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Facilitating First Nation Voter Participation for the 42nd Federal General Election

2. Methodology

The AFN began its work by validating existing assumptions about First Nations' participation in federal GEs. This analysis used available data on First Nation voter turnout in federal GEs as well as existing national and international literature on barriers to voting experienced by Indigenous peoples. This first step helped identify the challenge(s) that required a solution.

Once the challenge(s) were identified, the AFN engaged in both quantitative and qualitative research to identify and quantify barriers for First Nation electors in each federal electoral district (FED) across the country. This work resulted in the calculation of a First Nation Barriers to Voting Index (BVI), Footnote 6 which supported AFN targeted outreach of First Nation communities.

The third step in this work included developing outreach options and key messaging. This formed the basis for the bulk of the work delivered by the AFN under the terms of its contract with EC. The AFN and EC engaged in an extensive dialogue to ensure the non-partisan nature of the work.

The final step included developing a way to help measure the impacts of AFN outreach activities. A First Nation Federal Election Focus Group, online surveys and the final report all form a part of this step.

The methodology used by the AFN during the project can be divided into several distinct areas: identifying the problem, creating a list of barriers to voting, developing the research approach, and creating outreach options and messaging.

2.1 Identifying the Problem

Research undertaken by EC following the 2011 GE showed that on-reserve First Nation electors participate in federal GEs at a much lower rate than the general Canadian population. The reasons for the difference in voter turnout (as high as 17% Footnote 7) are not easily quantified and addressed. Observation and experience suggests that significant barriers exist for First Nation electors who wish to participate in the federal voting process, but identifying and tracking these barriers remains a challenge.

The primary goal of this contract was to ensure that any First Nation person who wanted to participate in the federal GE would have the information they required to be ready to vote and that their communities could connect with EC to address any barriers to participation. As a result, the early identification of existing barriers and the development of potential solutions formed a critical part of this project.

2.2 Literature Review on Barriers to Voting

The AFN Literature Review on Barriers to Voting used available national and international sources to help create an initial list of barriers to voting faced by Aboriginal electors.

The initial list of barriers laid the groundwork for a report on priority FEDs and the AFN Report on Barriers to Prioritize Outreach, and it formed much of the basis for the AFN outreach plan.

The AFN literature review groups existing barriers to voting into broad thematic categories: language, age, identification, geography, political, socio-economic status and knowledge. Additional or different categories could be used, including culture/cultural and Internet connectivity. Footnote 8

2.2.1 Six Barriers to Voting

Taking into account the available data sources, as well as the scope of the contract, the AFN literature review identified six barriers that could impact First Nation electoral participation in Canadian federal GEs:

  1. Language – When the primary language spoken in a First Nation community is not one that is supported by the electoral process.
  2. Socio-economic status – Lower education and income levels have an impact on voting. Footnote 9
  3. Geography – Many First Nation communities are isolated and may not have the same access to information, advance polls or polling sites in their communities as would other more urban populations.
  4. Age – Youth (aged 18–24) are less likely to vote, based on survey and research findings. Footnote 10
  5. Information – There is a lack of culturally appropriate information available for many First Nation electors. Footnote 11
  6. Identification – The voter identification requirements may be prohibitive for many First Nation electors.

2.2.2 First Nation Voter Participation Statistics

Research consistently shows that First Nation electors vote in federal GEs at lower rates than the national average.

In a 2012 report, EC examined voter participation rates on First Nation reserves, finding that on-reserve voter participation (44%) was 17 percentage points lower than the national average (61.4 %) between 2004 and 2011. Footnote 12 These numbers are generally reflective of historical trends. In addition, there is some evidence that First Nation voter participation has been declining since the franchise was extended to all First Nation citizens in 1960. Footnote 13

EC does not require electors to disclose demographic information at the polls, so the accurate tracking of First Nation participation rates in federal GEs can be challenging.

To date, two approaches have typically been used to determine First Nation voter participation rates. The first approach is the survey method. The strength of the survey method is that it is better able to explore the reasons behind voting behaviour. It is also able to cross geographic boundaries in ways that other methods cannot. The weakness of this method is that it has difficulty accounting for the many differences among First Nations across Canada due to a lack of scale.

