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Survey of Candidates Following the 40th General Election

Executive Summary

Elections Canada commissioned Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. to conduct research with candidates who ran in the 40th federal general election.The main objectives were to assess satisfaction with the services provided by Elections Canada to candidates, satisfaction with the administration of the election, trust in the agency for administering it, and to obtain suggestions for improvement for future elections. The research consisted of a census survey of all former candidates. A total of 877 candidates completed the survey. This represents a response rate of 59%, an exceptionally strong response rate for this type of research. Since this is a census survey, not a random sample of candidates, the results can only be generalized to the population surveyed. If this were a random sample survey, the overall results would be considered accurate within +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20.

The fieldwork was conducted from January 25 to February 23, 2009. The month-long field period was intended to maximize the response rate. Candidates completed the survey primarily via phone, but were also given several self-administered options to solicit greater participation (i.e. online, fax, mail and email).

Overall Perceptions of Elections Canada

Perceptions of Elections Canada's conduct in the election were positive. A majority of candidates (68%) report being satisfied overall with the way the federal election was administered by Elections Canada, and with the way the returning officer in their riding conducted the election (79%).

Experience with Electoral Process

Experiences with the election were generally positive, with most candidates reporting positive experiences with the various processes and activities associated with the administration of the election.

In terms of nomination requirements, 96% of candidates felt their nomination was processed in a timely fashion, 79% found it moderately or very easy to comply with the requirements, and 77% found it moderately or very easy to appoint an official agent. Widespread positive experiences notwithstanding, about one in five candidates encountered difficulties with the requirements (20%) and/or had difficulties appointing an official agent (21%). Most (54%) of those who had difficulties with the nomination requirements (n=180) said they found it difficult to collect enough signatures in their ridings. Candidate who had problems appointing an official agent (n=194) tended to attribute this to difficulty finding someone willing or available (40%), or someone qualified (36%).

A majority of candidates were also satisfied with voter registration. More than half (54%) were satisfied with the way the elector registration went. Those not satisfied (n=142) most often explained that it was due to the new identification requirements resulting in genuine voters being turned away (32%), and their belief that electors were unaware of the registration processes and options (25%). In terms of the actual voting, at least two-thirds of candidates were satisfied with the way the various options for electors to cast a ballot went (68%), with the locations chosen as polling stations (67%), and with the way the vote counting proceeded in their riding (66%).

Candidates were also asked about the new voter identification requirements. The majority (61%) reported that neither they nor their representatives witnessed problems related to the implementation of the new voter identification requirements. Among those who did report problems (n=328), more than half (56%) said that voters did not have proper identification or were unable to vote.

Election Canada Products and Services

Over three-quarters (79%) of surveyed candidates were satisfied with the overall quality of service they received from Elections Canada in the most recent federal election. In terms of information sessions provided by Elections Canada, 75% attendedfootnote 1 the all candidates briefing, and 66% attended the financial requirements information sessions. Turning to other sources of information, most candidates and their representatives sought information from their local Elections Canada Office (83%) and the Elections Canada website (82%), while almost half (48%) said they used the 1‑800‑number for candidates. Almost eight in ten (79%) of those who used these sources were satisfied with the information they obtained.

A significant majority of candidates could recall each of the documents provided to them by their local returning officer. The vast majority recall receiving the voters' lists (93%), while a substantial majority recall receiving the authorisation forms for representative appointments (86%), 'Guidelines for Candidates and Representatives' (83%), and a copy of the 'Canada Elections Act' (81%). Two-thirds (67%) recall receiving a copy of the 'Multimedia Kit for Federal Political Entities'.

When it came to the use of tools provided by Elections Canada, 85% of candidates availed themselves of polling division maps, and approximately two-thirds made use of the voters' lists (68%) and the "Bingo Card" (67%).footnote 2 Tools less widely used included the Chief Electoral Officer letter to facilitate access to public places (40%), and the "GeoExplore" web mapping toolfootnote 3 (19%). Regarding the latter, the vast majority (84%) of those who did not use or were not aware of GeoExplore expressed interest in using it in the future.

