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Elections Canada has compiled a glossary of electoral terms. Click on a letter below to move to the terms that begin with that letter, or simply use your browser's scroll bar to view all of them.


Accessibility (accessibilité)

The extent to which obstacles to a place or activity have been removed. Voting at a federal electoral event is very accessible. All election day polling places, with only a few exceptions, have level access. Voters who are unable to mark the ballot can receive help. There is a voting template for persons with a visual disability. All advance poll sites have level access.

Advance voting (vote par anticipation)

The polls are open between 9 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before election day, for those who want to vote early. The ballots are kept in a sealed envelope until election day and are counted at the same time as the other ballots.


Ballot (bulletin de vote)

A piece of paper on which are printed the names of the candidates, their political parties and a place for the voter to indicate the preferred candidate. (At a referendum, the ballot has a printed question and spaces for the voter to answer "Yes" or "No.") Canada uses the secret ballot, which means no one except the voter knows the choice that was made.

Ballot box (urne)

A cardboard box with a narrow slot on top, into which all ballots issued to electors are placed until the polls close and the votes are counted. There is one ballot box at each polling station.

Bill (projet de loi)

New legislation, or changes to an existing law proposed to Parliament. Bills must be debated and passed by both the House of Commons and the Senate before they become laws.

By-election (élection partielle)

An election held in a particular electoral district to fill a vacancy in the House of Commons at any time other than during a general election. Several by-elections may be held on the same day.


Canada Elections Act (Loi électorale du Canada)

The law that governs the conduct of federal elections in Canada.

Candidate (candidat)

A person who seeks election to public office. A candidate running in a federal election or by-election is trying to be elected a member of Parliament. The candidates' signs dot the landscape in each electoral district.

Candidate's representative (représentant de candidat)

A candidate's representative may be present at the polling station during the voting and counting of the ballots. Often called a scrutineer.

Central polling place (centre de scrutin)

A voting site containing more than one polling station.

Central poll supervisor (superviseur d’un centre de scrutin)

The returning officer's representative at a polling place with four or more polling stations. This person supervises the staff, including the deputy returning officers and poll clerks.

Chief Electoral Officer (directeur général des élections)

The independent officer of Parliament responsible for the management of federal elections and referendums. Stéphane Perrault is the seventh Canadian to hold this office since it was established in 1920.


See Electoral district

Counting of the votes (dépouillement du scrutin)

The process of counting the votes received at a polling station. The count is carried out by the deputy returning officer for the polling station, assisted by the poll clerk, after the close of the polling station. Candidates or their representatives are entitled to be present for the count and to receive a copy of the statement of the vote showing the number of votes cast for each candidate at that polling station.


Deputy returning officer (scrutateur)

The election or referendum officer who supervises a polling station. The deputy returning officer's tasks include making decisions about a person's eligibility to vote, counting the ballots and certifying the results.


Election day (jour de l’élection)

The day most people go to vote. Also known as polling day. Election day must be a Monday, and at least 36 days after the writs are issued. If that Monday happens to be a holiday, election day is the following Tuesday.

Elections Canada (Élections Canada)

The non-partisan agency responsible for the running of federal elections, by-elections and referendums. Also known as the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer.

Elector (électeur)

A person who is a Canadian citizen at least 18 years old, and therefore eligible to vote.

Electoral boundaries (limites des circonscriptions)

The lines defining the outer limits of electoral districts. The boundaries are readjusted by independent electoral boundaries commissions (one for each province) after each decennial (10-year) census conducted by Statistics Canada. The boundary adjustments reflect changes and movements in Canada's population. This process is known as redistribution. The most recent redistribution was conducted in 2012–2013, taking effect for the 2015 general election. It provided 15 additional ridings for Ontario, 6 more each for British Columbia and Alberta, and 3 more for Quebec, bringing the total number of seats in the House of Commons to 338.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Loi sur la révision des limites des circonscriptions électorales)

The law that outlines the rules for readjusting electoral district boundaries.

Electoral district (circonscription)

A geographical area represented by a member of the House of Commons; often called a riding or constituency. There are 338 federal electoral districts in Canada (as of the 2015 general election).

Electoral district association (association de circonscription)

Also known as a riding association or a constituency association, it is a local association of members of a political party in an electoral district. If an electoral district association of a registered political party wants to accept contributions, provide goods and services or transfer funds, it must apply to the Chief Electoral Officer to be registered.

Electoral event (scrutin)

A generic term used to describe a general election, by-election or referendum.

Electoral system (système électoral)

Canada uses a first-past-the-post system. In this system, the candidate who gets more votes than any other candidate in the electoral district wins. It is thus not necessary to obtain an absolute majority of the votes (50 percent plus one) to be elected.