The second approach measures the number of votes cast at polling stations located on First Nation reserves and compares this number to the number of registered electors on the reserve. This approach has the benefit of a much larger sample size, but it is not able to account for First Nations who voted off reserve, nor is it able to differentiate between First Nation and non–First Nation electors who cast a ballot on reserve.

Perhaps the greatest challenge inherent in both of the methods described above relates to the determination of an appropriate baseline for comparison. EC uses registered electors rather than eligible electors as its baseline (to be an eligible voter in a GE, you must be a Canadian citizen and 18 years old on the day of the election). As of 2014, 92.4% of eligible Canadians were registered. Footnote 14 Specifying the proportion of eligible First Nation electors on the voters list is difficult given the lack of data available. It is expected that this number is much lower among potential First Nation electors, and, as a result, it represents a misleading baseline when determining First Nation voter participation.

2.3 The Research Approach

The AFN's research approach to this project was outlined in an initial AFN Research Plan and the SOW. The primary goal of the research plan was to identify barriers to voting and key stakeholders for AFN outreach and then to provide some measurement for the impact of the project. There are 634 First Nations in Canada, with a population of approximately 650,000 citizens. To ensure effective use of resources, and to focus the AFN's outreach efforts, it was deemed necessary to develop a priority list of FEDs based on the BVI.

The research approach had three primary component parts.

  1. Report on First Nation Population by Federal Electoral District (FED)
  2. Report on Priority Federal Electoral Districts (FEDs)
  3. Final Project Report

2.3.1 Report on First Nation Population

The primary goal of the report on First Nation population by FED was to identify an initial list of priority FEDs for project outreach activities.

To accomplish this, the report used both spatial analysis (geographic information systems) and a variety of Canadian Aboriginal population data sets to create a comprehensive list of all the FEDs with associated population data.

The following data sets were transposed and used by the AFN throughout the analysis:

  • Aboriginal and First Nation population data from the 2011 National Household Survey, Statistics Canada
  • Registered Indian Population from the 2013 Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Canada (INAC, now known as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada) Indian Registry
  • List of First Nation communities from the 2014–15 INAC Community Database

Given the nature of the project, the AFN selected the Registered Indian Population, aged 18+, as the data set that best reflects the target audience for AFN outreach activities.

The AFN identified four main criteria to determine priority FEDs. The first two criteria looked at the on-reserve registered Indian population (RIP) that was 18+ in each FED and established two base thresholds.

  1. 2013 RIP 18+ on-reserve population ≥ 4% of the total population in a FED
  2. 2013 RIP 18+ on-reserve population ≥ 2,000 people in a FED

These two criteria established an initial list of 39 FEDs. The on-reserve RIP 18+ population was significant because the project was predominantly focused on First Nation citizens located on reserve.

The third and fourth criteria examined FEDs based on significant RIP 18+ population and First Nation communities across FEDs.

  • 2013 RIP 18+ ≥ 8,500 across an FED
  • Number of First Nation communities ≥ 10 across a FED

Using these four criteria for analysis, the AFN identified a preliminary list of 43 priority FEDs; this would incorporate 497 (or 78%) First Nation communities and an estimated 524,318 (or 81%) First Nation citizens living both on reserve and off reserve.

2.3.2 Report on Priority Federal Electoral Districts

The purpose of the report on priority FEDs was to identify a final prioritized list of FEDs and First Nations, which would be used to focus the AFN's outreach efforts. The priority list of FEDs built on the work completed in the report on First Nation population by FED and used the list of barriers impacting First Nation electors identified in the AFN literature review to create the First Nation BVI.

The first step was to quantify and standardize each barrier identified by the AFN literature review using available data sources. In many cases, such as with socio-economic barriers, identifying and quantifying multiple data sources was not possible, so a proxy was used. In the case of socio-economic status, educational attainment was the data source used to help measure that particular barrier as education has been shown to be a key indicator in socio-economic status.

Those barriers that the AFN were able to quantify are listed below; associated data sources are identified in parentheses.

  • Language (First Nation languages spoken)
  • Socio-economic status (educational attainment)
  • Geography (access to polling stations)
  • Age (2013 RIP aged 18 to 25)
  • Information (access to a community relations officer for Aboriginal electors, or CRO-A)

The identified barriers, when standardized and calculated on an index ranging from 0 to 1, were applied to each FED, along with the AFN's population analysis, to produce a comprehensive BVI score for each FED.

