates that the addition of Indigenous languages in Canada would affect most of these 20 rural/remote EDs. The remaining EDs are processed in batches and completed no later than 7:00 a.m. on Day 18.

  4. Day 18: Ballot proof preparation

    The printing company prepares a ballot proof for the RO to inspect and approve, prior to the start of printing. The RO inspects the proof, using a checklist, and authorizes the start of printing. (If the RO discovers a problem, this step must be repeated.)

  5. Day 18-13: Production of the Ballot Booklets

    The printing company prepares the ballot books for the advance polls. This includes the following steps, which are done in different orders by each printing company, as they have different equipment:

    • Cut paper sheets provided by EC to appropriate size for printing machinery, if necessary,
    • Print the black and white front images for each ballot,
    • Print the black and white back images for each ballot,
    • Print the individual ballot serial numbers on the back of the ballot counterfoils and stubs,
    • Perforate each ballot twice, separating ballot from counterfoil and counterfoil from stub,
    • Assemble sheets into groups of 50 such that the serial numbers are in order,
    • Cut sheets into individual ballots,
    • Add covers, and
    • Bind booklets.

    Printing companies have indicated that the perforating, cutting, and often serial numbers steps use separate specialized machinery operated manually with a slower production rate than printing. Many printing companies do not have this equipment, which limits options for ballot production.

  6. Day 14-13: Delivery of first booklets to RO

    The printing company delivers the ballot booklets for the advance polls (and for long-term care facilities, for the 2021 general election) to the RO. This can be as early as Day 19 or 18 in EDs such as Nunavut and Labrador, if they are starting to ship on Day 17.

  7. Day 13-11: Perform quality control of booklets and preparation for advance polls

    The RO and their office staff perform the following tasks:

    1. Count the ballot booklets to ensure the correct quantity has been provided,
    2. Perform QC of the ballots,
    3. Deliver some of the ballot books to the Additional Assistant Returning Officer (AARO) office, if applicable,
    4. Prepare the appropriate number of ballot booklets for distribution to the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) and/or Central Poll Supervisor (CPS) of each advance poll in the ED, tracking every single booklet and who it is given to on the Record of Ballots and Ballot Control Sheet, and
    5. Distribute the ballots to the DRO and/or CPS of each advance poll in the ED (this happens as early as day 17 in EDs where flights and shipping are difficult).
  8. Day 11-7: Advance Polls

    1. DROs and CPSs pick up the ballots, and do an initial check to make sure that the number of books received and serial numbers match the Record of Ballots.
    2. DROs issue the ballots, performing QC as they use each book. If they run short, the CPS can issue more from their supply, using the Record of Ballots. If the CPS runs low and more are needed, they retrieve more from RO office, where the tracking is again completed.
    3. If the CPS contingency supply is not used during advance polls, these are returned to the office on Day 7/6 for use at ordinary polls. Each book is checked back in to the RO office.
  9. Day 13-6: Preparation and delivery of election day booklets to RO

    After the printing company has completed printing the ballots for the advance polls, they continue to print ballots for the ordinary polls, repeating the steps performed on Days 18-13 above, and deliver the ballot booklets for the ordinary polls to the RO.

  10. Day 6-1

    The RO and their office staff repeat the tasks performed on Days 13-11, for the ordinary polls.

  11. Day 0: Ordinary Polling Day

    The CPS and DRO collect their ballots, perform QC, issue ballots as needed and track their usage.

Impacts of Indigenous languages on the ballots

All of these steps will be impacted by adding Indigenous languages on the ballots, from the collection of names, to the production of the images, to the actual printing and assembly of larger ballots. The most critical processes/timeframes are those in steps 3-7, as there is little to no extra time, with HQ staff already working 18 to 24 hour shifts on Day 21-19, and printing companies using 2-3 shifts of workers for 24hr printing, including the weekend. The only way in which adding more languages will be an option logistically, is if the nomination period ends earlier (at least three or four days), or the production is simplified (eliminate counterfoils, perforations, serial numbers and binding).