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Report on the Evaluations of the 41st General Election of May 2, 2011

3. Administration of the Election

3.1 Preparedness

Key Findings

  • Leading up to the 41st general election, Elections Canada maintained a high level of preparedness at all times, while reducing readiness costs.
  • The use of cell phones and high-speed wireless Internet connections allowed local Elections Canada offices to provide service to electors earlier, and it enabled Elections Canada to realize substantial cost savings.

With a tight election calendar of 37 days, Elections Canada had little time to set up and open its 436 local and satellite offices, then put in place the temporary infrastructure necessary to recruit and train some 230,000 poll workers and deploy them to about 23,000 polling sitesFootnote 15 across Canada.

A general election can take place at any time under a minority government. Thus, leading up to the 41st general election, Elections Canada had to always maintain a high level of electoral readiness. This ensured that if an election was called, the agency could quickly mobilize its resources both at its Ottawa offices and in the field.

Following the previous election in 2008, Elections Canada improved and conducted various readiness activities to ensure that:

  • electors could be more quickly served by their local Elections Canada offices after the issue of the writs
  • returning officers (ROs) felt equipped and ready to conduct the election
  • it could realize efficiencies while maintaining an adequate level of readiness

For this election, local Elections Canada offices were equipped with a mix of cell phones and land lines as well as computers with high-speed wireless Internet access. Thus, the offices were ready to serve electors shortly after the issue of the writs.

Overall findings

Months of preparation unfold during the first week of an election. Therefore, the time it took to make all 308 local Elections Canada offices operational after the issue of the writs is a good measure of just how ready Elections Canada and its ROs were for the 41st general election. An office is operational after it is open and its phones and computers are installed. All offices were open by Day 31 of the election calendar (an improvement of one day compared to 2008), and more offices were open earlier than in the previous election. Similarly, the computer networks were installed more quickly in 2011 than in 2008.

The use of wireless technology also enabled Elections Canada to realize substantial savings (approximately $1.5 million a year) over the previous approach. ROs did, however, report some challenges with their local telephony systems, concerning both functionality and the support available from the telephone company; these need to be addressed for the next election.

The agency met its goal of deploying its office technology strategy on time. As a result, more local Elections Canada offices were able to receive 1-800 calls earlier in the election calendar than in previous elections, as shown in the figure below.

Phone Service in Local Offices (2008–2011)
Text version of graph "Phone Service in Local Offices (2008–2011)"

Between the 40th and 41st general elections, Elections Canada invested $29.7 million to maintain readiness and prepare for the next general election. This is $4.7 million lower than the $34.4 million spent between the 39th and 40th elections over a similar period of time. This reduction indicates that the agency realized efficiencies and learned to better manage the uncertainty inherent in minority governments by establishing flexible arrangements with suppliers and undertaking such initiatives as the use of wireless technology for local Elections Canada offices (as discussed above).

Four out of five ROs (83 percent) believed that preparations before the issue of the writs for the 41st general election went smoothly (an increase of 7 percentage points over 2008). Post-mortems with other election officers revealed an overall perception that the tools and preparation activities were more effective than in the previous election.


The current majority government and the fixed date of October 19, 2015, for the next general election have brought about a new operating environment there is no longer a need for Elections Canada to be ready at all times for a general election. Preparations will take place on a "just-in-time" basis, and the agency will apply the lessons learned over the past several years as it prepares for the next general election.

3.2 Voters Lists and Elector Registration

Key Findings

  • The overall quality of the National Register of Electors is consistent with that of recent elections, with some 84 percent of eligible electors listed at the correct address.
  • Targeted revision remains an effective approach to increasing registration among specific groups of electors.
  • The percentage of electors who registered on election day was the same as in the previous election, at just over 6 percent.

Elections Canada maintains the National Register of Electors, a continually updated database of Canadians who are qualified to vote in federal elections and referendums. The agency uses the Register to produce the preliminary lists of electors at the start of an election and to mail a voter information card (VIC) to each registered elector. Given that about 17 percent of elector information changes each year (e.g. addresses change, people reach the age of 18 or become new citizens, etc.), the Register is updated between elections using administrative data sources such as tax files and by electors themselves during elections.