The report on priority FEDs ranked the 43 FEDs identified through the AFN population analysis. Of these, 32 FEDs were considered a high priority for AFN outreach, while an additional 11 FEDs were identified for additional AFN outreach.

2.4 AFN Outreach Options and Messaging

Identifying barriers to voting and the priority FEDs represented the initial phase of the project, focusing the AFN's outreach. Working with EC to help identify solutions and key messaging for AFN outreach and communication was the next step.

2.4.1 Outreach Solutions

As noted in the Project Background section above, the contract was the result of a long-standing AFN-EC dialogue that focused on providing First Nation electors with information on voting as well as examining barriers to voting. AFN research highlighted several barriers to voting that are consistently identified in the literature. These barriers were one of the reasons that the AFN and EC contracted to work together during past elections. The changes under Bill C-23 – the Fair Elections Act – contributed to the increased need to focus on barriers to voting during the 42nd GE.

Many First Nation electors – particularly those living on reserve and in remote locations – lack the identification required to prove their home/civic address. Many First Nation communities do not use a traditional civic address designation for their domicile; instead, they rely on a Post Office (PO) Box, General Delivery or rural route designation for their incoming mail. This type of designation does not meet the requirements for proving home/civic address under the CEA. The requirements under the CEA to prove home address creates a critical barrier for some First Nation electors.

Vouching, the process of having a registered elector with the proper identification vouch, or attest to, the home address of other electors who lack the proper identification, has been widely used in First Nation communities in past elections. Bill C-23 removed vouching from the CEA and replaced it with a more limited option called "swearing an oath." Not only did it remove this critical tool used previously by some First Nation electors, but changing the name had the potential to create unnecessary confusion for First Nation electors.

In addition to the changes already described, Bill C-23 ended a pilot program, which was used in the 41st GE, that enabled First Nation registered electors to use their voter information card (VIC) as proof of residence. The VIC provided an added incentive and tool for First Nation electors. It provided an incentive to register in advance for voting day because only those electors who registered in advance received a VIC. It also enabled those First Nations who were on the National Register of Electors (the Register), but who lacked proof of residence, to more easily meet the identification requirements.

These changes to the CEA, combined with existing identification barriers, had the potential to make it far more challenging for First Nation citizens to prove their home address for the purposes of registration and voting.

Meeting the new, more stringent identification requirements was a critical problem, one that was defined by the AFN as the most significant barrier to First Nation participation in the 42nd GE. The challenge itself was two-pronged in that many First Nation electors living on reserve do not have the required identification documents, and/or the identification they do have usually does not include a home/civic address.

2.4.2 Key Messaging and Communication

The AFN and EC identified the Letter of Confirmation of Residence as the best vehicle to address these two challenges. The Letter of Confirmation of Residence is a form letter, signed by a designated Band authority, attesting to the named elector's home address. EC considers First Nation Band administrators a designated authority and thus accepted a Letter of Confirmation of Residence signed by a First Nation Band administrator as proof of address. To ensure clarity, and to speak to the unique challenges facing First Nation electors, the AFN developed a First Nations–specific Letter of Confirmation of Residence. Footnote 15 The AFN also developed supporting information, including a YouTube "how to" video for both First Nation electors and First Nation Band administrators.

Developing and delivering the Letter of Confirmation of Residence formed a central part of AFN messaging, but a series of other issues were also included.

First Nation electors, particularly those living on reserve or those with a high ranking on the BVI, were viewed as less likely to have access to all the available information about the changes brought about by Bill C-23. Ensuring that First Nation electors were aware of how to mitigate any barriers to voting formed a critical part of AFN messaging and communication efforts.

To help First Nation electors who could experience challenges during the 42nd GE, the AFN developed fact sheets highlighting critical information, including changes to the identification and vouching rules and the availability of the Letter of Confirmation of Residence as a potential solution to identification barriers. In addition to the fact sheets, the AFN provided technical oversight to EC in the development of a handbook for First Nation Band administrators and leadership. This handbook described the ways in which First Nation electors could register and vote, and it included specific references to the Letter of Confirmation of Residence as well as potential solutions relating to other potential barriers.

