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Impact of COVID-19

Updated on August 27, 2020

Elections Canada has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and its ongoing impact. As part of its ongoing readiness planning, the agency is developing a new operational approach 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 reviewed its procedures and internal capacity in order to prepare for the delivery of an accessible, safe and secure election.

Changes in the context of a pandemic

The Canada Elections Act contemplates elections where electors are offered a range of voting options, including voting on election day or at an advance poll and 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 that Elections Canada is progressively implementing as they become operationally ready. Those changes aim at maintaining the safety and integrity of the electoral process.

The changes and measures already in the works include but are not limited to:

  • Implementing physical distancing and other public health measures 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 or pen or pencil.
  • Changing the agency's model of operations to reduce the number of workers needed and, thus, facilitate physical distancing.
  • Increasing the capacity of the existing 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.
  • Removing the Vote on Campus services, as most colleges and universities are primarily delivering programs online.
  • Expanding virtual training for electoral workers in order to limit the number of in-person interactions.

In order to facilitate the conduct of an election and make voting more accessible in a pandemic, the CEO also plans to make recommendations to Parliament for a limited number of legislative measures that would vary provisions of the Canada Elections Act. These could include:

  • A two-day weekend polling period (Saturday and Sunday) instead of the usual single polling day (Monday). This would facilitate distancing of voters, give access to a range of polling locations such as schools that would otherwise be unavailable and help to recruit poll workers.
  • Providing returning officers with greater flexibility to safely serve electors in long-term care facilities by increasing the number of voting days and working with each facility to tailor the approach to their situation.
  • Mail-in ballots sent before the deadline could continue to be accepted until the day following the two-day week-end polling period.

Formal recommendations will be made to Parliament in September following consultations with stakeholders. Elections Canada is surveying Canadians and consulting external stakeholders on its plans to deliver an election during a pandemic and to assess the potential impact of these changes. These stakeholders include public health officials, other relevant government departments, the Advisory Committee of Political Parties, the Advisory Group on Disability Issues and stakeholders representing groups of electors who experience barriers to the electoral process or 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 in order to ensure that the agency preserves certain aspects of the vote, including confidentiality, secrecy, reliability and integrity. Given the current operational and time constraints, this option cannot be explored properly at this time.

The agency is currently assessing how much such pandemic-related changes would cost. A cost estimate will be released once that assessment has been completed.

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Approach to a possible fall election

Given the current minority government, an election could take place at any time. If an election were to take place before all the measures outlined above are fully implemented or in the absence of legislative changes, Elections Canada would focus on implementing physical distancing and other public health measures at polling places and local Elections Canada offices, including providing non-medical masks for poll workers and office workers. While the agency is prioritizing having the basic safety measures in place for its workers, electors and candidates, electors may experience delays at the polls as the agency implements the safety measures required. Elections Canada will also communicate openly about any potential issues or challenges it may experience as a result of the pandemic.

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. A longer election period would provide Elections Canada with more time to process mail-in ballots and more opportunities to implement safety measures.

In addition to engaging with national and provincial health officials, Elections Canada will ask returning officers to engage with health officials at the local level in order to offer services that are aligned with the reality in their region.

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 use to cast their ballot.

In an extreme and unexpected case, based on the advice of public health experts, the Chief Electoral Officer 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 the analysis led by an internal working group. Among other things, the group looked at:

  • Procedures and possible physical distancing measures that could be put in place at polling places and Elections Canada offices.
  • The capacity of Elections Canada's existing vote-by-mail system.
  • How to recruit, train, and keep election workers safe.
  • How to spread out voting options over the election period.
  • Confirming the availability and capacity of its many suppliers of goods and services before and during elections.
  • Reviewing polling place requirements and identifying alternative options for locations that may become unavailable due to COVID-19 concerns.
  • Procedures and guidelines for candidates and their representatives to respect health and safety measures.

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 potential uptake of various voting methods, and to identify safety measures that could be put in place to reassure voters.

Regarding the preferred voting method of Canadians in a pandemic context, as of mid-August 2020, results indicate that the majority of individuals would vote in person, either at a polling station (29.4%) or at an advance polling station (28.6%), while a substantial share of individuals (21.8%) indicate that they would prefer to vote by mail. The full results of this research will be available soon. The previous research results and additional information are available here:

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Communicating with Canadians

Elections Canada understands that the situation related to the COVID-19 outbreak 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 outbreak on Elections Canada's operations, or any other elections-related matter, contact us.

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