Every Canadian who is qualified to vote can choose whether or not to be included in the Register. While being included has benefits, such as being registered to vote and receiving a VIC during an election, not being on the Register does not affect the right to vote. However, during a general election, electors do need to add their name to the voters list in order to vote. They can do this by registering at their local Elections Canada office during the revision period (a 28-day period that ends on the sixth day before election day) or when they vote at an advance or ordinary poll.

During the election and as part of the revision process, election workers also conduct targeted revision activities, whereby revising agents visit residences to update the voters lists in areas where updating the Register is known to be a challenge. The agents focus on new residential developments and high-mobility areas such as student neighbourhoods, seniors' residences and long-term care facilities. The agency shares its targeted revision plans with candidates and encourages their input and feedback.

Quality of the lists

For the 41st general election, the preliminary lists of electors included 23,933,743 electors. The agency estimates that 93 percent of eligible electors were on the preliminary lists and 84 percent were registered at their current address. These estimates exceeded our targets of 92 percent and 80 percent, respectively and were almost identical to those for the previous election.

As discussed in section 1.1, nine in 10 electors reported receiving a VIC, which confirmed that they were registered for the election. Over 97 percent of all respondents who recalled having received a VIC described the information on it as accurate. Among the 113 respondents (or 3.5 percent) who said that their VIC included inaccurate information, about half (51 percent) said that they did something to correct it. This represents an increase over the previous election, when just under one third (30 percent) of those who received a VIC and found errors did something to correct them.

Among the 279 respondents (or 8 percent) who did not recall receiving a VIC, two-thirds (66 percent) reported taking a variety of actions to find out whether they were registered to vote. These included seeking clarification at the polling station or the local Elections Canada office (24 percent), calling the Elections Canada 1-800 number (11 percent), consulting the Elections Canada website (9 percent), consulting family or friends (6 percent), consulting candidates or a political party's office (3 percent) or informing a revising agent at home (2 percent). These results are roughly the same as for the previous election.

Approximately 58 percent of candidates were satisfied with the overall quality of the voters lists they received from the RO. Only 6 percent were dissatisfied, while the remainder were neutral, did not know or provided no response. This is a slight improvement over the previous election (when 55 percent were satisfied). In addition, more than nine out of 10 (93 percent) deputy returning officers (DROs) were satisfied with the lists.

Registration and targeted revision

Voter registration statistics show that there is a declining trend in the number of electors who register during the revision period. As shown in the table below, for the 38th general election in 2004, about 850,000 registrations were captured during the revision period. By this election, the number had declined substantially by about 40 percent to just over 500,000 electors.

Registrations During Revision Period Recent Elections
Election Number of
Percentage of
Total Voters
June 2004 (38th general election) 849,172 6.3%
January 2006 (39th general election) 747,099 5.2%
October 2008 (40th general election) 561,515 4.1%
May 2011 (41st general election) 503,422 3.5%

As part of the targeted revision process for the 2011 election, revising agents visited about 1.25 million targeted addresses (9.7 percent of residential addresses in the country). While the overall number of registrations during revision decreased, the number of registrations completed through targeted revision increased over the 2008 election (237,798 in 2011 compared with 214,000 in 2008).

This trend was also seen in the 2008 election. Thus, changes made to the Canada Elections Act in 2007 may have contributed to both the decline in the total number of revisions and the increase through targeted revision. Those changes make it possible for electors to register at their door during targeted revision without showing proof of identification. They can also register other electors living at the same address, without showing those electors' identification documents, by swearing an oath of eligibility. This practice, in addition to concerted efforts by Elections Canada to improve the quality of the lists of targeted addresses (especially for long-term care facilities and Aboriginal reserves) has enabled more electors to be included on the voters lists through targeted revision. As noted in section 1.1, the targeted revision initiative for the 2011 election, together with the Community Relations Officer Program, helped to increase the level of elector registration among seniors living in residences and long-term care facilities.

Of the 14.7 million Canadians who voted in the 41st general election, the vast majority had their name on the voters lists produced from the Register when they cast their ballot on election day. A small percentage of electors (6.3 percent) registered on election day; this percentage has remained stable over the past four general elections at just over 6 percent. However, of all electors who register during the election period, the proportion who did it on election day increased in 2011 (48.2 percent in 2008 compared with 51.5 percent in 2011).

