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Administering an Election during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Statements and Speeches

Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer
before the
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Special Report of the Chief Electoral Officer:
Administering an Election during the COVID-19 Pandemic

October 22, 2020

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Thank you, Madam Chair, for the opportunity to speak with the Committee today regarding my recommendations for legislative change in the event of a federal election during the current pandemic.

Elections Canada has been working in consultation with public health authorities to develop an operational approach to delivering an election during the pandemic. This includes several measures currently being implemented in the by-elections underway in Toronto Centre and York Centre, such as physical distancing measures at the polls and the distribution of protective equipment for poll workers and voters.

The Canada Elections Act provides the authority for me to make a number of adjustments to the electoral process to facilitate these measures. However, there are a small number of areas where legislative change is, in my view, highly desirable.

Proposed legislative measures

First, I am recommending replacing ordinary polling day, Monday, with a two-day polling period on Saturday and Sunday. Instead of a single 12-hour polling day, electors would have the opportunity to vote over two eight-hour days.

This would allow for a steadier flow of electors over two weekend days, encouraging physical distancing as opposed to the clustering of electors that takes place at the polls at the start and finish of a Monday workday.

Weekend voting would also assist in securing polling locations and in recruiting the very large number of poll workers that are required to run a federal election.

For some electors and candidates, weekend voting may be in conflict with days of religious significance. However, the two-day period, in addition to other voting options, such as voting by mail and advance polls, would provide flexibility.

As a result of weekend voting, I am recommending certain related changes to advance polling days and hours.

I also suggest that mail-in ballots be accepted until 6:00 p.m., Eastern time, on the Monday following weekend voting, provided they were mailed before the close of polls. This would account for the fact that mail is typically not delivered on the weekend, and that we expect to receive large numbers of mail-in ballots.

A second major element I recommend addressing in legislation is voting in long-term care facilities. I am seeking flexibility to allow Elections Canada to work with long-term care facilities across the country to deliver tailored voting services that suit their unique circumstances, which may vary considerably from one location to another.

The third and final element I am recommending relates to my power under the Act to adapt its provisions in case of an emergency. Currently, this power may only be exercised for limited purposes. I am requesting greater flexibility to adapt the Act as needed in the pandemic context in order to handle unexpected situations that will inevitably arise.

Implementation of legislative measures

I have opted to limit my recommendations to a small number of changes that are directly related to the delivery of an election in a pandemic and have stayed away from any other recommendations that may require more extensive debate. I will be submitting a second recommendations report in due course to deal with other improvements to the Act, unrelated to the pandemic.

Although the recommendations I have outlined today are limited in scope, their implementation nevertheless requires changes to business processes and IT systems that will require some time. Therefore, I urge Parliament to swiftly consider them.

In order to assist the Committee, you will also see that I have submitted model legislation that could accomplish these objectives–a temporary statute that would supersede or adapt some of the provisions of the Canada Elections Act only for the next general election, leaving the electoral regime unchanged once the pandemic period is behind us.

Length of the election period

Finally, I note in closing that the Act currently provides for an election period lasting between 37 and 51 days. If an election is called during the pandemic, I strongly encourage the Government to set the longest possible election period. This would not only assist Elections Canada in dealing with the logistical challenges of a pandemic election, such as the hiring and training of workers, but also allow time for the processing and mail delivery of the several millions of mail-in ballots that we can expect in a general election during the pandemic.

I welcome questions from the Committee.