Future Directions

In terms of online technology and voter participation, three-quarters (75%) of candidates are supportive of allowing voters to register online, while less than half (46%) are supportive of online voting. Candidates offered numerous suggestions to improve the conduct of federal elections, although no specific suggestions were mentioned by more than 8%. Taken together, these suggestions can be grouped into four categories:

  • 1) Voting or registration changes (48%)
  • 2) Administrative suggestions (23%)
  • 3) Communications issues (8%)
  • 4) Political financing (2%)

Conclusions and Implications

A primary objective of this research is to improve the administration of future elections. In this regard, the survey findings suggest a number of implications. Overall, candidates of the 40th federal general election appear to hold Elections Canada in high regard. They tend to be satisfied with the administration of the election, the various aspects of ballot casting, the performance of the returning officers, and with the products and services provided to them by Elections Canada. The lack of significant dissatisfaction in most areas explored in the survey suggests that there is a high level of trust in the agency's conduct of the federal election, particularly in key areas such as the overall administration of the election, the various options for ballot casting, vote counting, information dissemination, and the quality of service provided to candidates by Elections Canada.

In terms of moving forward, there are a number of areas that Elections Canada should be cognisant of, which, if addressed, could result in increased satisfaction with the agency among candidates in the next federal election.

While candidates tended to be satisfied with the lists of electors, and most used the lists and found the information about them to be adequate, this was nevertheless an area in which candidates were less likely to express satisfaction. As such, improvement to the quality of the lists would likely be valued. As well, perceptions of the "Bingo Card" were mixed. While feedback was not overly negative, only a minority used the card and found it to be useful.

Assessments of the polling sites were generally positive as well. However, those who were not satisfied expressed concerns about their accessibility with regards to distance from citizens, and location in convenient areas. This suggests that overall satisfaction with the polling sites could be improved by changing their locations in cases where access is an issue.

The new voter identification requirements were a significant focus of candidate feedback. The main issues are voter awareness of the new requirements and a belief that the requirements resulted in legitimate voters being turned away. More than a third of the candidates (or their representatives) witnessed problems with the requirements on Election Day. Moreover, issues surrounding the requirements were offered as the top reasons for not being satisfied with the way the various options for ballot casting went, and with elector registration. Elections Canada could likely increase satisfaction and assuage candidate concerns by revisiting the new requirements and/or engaging in greater communications efforts about them both among volunteers at the polls and electors.

Although most candidates found it easy to comply with the nomination requirements, and to appoint an official agent, some clear concerns were apparent among those who had difficulties. In terms of the nomination requirements, the greatest source of difficulty, by far, was obtaining enough signatures for the nomination papers. Going forward, lessoning this burden, if possible, might result in greater satisfaction with the nomination requirements. Candidates that had problems appointing an official agent primarily found it hard to attract someone willing or qualified to do the job. Given this, it is likely that efforts to provide assistance in this area would be well received. For example, Elections Canada might consider maintaining a registry of individuals wiling and able to perform this role. Alternatively, efforts to make the position more attractive by making the obligations more appropriate for individuals with wider skills sets could help address this problem.

While most candidates could recall receiving all of the information documents from their returning officer, recall was considerably lower regarding the 'Multimedia Kit for Federal Political Entities' compared to other materials. To the extent to which Elections Canada would like candidates to have the information contained in the kit or would like to ensure the materials it produces are useful to the candidates, this issue may be worth exploring (e.g. is lower recall a distribution issue, or is the information less useful to candidates, who in turn then have lower levels of recall compared to the other materials?).

Finally, the research reveals mixed views among candidates in terms of online voting. While many candidates are supportive of online voter registration, they are almost evenly divided when it comes to online voting. Moreover, few freely suggested moving in this direction (i.e. in an unprompted manner). As such, if Elections Canada is seriously considering online voting, the agency might want to proceed with caution in this area, and perhaps strive to better understand candidates' concerns with online voting.

Footnote 1 Refers to someone from the campaign team attending the session, including but not limited to, the candidate him-/herself.

Footnote 2 A statement of the electors who have voted on polling day. Respondents were read the following if they asked what this was: "This refers to the new form used to record the identifier number of electors who came to vote that was provided to the candidates or their representatives on a regular basis".

Footnote 3 This tool allows the user to locate civic addresses, streets, municipalities, electoral districts and other similar information.