Fifty-nine percent of candidates were satisfied with the way the elector registration process went. This represents a slight increase over the 2008 election (54 percent). Another 22 percent were neutral, and 6 percent did not know or refused to answer. The candidates who were not satisfied with the way the elector registration process went (14 percent) offered numerous reasons to explain why. The three most frequently cited responses, each of which was mentioned by 26 percent of the dissatisfied candidates, were the perception that the process was too complicated, the identification requirements turned away genuine voters and either there were too many errors on the lists or too many electors had to be registered.


The overall quality of the National Register of Electors exceeded established quality targets and remained stable compared to the previous election. While the number of registrations during the revision period has decreased over the past several elections, targeted revision remains a useful approach for updating the voters list, particularly for highly mobile groups such as students and for seniors living in residences and long-term care facilities. As noted in Section 1, Elections Canada will consider carrying out local registration and outreach activities focused on these electors before the next election.

Since April 2012, electors have been able to use Elections Canada's online voter registration service to confirm and update their information. Legislative change, as proposed in the Chief Electoral Officer's 2010 recommendations report, is required to enable full online registration functionality for all electors. Elections Canada will monitor how this new, more convenient and complementary service affects elector registration and associated client service channels.

3.3 Voting Operations

Key Finding

  • The Act limits the flexibility of Elections Canada to make improvements to the recruitment and training process and to the operation of polling sites.

As in previous elections, Elections Canada recruited, trained and monitored the work of a small army of poll workers (just under 230,000) to ensure that voters experienced a high standard of service.

As described in the Report on the Evaluations of the 40th General Election, the Act imposes a business model on the operation of polling sites that is labour-intensive and limits the specialization of duties required for modern service delivery. Currently, DROs and poll clerks are individually responsible for providing the whole suite of services to electors at any polling site, large or small. The challenge with such a model is twofold.

  • Each DRO is solely responsible for one polling station. At central polling sites, if a lineup forms at one polling station, other DROs who may not be busy at that time cannot lend a hand. If some polls are less busy than others, a DRO cannot be assigned to more than one poll. This lack of economies of scale at central polling sites places unnecessary pressure on the recruitment function of local Elections Canada offices.
  • A DRO's duties have become complex over time, but they cannot be divided among different poll workers to make them more manageable and easier to learn and apply consistently. DROs must therefore be trained on a wide array of policies, regulations and operational directives in a short amount of time.

Each DRO and poll clerk is responsible for providing all services to electors at any polling site, large or small. This includes:

  • verifying electors’ entitlement to vote
  • administering the ballot process
  • administering oaths
  • keeping the poll book up to date
  • addressing challenges from candidates’ representatives
  • assisting electors who need help
  • counting the ballots
  • reporting results and closing their polling station

During the 41st general election, Elections Canada worked to address three general challenges: recruitment, training and service. These are discussed as follows.


The Act stipulates that before hiring election officers, ROs must first contact the candidates representing political parties that placed first or second in the previous election to obtain from them lists of suitable persons for the positions of DRO, poll clerk and registration officer. The Act also prohibits ROs from filling these positions with individuals not named on these lists until 17 days before election day. As indicated in our evaluations report on the 40th general election, these provisions severely limit Elections Canada's ability to recruit and train the necessary officers.

As in previous elections, relatively few candidates provided ROs with a sufficient number of names of potential election officers. In fact, the proportion of officers identified by candidates compared to the total number required has fallen from 42 percent in the 39th general election to 33 percent in the 40th and 30 percent in the 41st. While most ROs did not have to resort to recruiting election officers from outside their electoral district, a majority (53 percent) reported difficulty recruiting skilled officers.

In response to this recruitment challenge, Elections Canada implemented a comprehensive recruitment plan for all electoral districts.