For those First Nation electors interested in a comprehensive review of potential challenges and solutions, the AFN developed a series of technical bulletins. All products were delivered through existing AFN networks and channels, including the AFN website, AFN social media (Facebook, Twitter) and broadcast faxes as well as through other general AFN outreach activities (in-person outreach and AFN call centre). A comprehensive review of AFN communication outputs appears in the Findings and Results section of this report.

While outlining the identification barriers and corresponding solutions was critical in the development of key messages, it was not the exclusive focus of AFN messaging.

Additional focus was placed on ensuring that First Nation communities were aware that they could request a polling station for their community and that EC programs were available, such as the CRO-A program and the Aboriginal Elder and Youth Program (AEYP).

2.5 Additional Messaging

While the AFN's research efforts and past experience contributed to the key messaging that was developed for the 42nd GE, data gathered through a pre-election First Nation focus group and survey also played a critical role and helped in the refinement of the messaging.

First Nation electors are often vulnerable to geographic barriers because of the remote location of many reserves. This can lead to situations where First Nation electors have to travel hours to access their designated polling location. Expecting First Nation citizens who already experience a high number of barriers to voting to then travel long distances to cast their ballot is unreasonable and has the potential to further alienate electors.

One concern that the AFN and EC identified during the course of the pre-GE consultations was that First Nation reserves either did not have a polling location or did not have an adequate number of polling locations to ensure that electors had easy access. There was an additional concern that First Nation Band administrators might not be aware that they could request a polling station from their respective returning officer (RO). Each FED has an RO who is responsible for the administrative operation of a GE, and this includes selecting and providing for polling locations throughout the FED. If a First Nation has not previously had a polling location because they do not have a substantial population base, or if they do not ask, it is reasonable to assume that an RO will not place a polling location in that community. It is worth noting that some FEDs encompass vast areas and that the potential for an RO to have contact with – or even know of – every First Nation community in their FED is unlikely. While EC has several initiatives in place to mitigate this reality, such as having assistant ROs to support the RO in a respective FED, more needs to be done to address the challenges faced by small First Nation communities that exist in geographically large FEDs.

A key element of the AFN messaging was to ensure that First Nation electors and First Nation Band administrators were aware that they could call their RO and request a polling location in their community. This did not guarantee that the RO would provide one, but it would create upward pressure on the RO and hopefully make him or her aware of the need. It would also create a point of contact for a First Nation community interested in accessing EC programs and services such as the CRO-A program, the AEYP and targeted revision (i.e., registration of electors by EC field staff).

In addition to its messaging about polling locations, the AFN provided messaging to First Nation communities and electors about the availability of the EC Electoral Reminder Program (ERP). The CRO-A was a position created by EC to assist ROs in reaching out directly to First Nation communities. A CRO-A could assess local First Nation concerns and provide direct access to EC information. The AEYP was designed to provide a culturally sensitive experience to First Nation electors by placing a First Nation elder and/or youth in a polling location on voting day so that they could explain the voting process to First Nation electors, often in a traditional language.

The AFN also supported EC by providing information on registration and the online services that were available. While these topics were available, they did not form the core of AFN messaging. The new online registration system offered by EC was not considered functional for many First Nation electors, and it represented another barrier to voting. The AFN identified three primary reasons for this. First, the online registration system requires a driver's licence to register online or to update information if someone is already registered. Footnote 16 As outlined in the Literature Review on Barriers to Voting section of this report, First Nation electors often face challenges meeting identification requirements. Second, many First Nation electors face connectivity concerns. This can be related to geographical location and/or socio-economic status, two additional barriers noted previously. Third, the AFN found that, in many cases, focusing on registration as a critical step to voting, whether it is through the online system, at a local EC office, at the polls or through some other method, serves to create a barrier to voting by emphasising a process that can be perceived as both difficult to access and confusing.

According to EC, over 25.3 million electors were registered in advance of the 42nd GE. There are a number of ways that an elector can be registered, including if they voted in a previous GE and if they did so by mail, online or at a local EC office. While specific pre-registration numbers for First Nation electors are not available, we can assume, based on past voter turnout rates, that it is significantly lower than those for the general Canadian population.

