Electoral Integrity – Retrospective Report on the 44th General Election of September 20, 2021
A trusted election is one that is fair, secure, reliable and transparent. More than 100 years of expertise in electoral management has given Elections Canada a sound reputation in achieving the highest standards of accountability, integrity and security in the electoral process. Elections Canada has introduced the use of an electoral integrity framework to define the electoral integrity principles against which its programs and services can be measured and helps structure analysis and decision making to support consistent and rigorous application of the Canada Elections Act and achieve the agency's strategic vision.
A key indicator of Elections Canada's success in this area is the percentage of electors who had a positive perception of the agency's administration of the election. Overall, 90% of respondents in the 2021 National Electors Study had a positive perception of the administration of the 44th general election; in other words, they thought that Elections Canada had run the election fairly, and they trusted the accuracy of the election results. This is similar to the level obtained in 2019, when 91% of electors had a positive perception of the administration of the general election.
The independent audit of the performance of the duties and functions of election officers concluded that these officers had properly exercised the powers conferred on them on all days of advance polling and on election day and that they had properly performed the duties and functions required of them under the relevant sections of the Canada Elections Act. In addition, the audit concluded that the administrative controls established by Elections Canada, including manuals, training material and certificates and forms, were effective in supporting election officers in the exercise of their powers and the performance of their duties and functions in accordance with the Act.
As part of the preparations for the 44th general election, in addition to the expected outcomes from the Departmental Results Framework, Elections Canada identified a fourth outcome that it expected to achieve for Canadians:
- Canadians have confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.
Objective 4: Canadians have confidence in the integrity of the electoral process
As in every election, many legal, procedural and technological safeguards were in place to protect the secrecy of the vote and the integrity of the voting process. As noted above, 90% of electors had a positive perception of the administration of the general election in 2021. More information on the various players and procedures involved in protecting Canada's federal electoral system is available in the Election Integrity and Security section of the Elections Canada website.
Elections Canada paid careful attention to threats and worked within the bounds of its legal mandate to protect election security. Integrity risk assessments were conducted in preparation for the 44th general election as part of Elections Canada's approach to safeguarding electoral integrity. A number of assessments focused on proposed changes to the electoral process related to the pandemic; for example, the single-poll-worker staffing model, polling place selection, recruitment and proposed health and safety measures. Other assessments supported the agency's overall environmental awareness and facilitated the identification of mitigation and response strategies. These strategies were documented in the form of integrity response playbooks and tested in cross-agency tabletop exercises.
Monitoring the information environment
Ahead of the election, the agency developed a framework to counter inaccurate and misleading information. The framework defined processes and procedures to identify and address misinformation and disinformation on the voting process, whether the source of the information was domestic or foreign. By analyzing the information environment, Elections Canada was able to pre-emptively address inaccurate narratives related to the electoral process by implementing an integrity communications plan; this plan included adjusting all the agency's public communications, including its web content, to better address electors' potential integrity concerns and adding an integrity component to the Voter Information Campaign. For example, the agency created new web content that described its electoral safeguards and vote-counting procedures so that electors would understand all the measures that were in place to ensure the integrity of the process. The agency also created a suite of social media messages on various platforms, and these were shared widely at different times during the election period.
The agency, once again, developed an online repository of its official advertising and communications products; electors could verify the authenticity of information about the election by checking the repository. This effort, along with the agency's outreach and stakeholder-mobilization initiatives, served to reaffirm Elections Canada as the official source of information on the federal democratic process. According to the 2021 National Electors Study, 93% of electors agreed that Elections Canada was the most trusted source of information about the electoral process in 2021; a similar proportion in 2019—92% of electors—agreed.