  • As soon as the election was called, citizens from across the country could complete an online application for employment, which Elections Canada forwarded to each local Elections Canada office. Since telephone systems were installed as soon as these offices were operational, recruitment officers could immediately start to identify potential election officers.
  • To further expand the pool of potential election officers, and to engage youth in the electoral process, the Chief Electoral Officer gave authorization to all ROs to hire citizens 16 and 17 years old for some positions. We provided ROs with creative promotional materials, which would encourage college and university students to apply.
  • Extra personnel were in place at Elections Canada in Ottawa to support and monitor the recruitment efforts in the field. Early on in the election, the recruitment analysis team focused its support on those districts that were rated at high risk for recruitment difficulties.

Statistical data and feedback from ROs indicate that these recruitment mechanisms helped mitigate the challenge of recruiting an ever-increasing number of election officers.

ROs considered the online employment application to be a success. In fact, by the first day of the advance polls, ROs had received 116,000 online applications. By election day, that number had jumped to more than 130,000 applications; this represents a 177 percent increase over the 47,000 applications received online during the 2008 general election. The election also saw an increase in youth worker engagement: youth aged 16 to 25 accounted for 11 percent of all election officers compared with only 6 percent in the previous election. For the first time since this information has been recorded, the average age of election officer went down, from 52 to 50 years.


Elections Canada maintains standardized training programs for each position in a local Elections Canada office. It also mandates each RO to hire a training officer to deliver training sessions to election officers. The training is based on adult education principles, avoids formal presentations and includes role-playing and quizzes. In September 2010, ROs held regional meetings to give training officers from across the country standardized instruction on a new training package.

During the election, Elections Canada asked its field liaison officers (FLOs) to attend and evaluate one training session in each electoral district. The results indicate a gap between Elections Canada's expectations and the delivery of the training program. The FLOs found that while 97 percent of the training officers assessed were knowledgeable and able to answer participants' questions in a clear and precise manner, only about 35 percent followed the training plan, in whole or in part. Owing to lack of time, the majority (56 percent) did not engage in the role-playing exercises. Half of the FLOs also deemed one or more sections of the training plan to be in need of improvement.

Training election officers clearly remains one of the most challenging functions of any local Elections Canada office during an election. The agency must find ways to mitigate the fact that the time allotted to in-classroom training of election officers cannot really be stretched beyond 2.5 hours, even though the complexity of their responsibilities has increased since the Act was amended in 2007. Elections Canada has already suggestedFootnote 16 that improving the service delivery model at polling sites would simplify the tasks assigned to each officer. This would pave the way for more comprehensive training.


Notwithstanding the constraints identified above, ROs' recruitment and training efforts generally resulted in a high level of service to electors. The great majority of voters were satisfied with all aspects of their voting experience. They were satisfied with such aspects as wait time at the polling station (97 percent), signage directing them both inside (95 percent) and outside (82 percent) the building, poll workers (98 percent) and the language in which they were served (99 percent). Consistent with the previous election, 99 percent of voters said that casting their ballot was easy.

On the other hand, complaints from voters after the election, as well as the irregularities at the polls in Etobicoke Centre (Ontario), indicate a need to strengthen measures to improve compliance with the procedures and standards applicable on election day. These include further improving the training of election officers.


Overall, the 41st general election proved to be successful in terms of worker recruitment and support. Nonetheless, we have identified a number of areas where we can make improvements. These include making better use of automated tools to support a recruitment effort that takes place during a very compressed time frame. It is also time to examine when and how recruitment should start: ROs have suggested that the process of recruiting and training election officers should begin earlier in the election period.

The Chief Electoral Officer's 2010 recommendations report proposed a number of legislative amendments to facilitate the recruitment of election officers; these include changes to the appointment process and compensation. The report also proposed that Elections Canada receive a broader authority to conduct pilot projects to assess more effective ways to administer elections and deliver services to electors and candidates.Footnote 17  Elections Canada intends to submit to parliamentarians a proposal for a pilot project, aimed at modernizing voting operations, to be carried out in the next general election.

3.4 Managing Polling Sites

Key Findings

  • While the vast majority of electors voted at the polling station listed on their VIC, the polling sites for an estimated 321,000 electors (1.3 percent) changed after the VICs had been mailed.
  • Last-minute changes to polling stations (less than six days before election day) affected an estimated 19,000 electors (0.1 percent) in 26 electoral districts. Elections Canada had adequate measures and processes in place to direct these electors to the right polling station.