Registration is a necessary part of the voting process, and asking electors who are not already registered to do so in advance of voting days was a core EC message during the 42nd GE. However, while advance registration can be beneficial, particularly for those who are able to meet the identification requirements easily, it also represents another step in the voting process.

The 41st GE had allowed First Nation electors to use the VIC as a form of identification proving residency. This created an incentive for pre-registration that Bill C-23 undermined. Without the incentive of using the VIC as a form of identification, it was believed that AFN messaging for First Nation electors should not focus on creating this additional step to voting by emphasizing advance registration. The AFN and EC agreed that the focus for First Nation electors should be on knowing the "bottom line" of what was required to register and vote and that the focus should be on describing voting as a single process that takes place on voting day, rather than as two steps (registration and then voting).

Information on pre-registration was made available, however, for those First Nation electors or communities that expressed an interest in the topic during AFN outreach activities.

In the future, steps should be taken by EC and its partners to create an administrative and technical dialogue with First Nation communities well in advance of a federal GE. This would allow for more realistic timelines and hopefully lead to the efficient mobilization of the resources and capacity required if First Nation electors are to enjoy the benefits of pre-registration and other EC programs. Further, First Nation electors, particularly youth, indicated that EC should create messaging specifically tailored to First Nation electors that better reflects their cultural values and experiences as electors.

2.6 AFN Outreach Plan

The AFN outreach plan was developed in coordination with EC and outlined in a comprehensive proposal report before the 42nd GE. The outreach plan had four component parts, identifying:

  1. Key stakeholders to be reached through outreach activities
  2. A calendar identifying key dates and outreach opportunities
  3. Specific outreach activities
  4. Evaluative tools

The first step in developing the AFN outreach plan was to identify key stakeholder groups for targeted outreach using both the SOW and the results of AFN research.

The contract SOW identified First Nation electors and First Nation Band administrators as the priority stakeholders for the project. To assist in prioritizing these two broad categories, three key stakeholder groups were identified.

  1. First Nation Band administrators
  2. First Nation electors who request information on where, when and the ways to register and vote in the 42nd GE
  3. First Nation electors in a FED who encounter one or more barriers to their ability to participate (vote) in the 42nd GE

Once key stakeholders were identified, the AFN developed a shared outreach calendar of First Nation events that could provide a venue for both AFN and EC outreach activities. The calendar included event title, date, location, type of event, anticipated participants, the most appropriate outreach activity and the materials required.

In addition, the AFN worked with EC to develop a list of activities to be delivered. AFN outreach activities included in-person attendance at events across Canada and an AFN call centre. The AFN call centre will be discussed in detail below.

The AFN outreach plan proposed that up to 10 regional First Nation events would be selected from the AFN outreach calendar for in-person outreach between May 2015 and August 2015. The primary goal of the AFN in-person outreach was to deliver key messaging to First Nation electors and to listen to concerns and, where possible, identify solutions. Events were selected based on availability, AFN priority research (location of First Nation event) and the criteria used for identifying key stakeholders.

Two primary in-person outreach products were developed for delivery: an AFN information booth and an AFN presentation. The AFN information booth provided key messaging and selected EC products, and it gave AFN staff an opportunity to connect with First Nation electors. Likewise, an AFN presentation was developed to deliver key messaging to First Nation electors and was delivered on request.

In addition to the key messaging, AFN in-person outreach activities delivered information about EC's ERP materials and programs, including EC online services, EC language services, the AEYP, the CRO-A program and potential EC job opportunities.

Critical to AFN outreach was the development of tools to assist in measuring the impacts of the various activities. To this end, the AFN proposed to develop and implement an AFN focus group and a series of surveys that would contribute to the evaluation of AFN and EC outreach activities. The AFN focus group and outreach survey will be discussed in detail in the following section.

While AFN outreach was effective at ensuring that EC messaging was present at key regional First Nation events, future outreach work should focus on more effectively leveraging First Nation social media networks and local organizations in addition to maintaining some level of in-person outreach at large events.

