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Electoral Insight - Technology in the electoral process

Electoral Insight – June 2000

Electoral News in Brief

automation in the offices of returning officers

Elections Canada is developing and testing a number of projects to automate the main computer functions in the offices of Canada's 301 returning officers for the next general election.

elector registration

Technical analyst Serge Marchand tests new software in the  Elections Canada Returning Office Technology Centre.
Technical analyst Serge Marchand tests new software in the
Elections Canada Returning Office Technology Centre.

REVISE is an important new system for updating lists of electors on-line during the electoral period. Data will be stored centrally at Elections Canada in Ottawa, instead of being distributed as 301 separate databases. REVISE adds the capacity to move elector information from one address to another, and to identify electors who have been listed more than once in an electoral district. It will also store additional types of physical addresses (e.g. township/range/meridian/section or lot/concession).

REVISE will replace an older system known as ECAPLE. The Elections Canada Automated Production of Lists of Electors was the original computer program that produced Canadian lists of electors, both on paper and in a digital format that could be imported into most word processing, spreadsheet and database software. Before 1992, federal returning officers provided candidates only with paper copies of the lists of electors for their electoral districts. Office automation improved, and at the October 1992 referendum, for the first time, Elections Canada provided computerized lists to returning officers. Once officially nominated, every candidate is now eligible to receive the lists for his or her electoral district in both paper and digital formats. Once the final lists of electors have been compiled, they are available on CD-ROM to the registered political parties, for those ridings where they fielded candidates.

Electoral data is released only to those entitled by the Canada Elections Act to receive it. The elector's right to privacy is respected and the confidentiality of personal information protected.


Several other systems are being developed or improved. The Election Results System (ERS), which produces the timely, unofficial voting results seen on the Elections Canada Web site on election night, was first developed for the 1993 election. Its primary purpose is to transmit voting results electronically from each of the 301 electoral districts to the media and Elections Canada's Web site. Following election day, returning officers use the system to record the results of their official additions.

ERS is also used by Elections Canada to gather, merge and verify unofficial voting results from Canadian Forces electors, incarcerated electors, and other Canadians who vote by special ballot. Once the polls are closed, the special ballot results, which were previously faxed, will now be transmitted electronically by Elections Canada from Ottawa to each returning officer and combined with the local results. The version of ERS used in Ottawa after the election is also being redesigned for faster certification and publication of the official results in print and electronic formats.


Another project team is developing a new system to process payments to election workers. The Returning Office Payment System (ROPS) will streamline and simplify this activity. At the last general election in 1997, election workers were paid through four different manual and automated systems. The new consolidated ROPS, which will be implemented in phases, will provide a single window for data entry by the returning officer's payroll staff.


The Event Management System (EMS) will continue to be used to gather the internal and electoral district information required daily at Elections Canada to manage the delivery of an electoral event. This comprises monitoring activities against expected deadlines and statutory obligations, and measuring the effectiveness of delivery systems and processes. EMS has been in place since the 1993 general election. Since its inception, EMS has expanded. It now includes computerized aides-mémoire for returning officers and Elections Canada staff, generates reports using automated linkages to event delivery systems, and incorporates state-of-the-art presentation tools. At the next electoral event, its reporting capability will include feedback to returning officers.


Recently, Elections Canada set up a Returning Office Technology Centre (ROTC) in Ottawa. This is a laboratory that tests all the computer applications for returning officers. Because of their increasing use of advanced technology, returning officers will each have an automation co-ordinator (AC) and assistant automation co-ordinator (AAC) on staff. These staff members will supervise the people producing the lists of electors. A support network at Elections Canada in Ottawa will furnish technical assistance.


Just as taxpayers can complete their income tax returns electronically, the official agents of candidates in a federal election can now prepare their election expenses returns electronically. Elections Canada has developed some software to guide them through the process.

The Canada Elections Act requires all official agents, on behalf of their candidates, to submit a return that discloses all campaign contributions and expenses. In 1997, Elections Canada's Election Financing Directorate developed a program for electronic preparation of the returns and it was used by many official agents for the 1997 general election. The program saves time, helps ensure all the needed information is included, and reduces errors. A return prepared electronically also reduces the processing time at Elections Canada.

Elections Canada is now looking at the possibility of improving the software. New features may include the ability to produce and print receipts for tax purposes, and to import and export data from popular accounting software.


The employees of Elections Canada presented Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley with an anniversary celebration banner bearing their signatures.
The employees of Elections Canada presented Chief Electoral Officer
Jean-Pierre Kingsley with an anniversary celebration banner bearing their signatures.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley recently celebrated ten years as Canada's Chief Electoral Officer. To mark the anniversary, the staff at Elections Canada gathered on February 17, 2000, for a presentation by Assistant Chief Electoral Officer Patricia Hassard, which showed Mr. Kingsley's career achievements in the years before and during his tenure as Chief Electoral Officer.

Since his appointment in February 1990, Mr. Kingsley has been responsible for the management of all federal electoral events, including the 1992 federal referendum, the 1993 and 1997 general elections, and more than twenty by-elections. He has introduced significant organizational changes at Elections Canada, as well as implementing major electoral reforms. During his tenure, Elections Canada has also become a world leader in the electoral use of technology. Developments in the past ten years include the creation of the National Register of Electors (Canada's permanent list of electors) and the introduction of computer use in all areas of electoral administration, from digitized geocartography to field office communications and management.

Over the last decade, Elections Canada has developed an international reputation as an electoral pacesetter. It has hosted more than 125 foreign delegations and participated in more than 300 missions abroad.

Canadians have cast 38 million ballots during Mr. Kingsley's decade as Chief Electoral Officer.