During the 41st general election, some 23,000 polling sites were used. These sites were identified before the election but could not be leased before the writs were issued. One of the ROs' first tasks at the beginning of the election was to confirm polling site locations and sign leases.

At the time that VICs are mailed to electors, polling sites are deemed to be confirmed and, unless exceptional circumstances arise, they do not change. If a polling station is assigned to a new site address, the RO prints new VICs, marked "Revised", and sends them to all electors who are registered to vote at the affected polling station. A notice is also sent to each candidate's campaign office, informing it of the change. Within a few hours of being recorded in the RO's database of polling sites, the updated information is posted on the Elections Canada website.

In the event a polling site must be changed after the sixth day before election day, it may not be possible to reach electors through regular mail. In this situation, we notify the candidates and inform electors through public service announcements on the radio and by posting the changes on our website. We also inform electors when they arrive at the polling site indicated on their VIC; signs and election officers also redirect electors to the new site.

Our data indicate that 98.7 percent of electors voted at the polling site identified on their VIC. Elections Canada estimates that approximately 321,000 electors (1.3 percent) saw their polling site change after the VICs were mailed.

In total, 326 ordinary polling stations (0.5 percent) and 38 advance polling stations (0.8 percent) were reassigned to another site. Of the 326 ordinary polling stations reassigned to a new polling site after the VICs were mailed, there was enough time to mail a revised VIC to electors for 274 of them. The remaining 52 polling stations, representing approximately 19,000 electors, were reassigned less than six days before election day. This situation occurred in 26 electoral districts.


This is the first time that Elections Canada has reported on changes to polling sites after the VICs had been sent to electors. Consequently, there are no benchmarks from previous elections to allow an analysis of trends. With over 20,000 polling sites across Canada, changes during the election are to be expected. The evidence indicates that these changes affected only a small number of electors; the vast majority of affected electors received a revised VIC in time to be informed of the change and ROs were prepared to deal with this circumstance.

3.5 Elections Canada's Online Complaint Portal

As discussed in Section 1, this election marked the first time that electors wishing to lodge a complaint had the option of sending it as an e-mail through the Elections Canada website. We received more than 6,000 e-mails, including 3,719 actual complaints, covering a wide range of topics. These are outlined in the following table.

Topic Number of Complaints
Administration of the Election
Employment (159); local office (2); official languages (28); technology (27); voters lists and registration (263); voting operations (686)
Special Voting Rules
University of Guelph students (673); general (106)
Electoral Legislation and Framework
Blackout provisions (95); citizenship (25); electoral system (163); timing and dates (263)
Political Entity Activity
Campaigning activities (324); debates (53); signs (80); third party advertising (68)
Voter Experience
Accessibility* and convenience (237); awareness and outreach (26); identification (171)
Alleged Fraudulent Calls 111
Other Complaints
Judicial matters (1); contempt of Parliament (37); no category (121)
Total 3,719

*Excludes complaints received through the accessibility feedback form discussed in section 1.3.

This was Elections Canada's first effort at setting up an online portal specifically designed to receive complaints from electors during a general election. It was a success, but the level of work it generated was higher than expected and presented several challenges. All complaints have been addressed, but several aspects of the initiative need to be improved.

  • The process for handling complaints needs to be standardized.
  • There needs to be better coordination and integration among the multiple points of contact for filing complaints (phone, website, Ottawa, field, other).
  • The internal process for following up complaints needs to be reviewed and strengthened.
  • Management needs to be provided with more real-time information on the types of complaints being received and the steps taken to address them.

Making these changes will enable Elections Canada to be as responsive as possible to the complaints it receives and to address them in a timely manner.

3.6 Commissioner of Canada Elections

The Commissioner of Canada Elections is responsible for enforcing the Canada Elections Act and investigating alleged offences under the Act.

The Commissioner receives communications from the public through e-mail, fax, postal mail and telephone. During the 41st general election, the majority of communications from the public were made through e-mail (59 percent). Communications from the public were also received at the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (22 percent) and the Public Enquiries Unit (6 percent) and redirected to the Commissioner. The Commissioner received 1,003 communications during the election.