2.7 AFN Focus Group and Outreach Survey

The goal of the AFN focus group, outlined in an AFN focus group plan, was to facilitate an enriched conversation with First Nation electors about Canadian GEs. In addition, the AFN focus group was developed with the intention of creating a control group that would be used to measure the impact of AFN and EC outreach activities during the 42nd GE. As a result, the focus group met both before and after the 42nd GE.

As a second initiative, the AFN developed an online outreach survey that was shared through AFN networks and social media channels both before and after the 42nd GE. The objective was to attempt to measure the impact of outreach activities, address identified gaps in data when it comes to First Nation participation in Canadian GEs and gain further insight into identified barriers to voting for First Nation electors.

2.7.1 AFN Focus Group

The AFN focus group met both before and after the 42nd GE. The initial focus group took place on July 6, 2015, in Montreal, QC, and consisted of a cross-section of 20 eligible First Nation electors. The number of participants selected was based on a number of factors, including interest in federal politics, availability, statistical relevance and budget limitations. The participants represented the diversity of First Nation peoples broadly, including by age (18–75), gender (male or female), region (eastern, western, central, northern regions of Canada) and residence (on or off reserve). In addition, specific requirements for selection included:

  • Being a First Nation eligible elector
  • Able to attend both focus group sessions

The second focus group took place on December 7, 2015, in Gatineau, QC. Given that one goal of the focus group was to measure change, the same 20 participants were required to attend both focus group sessions as part of the focus group participation contract.

Both focus group sessions used a similar approach to gather quantitative and qualitative data. Participants were required to fill out a detailed AFN focus group survey in advance of each session. The first survey was designed to both establish baseline information regarding the participants' awareness of the ways in which they could register and vote in the 42nd GE and to gather information about the participants' experiences during federal GEs generally. The second survey was filled out following the 42nd GE and was similar to the first survey to allow for comparative analysis.

In addition to having participants complete a survey, the focus group gave participants the opportunity to explore four questions using a group interview method. The questions were selected from the AFN focus group survey and adapted for the interview method.

Pre-election AFN Focus Group: July 6, 2015

Question 1: What is your history of voting in past federal elections, and do you intend to vote in the upcoming federal election?

Question 2: What types of ID have you used to vote in past federal elections?

Question 3: What kinds of experiences have you had when voting in a federal election?

Question 4: Have you faced any barriers when considering voting in a past federal election or during the election period?

Post-election AFN Focus Group: December 7, 2015

Question 1: Did you vote in the 2015 federal election? If you voted, how would you describe your experience during the voting process?

Question 2: If you voted in the last federal election, what ID did you use at the polling station? Did you have any problems using the ID that you had?

Question 3: How aware were you of the AFN or Elections Canada voter information campaigns during the last election? Did you and/or others find them useful?

Question 4: Do you have suggestions for the AFN on work they should be engaged in for the next federal election?

Both AFN focus group sessions gave participants the opportunity to ask questions, express concerns and share experiences. The second focus group session, in particular, provided the AFN with the opportunity to engage participants in a discussion about best practices and next steps.

Focus group feedback made it clear that participants appreciated and found value in this forum. Several participants pointed out that information provided in the focus group on the ways to register and vote proved critical to informing their own network of First Nation electors. In addition, the focus group provided AFN staff with an opportunity to both test key messaging and gather a broader understanding of First Nation voter experiences. There is definite utility in continuing to actively engage First Nation electors and to seek their feedback on Canadian federal GEs.

2.7.2 AFN Outreach Survey

The AFN developed and delivered two online outreach surveys for the project. The surveys were conducted before and immediately following the 42nd GE. Both surveys were shared as broadly as possible using AFN networks and social media channels.

The first (pre-election) survey was conducted from August 1 to October 19, 2015. The second (post-election) survey was conducted from October 22 through to December 1, 2015.

The initial survey sought to measure the knowledge of each participant regarding a variety of electoral topics that included:

  • Voting history
  • Ways to register and vote
  • Barriers to voting

The second online survey mirrored the first, while also focusing on each participant's experience during the 42nd GE. Taken together, the AFN focus group and the outreach surveys function as a tool for measuring the impacts of AFN and EC outreach efforts. In addition, both activities provided valuable data on First Nation experiences during Canadian federal elections.

The results of the AFN outreach surveys are detailed in Section 3.1.4.