Enfranchisement (admission au suffrage)

Extension of the right to vote to a particular group of people. Some examples include the 1918 extension of the franchise to women and the 1970 lowering of the voting age from 21 years to 18.

Expenses limit (plafond des dépenses électorales)

Maximum amount that a candidate or registered political party is authorized to spend during an election period. The limit is calculated on the basis of the number of registered electors in the electoral district in which the candidate is running, or in all the electoral districts in which the registered party is running confirmed candidates. It is indexed every year for inflation.


Franchise (droit de vote)

The right to vote.


General election (élection générale)

An election held simultaneously in every electoral district in Canada.


Identification (identification)

To receive a ballot at the polling station or to register to vote at the advance polls or on election day, electors must prove their identity and address. They can: (1) show one original piece of ID with the elector's photo, name and address, such as a driver's licence; (2) show two original pieces of identification from a list authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada – both with the elector's name and one with the elector's address, such as a health card and hydro bill; or (3) prove identity in the prescribed manner and declare their identity and address in writing and have someone who knows them and who is assigned to their polling station vouch for the elector.

The voucher must be able to prove their identity and address. A person can vouch for only one person (except in long-term care institutions).


Judicial recount (dépouillement judiciaire)

Second count of the votes conducted in front of a judge, automatically requested by the returning officer if two candidates are tied or the difference between the two leading candidates is less than 1/1000 of the votes cast. An elector may also apply to a judge for a recount within four days after the returning officer validates the results of the vote. The request is granted if it appears from affidavit evidence that a deputy returning officer incorrectly counted or rejected ballots, or incorrectly recorded the number of votes cast for a canddate; or the returning officer added the votes incorrectly.


Leadership contestant (candidat à la direction)

A person seeking to be the leader of his or her federal political party.

Level access (accès de plain-pied)

Flat or gently sloping access from the street to the inside of a polling place. Level access is essential so that electors using wheelchairs and others who have difficulty with stairs or curbs can exercise their right to vote.

List of electors (liste électorale)

The list of names and addresses of all registered electors that is used at a polling station when people vote. Also known as the voters list.


Mobile poll (bureau de scrutin itinérant)

A poll staffed by a deputy returning officer and a poll clerk, who travel on election day from institution to institution where seniors or persons with disabilities reside, to take their votes.


National Register of Electors (Registre national des électeurs)

A computerized database of Canadian citizens who have the right to vote. It is used to produce preliminary lists of electors for federal elections, by-elections and referendums. Data from the Register can also be shared with provincial, territorial and municipal electoral agencies to produce lists of electors. Canadians may choose whether to have their names listed in the Register. It is updated with information from federal, provincial and territorial administrative databases and voters lists between elections, and by electors themselves during elections.

Nomination contestant (candidat à l'investiture)

A person seeking to be named the official candidate of his or her political party in an electoral district during an election.

Nomination papers (acte de candidature)

An Elections Canada form that must be completed by candidates running for office in an electoral district. It must include the following: the signatures of the required number of electors from the electoral district; a letter of support from the party if the candidate is endorsed by a registered or eligible party; and the name of an official agent and auditor. Nomination papers must be submitted to the returning officer of the electoral district where the candidate wishes to seek election, along with a $1,000 deposit, which is refundable if the candidate's official agent submits the candidate's election expenses returns and unused official tax receipts within the required time.


Office of the returning officer (bureau du directeur du scrutin)

An office that is set up in each electoral district at the start of each general election, by-election or referendum. It is the place from which the returning officer and his or her staff serve the public during an electoral event. Also known as the local Elections Canada office.


Poll clerk (greffier du scrutin)

The election officer who assists the deputy returning officer at a polling station by checking to see if a person's name is on the list of electors and by dealing with the paperwork.

Polling day

See Election day.

Polling division (section de vote)

A small geographic section of an electoral district, for which a list of electors is prepared and a polling station is set up on election day. Each electoral district has many polling divisions.

Polling station (bureau de scrutin)

The place where electors go to vote. Each elector is assigned to a specific polling station, according to his or her residential address.


Redistribution (redécoupage)

The periodic readjustment of electoral district boundaries after a census to reflect population changes. Independent electoral boundaries commissions (one for each province) hold public hearings before they redraw the maps.

Referendum (référendum)

An electoral event in which electors are asked to answer "Yes" or "No" to a written question. Referendums are used by governments to consult the people on specific issues. The most recent federal referendum was in 1992 on a proposal to amend the Constitution.