Personnalité Jeunesse

Elections Canada recently celebrated its 10th year of participation in Montréal's Salon Pepsi Jeunesse, a huge annual youth fair, during which students have the opportunity to conduct an election campaign. The anniversary projects Personnalité Jeunesse de l'Est du Canada 2000 (Youth Personality of the Year 2000 for Eastern Canada) and Personnalité Jeunesse du Grand Montréal culminated in mid-April at the Palais des congrès in Montréal. This program for francophone students in their fourth and/or fifth year of high school (or the equivalent) familiarizes them with the electoral process and encourages their future participation as voting citizens.

In advance of the April event, election simulations were held at the local and regional levels to elect students who have distinguished themselves through academic achievement, extracurricular activities and community involvement. At the final level, each regional winner formed a campaign team with other students from his or her school to run for election as the Personnalité Jeunesse of the year. At the Salon, students voted for their chosen candidates at the Elections Canada kiosk. The winners received a $1 000 bursary to attend a session of the Forum for Young Canadians in Ottawa.


The Advisory Committee of Registered Political Parties, which is chaired by the Chief Electoral Officer, was initially convened on the advice of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in 1998. The ten registered political parties represented on the Advisory Committee are the Bloc Québécois, the Canadian Action Party, the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, The Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, the Natural Law Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The Advisory Committee first met on June 12, 1998, and has met for a total of 10 sessions to date.

The Advisory Committee has worked well as a forum to discuss administrative issues, and as an outreach mechanism to political parties.

The achievements realized through this unique process of consultation are many. As soon as the Advisory Committee was struck, its members began to review 23 administrative issues referred to it by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Chief Electoral Officer has reported the results of the Advisory Committee deliberations to the Standing Committee.

Since then, the Advisory Committee has continued to meet an average of four times each year. These sessions have led to improvements in some policies, such as the voter identification policy. The political parties bring forward concerns from a stakeholders' perspective, and their experience helps in addressing problems with policy application in the field, making procedures more responsive to conditions in the ridings during an electoral event.

Further, these meetings have enabled the Chief Electoral Officer to keep representatives of the registered political parties abreast of developments in the evolution of our electoral process. For example, a special meeting of the Advisory Committee was convened when the electoral reform Bill was passed by Parliament in May 2000, to brief representatives on the provisions of the new Canada Elections Act. The Advisory Committee has also served as an effective forum through which to inform political parties about Elections Canada's position on various issues.

At a recent meeting, the Committee discussed the organization of the offices of returning officers, event readiness planning, and electoral maps.

The involvement of the Advisory Committee in our planning process ensures that the lines of communication between Elections Canada and the registered political parties remain open, and that active consultation continues to be a fundamental aspect of the formulation of policy.


The second meeting of the Advisory Committee to the National Register of Electors was held on April 19, 2000, at Elections Canada in Ottawa.

The discussions included:

  • IRE (Inter-provincial Records Exchange) Program update
  • EC presentation on address management (standards, 911 conversions, geo-referencing)
  • Presentations by all members on activities of note in each of their jurisdictions
  • Update on the status of the National Register of Electors
  • A presentation of Elections Canada's study of data transfer security
  • A presentation by the Vital Statistics Council of Canada on linking birth and death information

The Advisory Committee serves as a forum for discussion of and input to initiatives being undertaken by Elections Canada regarding issues critical to the Register. It also permits information sharing about permanent voters lists maintained by other jurisdictions, and the databases maintained by registrars of motor vehicles and vital statistics. Idea sharing could also lead to co-operative ventures between data suppliers and users of data and improved procedures.

At the time of the April 19 meeting, in addition to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, the membership of the Advisory Committee included:

Francine Barry, Directrice générale des élections du Québec and Présidente de la Commission de la représentation électorale (Acting)

Robert J. Jenkins, Chief Electoral Officer, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Commissioner of Members' Interests

Robert A. Patterson, Chief Electoral Officer, British Columbia, and Co-chairman of the Advisory Committee to the National Register of Electors

Richard MacDonald, Director of Motor Vehicle Division, Northwest Territories, representing the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA)

Caroline Kaus, Chief Operating Officer for the Vital Statistics Agency, Manitoba, representing the Vital Statistics Council for Canada (VSCC)

Dorothy Browton, City Clerk for the City of Winnipeg, representing the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM)


In October 2000, an international symposium in Bamako, Mali, will take stock of democratic practices, rights and freedoms in La Francophonie. Its aim is to increase co-ordination and co-operation in fostering the constitutional state and democratic culture. The decision to hold this symposium was made at the last summit that assembled heads of state and heads of government of countries using French as a common language, which was held in Moncton, New Brunswick, in September 1999.

The Bamako symposium will be preceded by four thematic seminars. They will cover, respectively, the institutions of democracy and the constitutional state (Chad, March 2000), electoral issues (Paris, April 2000), political life (Paris, May 2000) and democratic culture (Bulgaria, June 2000). Each of these seminars will analyze the state of democracy and identify or suggest positive operating procedures, resulting in a discussion paper for the Bamako symposium.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, has been invited by the Agence de la francophonie to present an introductory report for the seminar on electoral issues.


Elections Canada recently released on its Web site the 1999 Compendium of Election Administration in Canada. The Compendium is prepared annually for the Conference of Canadian Election Officials and was last updated for the Conference that took place in June 1999. The Compendium is a comparative analysis of electoral legislation, at the federal level and in each province and territory in Canada. It deals with many aspects of election administration, such as the redistribution process, the registration of electors, the voting process, the nomination and registration of candidates, political parties, local associations and third parties, and election financing. It also includes election-related statistics. The Compendium is not available in paper format. It can either be viewed on-line or downloaded in PDF format and printed (


The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.