Indigenous electors include First Nations, Inuit and Métis electors aged 18 and older who live on- and off-reserve. Each group has their own history and experience with voting in federal elections.
The Métis have always had the same legal rights as all other Canadians when it comes to voting in federal elections. With some exceptions for veterans, the Dominion Franchise Act of 1934 disqualified First Nations persons living on reserves and Inuit people from voting in federal elections. The Inuit had the vote fully restored to them in 1950, but had poor access to electoral services for many years afterwards. It was only in 1960 that Canada extended the vote to "Indian persons" unconditionally, which granted First Nations members the right to vote without forfeiting their Indian status.
In view of this recent history of disenfranchisement, research shows a gap in electoral participation. Indigenous electors vote in smaller numbers than non-Indigenous electors. In the 2015 general election, this gap narrowed. (42GE) However, our research shows that Indigenous electors still face several barriers to participating in federal elections.
Registration was an issue for Indigenous electors during the 2015 general election.
- The 2015 Survey of Electors (SOE) showed that while Indigenous electors were equally likely to be aware of the need to be registered in order to vote, slightly fewer Indigenous electors were aware of the Online Voter Registration Service (45%) than non-Indigenous electors (49%).
- A lower percentage of Indigenous electors received a voter information card in 2015 (82%), compared to 92% of non-Indigenous electors. (SOE)
- In 2015, 19% of Indigenous youth said it was somewhat or very difficult to find registration information, compared to 8% for all youth aged 18–34.
- Our administrative review of voting service interruptions on First Nations reserves in the 2015 general election showed that on reserves, lists of electors tended to be less complete and current than in other parts of the country. This is explained by the lower effectiveness of targeted revision in isolated areas, and the inability of the Online Voter Registration Service to process the non-standard address types found on many reserves.
Indigenous electors cited proving identification as an administrative barrier to voting in the 2015 general election.
- In 2015, 4.6 % of Indigenous electors living off-reserve said the main reason for not voting was not being able to prove their identity or address (LFS). This is compared to 2.7% for all non-voters in this survey.
- While a majority of Indigenous electors had no problems providing identification, as a group they were less likely to use a driver's licence than non-Indigenous electors (75% versus 91%). In the 2015 general election, 80% used a single piece of ID for both address and identity, compared to 93% of non-Indigenous electors. Fourteen percent of Indigenous electors said that they used their Indian status card as proof of identity. (SOE)
- The 2015 AFN online survey found that 21% of First Nations respondents selected ID requirements as a barrier to voting, a 14 percentage point increase from the previous election.
- While proving identity and address was easy for the vast majority of voters in the 2015 general election, 9% of young Indigenous voters found it difficult, compared to 5% of all young voters (aged 18–34).
Access to electoral services
First Nations electors living on-reserve faced more barriers to elector services than the rest of Canadian electors.
- Many First Nations communities are in remote areas and may not have the same access to information, advance polls or polling places in their communities as would more urban populations. The proportion of Indigenous youth who disagreed that voting was easy and convenient was 19%, compared to 11% of youth overall (aged 18–34). (NYS)
- In many polling places across the country, turnout was higher in 2015 than in previous elections; this led to lineups to register and vote. Some voters on reserves had to wait in an additional lineup before they lined up to register and vote because they had to get a Letter of Confirmation of Residence from their band office as their proof of address to vote.
Knowledge and interest
Survey results show that Indigenous electors tend to have slightly lower knowledge of the electoral process compared to non-Indigenous electors. This could be due, in part, to a somewhat lower interest in politics on the part of Indigenous electors.
- The SOE found that Indigenous electors' interest in politics increased between 2008 (62%), 2011 (69%) and 2015 (74%). In 2015, 74% of Indigenous respondents said they were interested in politics, compared to 82% for the overall population (SOE).
- First Nations electors who responded to the AFN online survey cited lack of information (15%), unclear information (6%) and lack of knowledge of federal politics (16%) as barriers to voting for First Nations electors.
- In 2015, a higher proportion of Indigenous youth said politics and government were never discussed at home (31%), compared to youth overall (23%). (NYS)
- In 2015, when asked knowledge questions about politics, 30% of Indigenous youth correctly answered four or five questions out of five, compared to 43% of overall youth. (NYS)
Belonging and trust
Some Indigenous electors feel that the federal electoral system is not relevant to them and are more likely to express lower trust in federal elections.
- The AFN report looking at First Nations participation in the 2015 general election stated that many First Nations electors view Canadian federal electoral politics as reflective of a foreign system that has been imposed on them. In the 2015 AFN online survey, First Nations respondents cited the low relevancy (8%) and importance (5%) of federal politics as barriers to participation.
- Indigenous electors were significantly less likely to report having very high level of trust in the accuracy of results in their riding (48%) compared with non-Indigenous electors (67%). (SOE)
- In 2015, Indigenous electors (57%) were less likely to think that Elections Canada ran the election very fairly compared to non-Indigenous electors (68%). (SOE)
Did you know?
There is a difference between an elector and a voter. An elector is every Canadian citizen 18 years of age and over. A voter is a Canadian citizen who has voted.
Click here Information for Indigenous Voters to see the programs and services designed to address the barriers to voting that Indigenous electors face.
Go to Inspire Democracy to learn more about how Elections Canada and our network of stakeholder organizations are working together to address some of the barriers to getting involved with elections.