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Administrative Review of Procedures for the Tracking and Handling of Shipments Containing Special Ballots at Elections Canada's Distribution Centre in Ottawa

1. Introduction

1.1. Background

During the 42nd general election, about 64,000 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) electors located at bases across Canada and in some 80 different countries were eligible to vote. Just over 29,000 CAF electors cast their votes through the Special Voting Rules (SVR) process. The operations of the CAF voting were generally successful.

In the case of a particular CAF unit located in Canada, CAF electors cast their votes and returned 247 special ballots to Elections Canada in Ottawa before the end of the voting period. Unfortunately, as a result of a handling error at Elections Canada's distribution centre, the package containing these special ballots was misplaced and, as a consequence, was not processed in time for the counting of the votes. The ballots were reported as late in the Report on the 42nd General Election of October 19, 2015.Footnote 1

The matter was brought to the attention of the Chief Electoral Officer in October 2016. At the time, consideration was given to whether the special ballots should be counted. The Chief Electoral Officer determined that the distribution of these special ballots across 139 electoral districts was such that, if counted, the ballots would not have changed the outcome of the election in any electoral district (a table of the ballot distribution can be found in Appendix A). On that basis, and because counting the ballots could compromise the secrecy of the vote, the Chief Electoral Officer decided not to count the ballots. However, he mandated that an administrative review be conducted to ensure that such an incident is prevented in the future. The Chief Electoral Officer immediately contacted the political parties that are entitled under subsection 183(1) of the Act to appoint special ballot officers, to inform them of the incident and of his decision. 

The scope of the review is to:

  1. Identify the procedures for sending, receiving and processing special ballots at the Elections Canada distribution centre.
  2. Critically examine the mechanisms for control and compliance with those procedures.
  3. Make recommendations to strengthen the effectiveness of the control mechanisms and develop new ones, as required.

The CEO's letter can be found in Appendix B.

1.2 Overview of the Report

This report is structured in the following manner: Section 2 contains two key findings of the administrative review. Section 3 contains a list of recommendations. Section 4 provides a brief overview of the SVR. The following sections describe the processes by which special ballots are issued and provided to electors (section 5); by which completed special ballots are returned to Elections Canada's distribution centre in Ottawa, Ontario (section 6); and by which special ballots are handled once they are received at the distribution centre (section 7). Section 8 discusses the governance framework applicable to the administration of the SVR and any incidents. The report ends with appendices that contain a distribution of ballots across electoral districts, a copy of the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate letter and a glossary of relevant terms.

1.3 Methodology

The information in this report comes from a number of documentary sources, including the review of reports, guides, process maps, briefing notes and post-mortems. The Electoral Integrity Office conducted 12 interviews with individuals involved in the incident and subject matter experts regarding the processes of the Alternative Voting Methods (AVM) directorate, including the Military Vote Coordinator's (MVC) team and the practices at Elections Canada's distribution centre (located in Ottawa), including details about the mailroom operations. The review took place in October and November 2016.

1.4 Special Considerations

This report should be read with the following considerations in mind:

  • The review focuses on the processes in place during a general election (not a by-election).
  • Given the time that has elapsed since the incident occurred and the turnover of staff in the AVM directorate, we were not able to interview all those who could have assisted in further clarifying details. Also, where the information was not documented or preserved, we were not able to clarify all the circumstances surrounding the incident.
  • Processes related to the registration of electors and to the counting of returned ballots are out of the scope of this review.

1.5 Electoral Calendar

This report makes reference to various SVR-related activities that occur at specific times during the electoral calendar. The following table is a high-level summary of key activities and the day of the electoral calendar on which they occur:

Days before polling day SVR-related event/activity
14 to 9 CAF vote
14 to 11 Special Voting Rules Expansion (SVRE)—SVR registration and voting on university campuses, at Friendship Centres, etc.
10 Incarcerated electors vote
8 to 6 Hospital vote
6 Deadline to register to vote by special ballot
(Ottawa: 6:00 p.m. Eastern time; RO office: 6:00 p.m. local time)
0 (polling day) Deadline to return special ballots to Ottawa (6:00 p.m. Eastern time)

Footnote 1