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Impact of COVID-19

Updated on May 17, 2021

Elections Canada is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and its evolving impact. As part of its readiness activities, the agency has been developing a new operational plan to deliver an election in the context of a pandemic.

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 is 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, voting by mail or voting 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 that Elections Canada is progressively implementing as they become operationally ready. The changes aim at maintaining the safety and integrity of the electoral process.

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.
  • Procuring masks and single-use pencils to be provided to electors should they be necessary. 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 could delay the release of election results.
  • Cancelling special ballot voting services on campuses given the limited capacity to deliver these services during a pandemic.
  • Expanding virtual training for electoral workers in order to limit the number of in-person interactions.

Elections Canada is surveying Canadians and consulting external stakeholders on its plans to deliver an election during a pandemic and is assessing the potential impact of changes to the electoral process. Stakeholders include public health officials, relevant government departments, the Advisory Committee of Political Parties, the Advisory Group for Disability Issues and stakeholders representing groups of electors who experience barriers to voting or who may be more impacted by the intended changes.

Elections Canada did not consider introducing Internet 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, this option cannot be explored properly at this time.

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

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Potential legislative changes

In his special report of October 5, 2020, the CEO recommended legislative changes to make voting more accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response), has since been introduced in Parliament (on December 10, 2020).

The bill proposes temporary rules for the administration of an election in during the pandemic, including the following measures, among others, that would:

  • grant the CEO additional flexibility to adapt the Canada Elections Act to protect the health of electors and election workers
  • extend ordinary polls to a three-day period from Saturday to Monday
  • provide Elections Canada greater flexibility in how and when it administers the vote in long-term care facilities for seniors or people with disabilities, and
  • allow for certain adjustments as to how electors apply for and cast a ballot by mail.

Elections Canada is studying the legislation to determine its implications for the agency and the delivery of a federal election. We expect that the CEO will be called before Parliament to discuss the contents of the bill.

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Approach to a possible snap 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 the administrative changes that are operationally ready; public health guidelines, such as physical distancing at polling places and local Elections Canada offices; as well as the provision of protective equipment to poll workers and office workers. As a result of these measures, electors may experience delays at the polls.

Here is the state of readiness of various measures Elections Canada has been working on:

Ready to deliver Under development
Implement physical distancing and other public health measures (e.g. hand sanitizing stations) at polling places and local Elections Canada offices  
Equip Elections Canada workers with non-medical masks  
Provide electors with non-medical masks when needed  
Implement new staffing model and procedures to reduce the number of Elections Canada workers at polling stations and the number of shared touch points with voters  
Increase convenience of applying for a mail-in ballot through an online application  
Provide prepaid postage for mail-in ballots  
Provide electors with single-use pencils  

For a potential snap election, electors would be required to wear a mask when they go to vote. They could also bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot.

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 certain 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.

Also, 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 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.

At the international level, 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 can evolve 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

Elections Canada employees are working from home until further notice, following a directive from the Chief Electoral Officer. 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 our Public Enquiries Unit at 1-800-463-6868.

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