1. Context: Towards the 43rd General Election – Report on the 43rd General Election of October 21, 2019
This report describes the key aspects of the administration of the 43rd general election, from pre-election preparations by Elections Canada ("the agency") to the return of the writs and final results. The report also identifies a number of events and areas where there is a need for closer review and assessment. To that purpose, the agency continues to finalize work related to the 2019 general election and will publish a retrospective report in fall 2020 which will provide further analysis of the election based on surveys of electors, candidates, and regulated entities, as well as stakeholder feedback. Finally, a recommendations report focused on suggested legislative changes will be presented to parliamentarians in the fall of 2020.
In order to plan for the 2019 general election, Elections Canada took into account several factors including the challenges faced during the 2015 election, the new legislative landscape and the evolving electoral security environment.
A look back at the challenges of the 2015 general election
The 2015 general election had the highest voter turnout in 20 years. The agency also continued to see an upward trend of more electors voting prior to election day. Advance poll voting increased by 74 percent, with some 3 million more electors using that voting option than in the 2011 election. This high turnout combined with complex administrative requirements at advance polls resulted in electors in many urban ridings experiencing long lineups and delays.
Historic voter turnout among Indigenous electors also marked the 2015 general election with 62 percent of electors living on reserve voting, a 14 percent increase from the 2011 general election. There were some challenges. Following reports of ballot shortages in some Indigenous communities on election day, the agency conducted a full administrative review. It concluded that 5 out of 14 polling places experienced a voting service interruption due to ballot shortages, which ultimately resulted in 13 electors in one polling place being unable to vote. The review also found that a combination of low registration rates and high turnout rates in these communities, and the formula used to allocate ballots to polling locations, all contributed to the ballot shortages.
While data suggests that 99 percent of electors were satisfied with the location of their polling place in 2015, the agency was aware, through the feedback it received, that some polling places, particularly in certain rural ridings, could have been more conveniently located.
Field worker experience
Feedback provided by returning officers and field liaison officers following the 2015 general election indicated that improvements to the collaboration between personnel at Elections Canada headquarters and those working in the field in each of the country's 338 electoral districts were required. Returning officers and field liaison officers recommended that more experienced headquarters staff be assigned to support them during elections, that communications to field workers be improved and better coordinated and that business processes and systems be better integrated and updated to reduce the administrative burden.
Returning officers and field liaison officers also suggested streamlining services to electors, especially procedures at advance polls, improving support to ease recruitment challenges, offering more and simpler hands-on and practical training to field workers, simplifying election materials to help improve compliance with procedures at the polls, and improving working conditions.
Many of the recommendations made by field staff were supported by the evidence gathered through the first independent audit of poll workers' performance that followed the 2015 election. The audit report recommended a number of administrative and legislative changes to improve compliance with procedures, including:
- modernizing the electoral process and some of its automated aspects
- exploring opportunities for streamlining procedures at advance polls and special procedures
- enhancing the existing training program for field workers so that enough time is spent on special procedures
A new legislative landscape
Based on the experience of the 2015 election, the former Chief Electoral Officer made recommendations for changes to the Canada Elections Act in September 2016. Many of these proposed changes were included in Bill C-76, which ultimately received royal assent on December 13, 2018. Given the closeness to the fixed election date, while all provisions of the Act came into force no later than June 13, 2019, the Chief Electoral Officer brought some provisions of the new legislation into force as soon as the agency was operationally ready to do so in early 2019.
In particular, several significant changes affecting political entities and electors had to be implemented.
Changes impacting political entities
- new regulated pre-election period
- expanded third-party regime to capture a broader range of activities
- requirement for digital platforms to maintain a registry for political advertising
Changes related to services to electors
- Canadians living abroad could vote regardless of how long they have been living abroad as a result of a Supreme Court of Canada decision and of legislative changes brought by Bill C-76
- modified rules for members of the Canadian Armed Forces
- modified voter identification rules, including the use of the voter information card as a proof of address when used with another accepted piece of identification
Most of these changes are discussed throughout this report.
A changing electoral security environment
The 2019 general election took place in a security environment that had changed considerably since the 42nd general election in 2015. Canadians witnessed instances of electoral interference in other countries, whether through influence campaigns, disinformation, or cyberattacks perpetrated by foreign and domestic actors. Malicious actors targeted various aspects of the electoral process in other democracies: the digital information ecosystem, political entities, election management bodies and others. Several experts warned that Canada was not immune to these threats in the lead-up to the 2019 election.
In preparation for the 2019 election, Elections Canada made significant investments in its information technology infrastructure and improved its security. In doing so Elections Canada collaborated with a number of partners, in particular the Communications Security Establishment.
In January 2018, the Government of Canada announced a number of measures to safeguard the 2019 general election, reflecting a whole-of-government approach involving the Privy Council Office, national security agencies, the National Security and Intelligence Advisor, Global Affairs Canada, Public Safety Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage. New measures included the creation of the Security and Intelligence Threats to Elections Task Force and of the Critical Election Incident Public Protocol, a group of five senior civil servants who would notify Canadians of serious electoral interference during the elections period.
Because of its independence from government, Elections Canada was not part of the task force, but in parallel to the government-led initiatives, the agency took several measures to strengthen its security posture, notably through improved information technology infrastructure and security awareness training. Elections Canada worked with the Commissioner of Canada Elections, national security agencies and other government departments to share information and plan incident response. For Elections Canada, this represented an unprecedented level of collaboration with other departments and agencies.
Canada's federal electoral process is robust, protected by several safeguards, and relies on paper ballots marked and counted by hand in front of witnesses. Canadians' trust in Elections Canada and the electoral process has historically remained high, though some groups—youth, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, people with less knowledge of the electoral process—have lower levels of trust. Overall trust cannot be taken for granted. Serious interference could affect election administration and results, and actual or perceived threats to election security could erode trust. Inaccurate information about the electoral process, regardless of where it originated, could affect public participation and confidence.
Priorities for the 2019 General Election
With the benefit of a fixed election date, Elections Canada was able to undertake early planning and engagement ahead of the 2019 general election. Based on the context outlined above, Elections Canada had established a number of priorities in preparing for the election:
- Streamlining and optimizing the voting process to improve compliance and to reduce wait times, especially at advance polls.
- Reducing electors' travel time to polling locations, particularly in rural areas.
- Improving the quality of the National Register of Electors with a particular focus on increasing registration rates among some electors groups, most notably youth and Indigenous electors.
- Offering better support to returning officers by engaging them on an ongoing basis between electoral events and providing them with better tools and support.
- Improving the agency's security posture by:
- strengthening election systems
- offering security training for headquarters and field staff
- positioning Elections Canada as the authoritative source of information on registration and voting
- combatting disinformation and misinformation around the electoral process
The agency's work in these areas will be further explained throughout this report.