Since the election, however, the Commissioner has received over 40,000 additional communications. The vast majority of these relate to alleged fraudulent or improper telephone calls and were made after the media reported on a particular investigation in the electoral district of Guelph (Ontario). These complaints will be dealt with in a separate report, which we expect to issue by the end of this fiscal year.

By May 31, 2012, we had responded to all communications received during the election. Apart from those files related to improper telephone calls, only two files remained open.

Issues for which there is no offence, or insufficient information

At times, communications made to the Commissioner during the election reflected matters that were of concern to electors but that did not necessarily relate to prohibitions under the Act. In fact, in 52 percent of the cases, the complaints related to issues or conduct for which there is no corresponding prohibition or offence. This includes, for example, complaints regarding the particular content of partisan advertising, the broadcasting of interviews of party leaders on election day or instances in which electors thought that the media expressed a partisan bias. In other cases, complaints were made without sufficient factual elements to permit or warrant an investigation. In all cases, unless the complaint was anonymous, complainants were contacted. If no further factual elements were provided, the file was closed.

Areas of public complaint or concern


More than half of the complaints received related to advertising and communications (including matters for which there is no prohibition under the Act). In this category, by far the most significant area of complaint was the failure of candidates' election advertisements to include a mention about the authorization of the official agent, as required by law (173 complaints). In most cases, the failure to comply with the legal requirement was rectified immediately upon the intervention of the Commissioner's Office. In one case, a compliance agreement was entered. In many cases, however, the mention of the authorization is there but is so small as to be difficult to read. In these cases, there is technically no contravention of the Act and little that the Commissioner can do.

Premature transmission of election results

During the election, considerable public attention was drawn to the issue of premature transmission of election results (section 329) and its applicability to social media communications. The uncertainty in this regard related primarily to the fact that the prohibition set out in section 329 is on the transmission of the results to "the public," whereas various social media can be used to communicate to specific individuals and closed groups, including very large groups, as well as to an open audience.

We received 33 complaints about the premature transmission of election results, including one complaint against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for the premature disclosure of results on its national television broadcast. As reported in the media, the complaint was dismissed in the absence of evidence that the disclosure had been intentional; this is an essential element of the offence in the Act. The Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 41st General Election of May 2, 2011 recommended that the statutory restriction on the premature transmission of election results be removed. Since then, the government has announced that it supports this recommendation.

Time off to vote

Another topic on which the Commissioner received a significant number of communications related to the requirement for employers to provide their employees with three consecutive hours to vote. Employers do not always fully understand the requirements in the Act, resulting in questions or complaints to the Commissioner regarding the scope of an employer's obligations, including payment of salary. For the 41st general election, the Office of the Commissioner handled 37 communications relating to this issue. All of the files have now been closed.

In 15 cases, communication between the Commissioner's Office and the employer, clarifying the requirements under the Act, resolved the issue. In over half of the cases (20), the matter could not be pursued because the complainant requested anonymity or failed to provide information for follow-up, or only requested information. In one case, the communication was only with the complainant, who advised that the matter had been resolved. In another case, a small-business owner who claimed to have been unaware of the requirements to provide employees with time off to vote received a caution letter.


The experience of the 41st general election points to areas of potential improvement, both to our administrative process and to our legislative framework. We are currently implementing new file management systems to enable us to provide more complete and accurate information regarding compliance and enforcement issues and activities. This will facilitate reporting on the activities of the Commissioner while continuing to preserve the confidentiality of investigations.

With respect to legislative improvements, we need to look at communications with electors in light of incidents that took place during the 41st general election and that have broadly been referred to as "robocalls". This will be the subject of a forthcoming report to be published at the end of this fiscal year. We also intend to undertake a broader examination of the compliance and enforcement mechanisms in the Act to provide more flexibility in dealing with lesser matters, such as through the use of administrative monetary penalties, as well as to ensure that penalties for more serious breaches are commensurate with the offence. We will document our findings and recommendations in a separate and subsequent report before the next general election.

Footnote 15 These consisted of 3,258 advance polling sites, 15,260 ordinary polling sites and 4,865 sites visited by mobile polls.

Footnote 16 See Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 41st General Election of May 2, 2011, p. 49.

Footnote 17 Currently, the Chief Electoral Officer can only conduct pilot projects for the purpose of testing electronic voting processes.