Referendum Act (Loi référendaire)

The law that sets out the rules for holding federal referendums in Canada. Under this act, federal referendums may be held only on constitutional issues.

Registered party (parti enregistré)

A political party that runs at least one candidate in a general election or by-election and complies with the requirements of the Canada Elections Act may be registered. Benefits of registering with the Chief Electoral Officer include having the party name appear on the ballot, the right to issue tax receipts for monetary contributions, and partial reimbursement of election expenses. Registered parties must disclose their contributions received, election spending and other financial information.

Reminder card (carte de rappel)

A card that Elections Canada sends during an electoral event to every residence in the country, which reminds recipients of the dates for voting in advance or on election day. It also invites electors to call Elections Canada if they did not receive a voter information card about one week earlier.

Responsible government (responsabilité ministérielle)

A system of government in which members of the executive (that is, Cabinet ministers) are responsible to the elected members of the legislature, who are in turn responsible to the people.

Returning officer (directeur du scrutin)

The election or referendum officer responsible for organizing an electoral event in an electoral district. He or she sets up an office in the district and hires and supervises all of the staff, including the training officers, registration officers, revising agents, special ballot coordinators, community relations officers, central poll supervisors, information officers, deputy returning officers and poll clerks.

Revising agent (agent réviseur)

An election or referendum officer who updates the lists of electors during the revision period of an electoral event. Revising agents receive applications from electors to have their names added to, corrected on, or deleted from the lists.

Revision (révision)

The process of adding new names to, correcting information on, and removing names from the lists of electors during the election period. The Chief Electoral Officer determines the day the revision starts, which is typically on the 33rd day before election day. The official revision period is usually four weeks in length.


See Electoral district.


Special ballot (bulletin de vote spécial)

A ballot that can be sent in by mail, or filled in at the local Elections Canada office, for use by electors who cannot go to their polling stations. An elector must first apply to Elections Canada for registration before 6:00 p.m. on the sixth day before polling day. The special ballot differs from a regular ballot in that the elector writes in the name of his or her preferred candidate.

Special ballot coordinator (coordonnateur des bulletins de vote spéciaux)

The staff member in the office of the returning officer who assists electors to register and vote by special ballot.


Targeted revision (révision ciblée)

Part of the process of updating the lists of electors during the revision period of an electoral event. Pairs of revising agents visit areas of high mobility, including new subdivisions, apartment buildings and student residences, as well as nursing homes and chronic care hospitals, to register electors who are not yet on the lists. A mail-in registration package is left for residents who are not at home.

Third party (tiers)

A third party is generally a person or group that wants to participate in or influence elections other than as a political party, electoral district association, nomination contestant or candidate. The term has different legal definitions in the pre-election period and election period.

Please consult the Political Financing Handbook for Third Parties, Financial Agents and Auditors (EC 20227) for more details.

Transfer certificate (certificat de transfert)

A document issued by the returning officer or assistant returning officer that enables an elector to vote at a different polling station than the one to which he or she is assigned. Normally used in the rare cases when a polling station does not have level access and the elector requires such access.


Universal suffrage (suffrage universel)

The extension of the right to vote to all adult citizens.



See Elector.

Image of Voter Information Card
Text description

Voter information card (carte d'information de l'électeur)

A card that Elections Canada sends during an election campaign to every elector whose name appears on the preliminary lists of electors. It tells electors when and where they can cast their ballots on election day or at the advance polls. A card is also sent to every elector who is added to the list of electors during the revision period.

Voter registration desk (bureau d'inscription)

Located at the election day polling stations, it is the place for electors to register to vote if their names are not already on the list of electors. It is staffed by a registration officer, who fills out a registration certificate. Electors must provide acceptable proof of identity and residence, and sign the certificate.

An elector can still vote if they declare their identity and address in writing and have someone who knows them and who is assigned to their polling station vouch for the elector.

The voucher must be able to prove their identity and address. A person can vouch for only one person (except in long-term care institutions).

Voters list

See List of electors.

Voting screen (isoloir)

At the polling station, the privacy barrier that shields from view the place where a voter goes to mark the ballot. There should be nothing on the table behind the voting screen but a pencil for use in marking the ballot.

Voting template (gabarit de vote)

A plastic ballot holder designed to help voters with a visual disability mark the ballot.


Writ of election (or writ of by-election or writ of referendum) (bref d'élection ou bref d'élection partielle ou bref référendaire)

The document signed by the Chief Electoral Officer that instructs the returning officer in an electoral district to conduct an election (or referendum) on a specific date. After the election, the returning officer writes the name of the winning candidate on the writ, signs it, and returns it to the Chief Electoral Officer.