2.8 AFN Call Centre

Central to AFN outreach efforts was the AFN call centre. The AFN had staffed and operated a call centre under previous EC contracts, and it has been considered by the AFN and EC as forming a critical part of past outreach efforts by helping establish a direct connection with First Nation communities.

The primary purpose of the AFN call centre was to directly connect with First Nation Band administrators. It was to ensure that they were aware of the identification requirements for their citizens who may want to vote and to provide them with access to the Letter of Confirmation of Residence and information on how to issue it to their citizens.

In past elections, the AFN call centre focused on providing information only. For the 42nd GE, the AFN and EC expanded the scope of the call centre in an attempt to create a dialogue with First Nation communities to improve the available data on the types of barriers First Nations face and the types of information about addressing these barriers to which they have easy access. To this end, call centre staff were expected to provide AFN key messaging (changes to voter identification, Letter of Confirmation of Residence) and then, depending on the level of interest expressed by the respondent, explore a series of additional topics, including:

  • How to get in touch with their RO for services
  • How to get a polling station in their community
  • Employment opportunities with the AEYP
  • Registering at the polling station, including details for off-reserve members
  • How to swear an oath
  • Voting at advance polls or by mail

AFN call centre staff were also able to follow up on the phone with information sent by e-mail, including:

  • AFN Federal Election Frequently Asked Questions
  • AFN Template Letter of Confirmation of Residence (for individuals and for Band administrators)
  • AFN Communications Fact Sheet (two posters)
  • AFN Bulletin on the AFN Open Forum
  • EC Voter Identification Sheet

The call centre ran from mid-September to mid-October 2015. Eighteen AFN call centre staff were assigned various regions across Canada. Training was provided on how to use the scripts as talking points, enter data into Google Survey for weekly reporting to EC and updating Excel spreadsheets (call logs) to keep track of calls.

A broadcast fax was sent in mid-September to notify First Nations regarding outreach, and calls started coming in immediately after. There was a debriefing with AFN staff a few days later on first impressions and to address any challenges. Initially, AFN staff indicated that they were experiencing challenges connecting with Band administrators. Several attempts were often required to successfully reach the appropriate person. Once a connection was made, Band administrators often preferred to receive information by e-mail rather than by phone.

Priority calls to 497 First Nations were placed between mid-September and mid-October. The deadline for the first round of 497 priority calls was September 25 (which was subsequently extended to mid-October), with a one-week buffer before starting the second round of calls to the remaining 143 communities (to further First Nations not on the priority list).

The AFN call centre, as in past years, proved to be an important tool for connecting First Nation communities to core EC messaging and information about the ways to register and vote. In addition, the AFN call centre provided AFN with an opportunity to gather additional data on the experience of First Nation electors, including better data on the barriers they face.

Future iterations of the AFN call centre should make additional efforts to identify the correct point person in a First Nation community. This should be done well in advance of the federal GE so that First Nation communities can respond to the unique challenges they face and better ensure that their membership can fully participate in Canadian federal elections if they so choose.

Footnote 6 In previous reports, the AFN refers to the First Nation Barriers to Voting Index as the FNBV. We have decided, for simplicity, to change the acronym to BVI.

Footnote 7 See

Footnote 8 Assembly of First Nations, "AFN Literature Review on Barriers to Voting," 2015, 9.

Footnote 9 Harell, A., Panagos, D. and Matthews, J.S. (2013). "Explaining Aboriginal Turnout in Federal Elections: Evidence from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba." Aboriginal Policy Research Studies, 21. Retrieved from:

Footnote 10 Fournier, P. and Loewen, P. (2011). "Aboriginal Electoral Participation in Canada." Elections Canada, 7. Retrieved from:

Footnote 11 Examples would include information not provided in a First Nation language, or the information does not reflect a First Nation world view, further alienating First Nation electors.

Footnote 12 Bargiel.

Footnote 13 Fournier and Loewen, 15.

Footnote 14 See

Footnote 15 A copy of the First Nation–specific Letter of Confirmation of Residence can be found online at

Footnote 16 It is important to note that the vast majority of Canadian electors are registered for federal elections through a process other than signing up online or at the polls. Electors can choose to be added to the Register when they file federal income tax or if they have voted in past federal elections.