Adjustments to special ballot processes
The agency implemented a range of measures to assist with the anticipated increase in demand for voting by special ballot, while maintaining the integrity of the electoral process. Some of the new measures included a new online application system, prepaid postage, a special information campaign and a ballot drop-off service at polling places. The procedures for validating and counting the special ballots were extended; as a result, the preliminary voting results took several days to complete to ensure that the necessary integrity protocols could be performed. To maintain confidence in the electoral process and results, Elections Canada was transparent and communicated early, and often, that the results would not be available on election night. For the first time, the agency invited observers to its processing centre in Ottawa to witness the count of special ballots to reinforce public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.
Elections Canada issued instructions under the Canada Elections Act and adjusted its own internal procedures to ensure that voting by special ballot remained accessible and secure. Some of these changes to the special ballot included:
|Scope of Elector Group||Returns||Changes to Standard Operating Procedures|
Special ballots from these groups were returned to, and counted by, ECHQ staff (i.e. at 440 Coventry Road).
The deadline for ECHQ to receive these special ballots was 6:00 p.m. (Ottawa time) on election day (September 20, 2021).
Special ballots from this group were returned to, and counted by, election officers at the local Elections Canada office in each electoral district.
The deadline for election officers to receive these special ballots was the close of polls on election day.
Counting begins on a date set by the Chief Electoral Officer; if no earlier date is set, this is five days before election day. During the 44th general election, counting started on the 11th day before election day (Friday, September 10, 2021)—to handle the expected increase in the number of special ballots received and to respect the pandemic-related health and safety protocols—and finished on the day after election day.
In this election, access to the 440 Coventry Road location was granted to representatives of political parties for the first time. They were thus able to observe the counting process for themselves.
Instructions issued under the Canada Elections Act allowed for electors who did not receive or could not use their special ballot voting kit to cancel their request and vote at their polling place on election day by completing a Voting Status Certificate.
Unlike the ballots received at ECHQ, those received at a local Elections Canada office cannot be counted until after the close of polls in that electoral district. During the 44th general election, the counting of local special ballots was deliberately delayed until at least the day after polling day to ensure that the necessary integrity checks could be performed.
Instructions issued under the Canada Elections Act allowed for designated ballot boxes to be made available at most polling places on election day to accept special ballots from local electors who could not return their ballot by mail.
Instructions issued under the Act allowed for electors who did not receive or could not use their special ballot voting kit to cancel their request and vote at their polling station on election day by completing a Voting Status Certificate.
All special ballots collected in the specially designated ballot boxes, and any Voting Status Certificates completed, were returned to the local Elections Canada office after the close of polls on polling day and the end of the count of regular ballots. This enabled staff to carry out the necessary verification steps before the counting of local special ballots could begin.
To maintain integrity, special ballots that did not meet the necessary criteria were set aside in accordance with the Act. A total of 1,068,543 special ballots were returned to Elections Canada. Of these, 99,988 were set aside, most of which arrived after the legal deadlines. An additional 106,695 special ballots were never returned to Elections Canada. More information on the counting of these votes can be found in the Special Ballot Report: 44th General Election.
Elections Canada collaborated with key security partners and with other federal organizations, such as the Communications Security Establishment, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Public Safety Canada, Global Affairs Canada, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency and Public Health Agency of Canada, to modernize and secure its information technology infrastructure, protect electoral services and systems, and improve its overall security posture. Elections Canada met regularly with these agencies and departments to share information; discuss roles, responsibilities and protocols under potential scenarios; plan communications; and detect and respond to any threats to the integrity and security of the election.
In addition, as part of its efforts to integrate security safeguards into its day-to-day business, the agency provided employees and election administrators with training on how to safeguard information and perform proper cyber hygiene. footnote 6
Finding: Canadians had confidence in the integrity of the electoral process.
Elections Canada will continue to monitor the environment for threats and refine mitigation and response activities. Ongoing enhancements to practices, procedures and guidelines will further contribute to the integrity and security of the electoral process. The agency's continuous improvement efforts will also enhance the existing systems and tools available for political entities to support transparency. Elections Canada commits to:
- Develop tools to support engagement and communication with local law enforcement agencies to further develop relationships and ensure an effective response to security threats.