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Impact of COVID-19

Updated on July 08, 2021

Elections Canada is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and its evolving impact. The health and safety of all participants in the electoral process is of paramount importance: this includes electors, thousands of election workers, and candidates and their workers. As a result, Elections Canada has been reviewing its procedures and internal capacity in order to prepare for the delivery of an accessible, safe and secure election during a pandemic.

Changes in the context of a pandemic

The Canada Elections Act outlines a range of voting options, including voting on election day or at an advance poll, or voting by mail or at an Elections Canada office. While these options will remain available, the pandemic will have an impact on how they can be delivered.

Following careful internal analysis, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and his team have approved a series of administrative changes. These changes aim to maintain the safety and integrity of the electoral process. They are also regularly reviewed and reassessed based on the advice of public health experts as the pandemic situation continues to evolve.

These changes and measures include but are not limited to:

  • Implementing physical distancing and other public health guidelines at polling places and local Elections Canada offices.
  • Providing masks and single-use pencils to electors. Electors will also have the option to bring their own mask and pen or pencil.
  • Changing the agency's model of operations at the polls to facilitate physical distancing.
  • Providing return envelopes with prepaid postage for electors who vote by mail.
  • Increasing the capacity and convenience of the vote-by-mail system to meet a potential increase in demand for this service. An increased volume of mail-in ballots would delay the release of election results.
  • Expanding virtual training for election workers in order to limit the number of in-person interactions.

Elections Canada is surveying Canadians and consulting stakeholders on its plans to deliver an election if called in a pandemic context and is assessing the potential impact of changes to the electoral process. In addition to our ongoing consultations with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Government Operations Centre, we have established relationships with provincial, territorial and Indigenous public health authorities in advance of the next general election. Stakeholders also include government departments, the Advisory Committee of Political Parties, the Advisory Group for Disability Issues and representatives of groups of electors who experience barriers to voting or who may be more impacted by the intended changes. Consultations have contributed to better informing our decisions and directions on administering a safe election.

Elections Canada did not consider introducing Internet or phone voting. Implementing such a change would require significant planning and testing to ensure the confidentiality, secrecy, reliability and integrity of the vote. Given the current operational and time constraints, these options could not be explored properly ahead of the next general election.

The agency is currently assessing the costs of various pandemic-related changes. These costs could vary depending on how the situation unfolds and on the adopted measures.

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Approach to an election

Given the current minority government, an election could take place at any time. In the absence of legislative changes, Elections Canada would focus on implementing administrative changes to make the current voting options safer.

Voting at polling places

Voting on polling day and at advance polls remain the simplest and most efficient ways to cast a ballot. Many of the health and safety measures at polling places will be the same as those that electors have experienced during the pandemic, such as physical-distancing signage and mask-wearing. Strict sanitation measures for both electors and election workers will be in place at all polling locations; as a result, the voting process might take longer than in past elections. Returning officers are looking for locations that make physical distancing easier.

Voting by mail

Voting by mail using a special ballot has been an option for Canadian electors since 1993. To meet an anticipated increase in demand, we have improved the process to request a special ballot and increased our capacity to process requests while preserving vote integrity. We are also introducing special ballot boxes at all polling locations on polling day to allow electors who have requested mail-in ballots to drop them off in person at their assigned polling place and ensure they are received in time.

Voting at a local Elections Canada Office

Health and safety measures similar to those in polling places will be implemented at all local Elections Canada offices.

Health and safety measures at polling places and local offices

Health and safety measures will be implemented in all electoral districts:

  • Signage and posters about COVID-19 health and safety protocols at entrances
  • Hand sanitizing stations at entrances and exits of voting rooms and hand sanitizer on all service desks
  • Election workers supplied with plexiglass barriers, face masks, face shields, gloves and disinfecting products
  • Face masks distributed to voters who need them
  • Physical distancing measures and appropriate signage in polling places
  • Entry registers to assist local public health authorities with contact-tracing, if needed
  • Frequent disinfection of commonly touched surfaces (e.g., handrails, door handles, elevator buttons) in the voting room and washrooms

Elections Canada does not set the date or duration of a general election or a by-election. The Canada Elections Act provides for a general election to be held on fixed dates and the election period to be set at a minimum of 36 days and a maximum of 50 days after the issue of the writs. In a pandemic context, a longer election period would provide advantages, such as giving electors more time to submit an application to vote by mail and return their ballot. It would also provide Elections Canada with more opportunities to implement safety measures.

Elections Canada will be clear in its communications so that Canadians at risk, those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and those who have concerns about voting in person know about the safe ways they can cast their ballot.

In an extreme and unexpected case, the CEO could certify that it has become impracticable for Elections Canada to administer the election in one or several electoral districts and recommend to the Governor in Council that the election writ be withdrawn. This has never been done in Elections Canada's history.

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Working group

The administrative changes and proposed legislative amendments are the result of an initial analysis led by an internal working group.

The group considered a number of potential legal, administrative and operational changes, with the goal to deliver an accessible and safe election.

Click here for more information about the planning efforts of the working group.

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Information-sharing and monitoring the electoral environment

Elections Canada continues to monitor COVID-19 responses and contingency planning developed by international and Canadian electoral management bodies in order to inform its own election-readiness planning.

Internationally, Elections Canada engages with a number of electoral agencies to exchange information on best practices and learn from recent electoral events. The agency also benefits from the expertise of leading organizations in the field of electoral management through its participation in the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network.

At the national level, Elections Canada is participating in a working group on COVID-19 election preparation, which brings together election experts from various electoral management bodies across the country.

In order to inform its own planning efforts, Elections Canada monitors media coverage and publicly available social media content related to national and international electoral issues in the context of COVID-19.

In addition, Elections Canada has commissioned research on Canadians' views, expectations and behaviours in order to assess the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic could have on voter turnout and on the uptake of various voting methods, and to identify safety measures that could be put in place to reassure electors.

Regarding the preferred voting method of Canadians in a pandemic context, as of late September 2020, results indicate that the majority of electors would vote in person, either at a polling station (30.4%) or at an advance polling station (29.2%), while a substantial share (23.4%) would prefer to vote by mail. Research results commissioned by Elections Canada and additional information are available here:

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Communicating with Canadians

Elections Canada understands that the situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic is fluid and evolves quickly.

We are committed to communicating regularly and clearly with Canadians about the measures we are taking to prepare for a general election in what may be a challenging environment. We will do so using our website, social media channels and election advertising.

Click here for more Government of Canada information on COVID-19

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Contact us

Most Elections Canada employees are working from home until further notice, following a directive from the CEO. Despite this different work situation, responding to your enquiries remains a priority. For specific information about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Elections Canada's operations, or any other elections-related matter, contact us.

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