open Secondary menu

Voting by Incarcerated Electors

(See also Voting in By-elections by Incarcerated Electors, EC 90760.)

Canadians who will be 18 years of age or older on polling day and who are in a correctional institution or a federal penitentiary in Canada may vote by special ballot in an election or referendum.

In the context of voting in youth facilities, a Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years old on election day is eligible to vote under the Special Voting Rules for incarcerated electors if the elector is:

  • a young adult serving the custodial portion of a custody and supervision order issued pursuant to the Youth Criminal Justice Act; and
  • facing a level of custody (e.g., secure custody) or specific custody conditions that would effectively prevent the elector from voting at an advance polling station or at a polling station on polling day.

A staff member in each institution is appointed liaison officer and facilitates the process of registering and voting. The liaison officer answers questions about the manner of voting and helps the electors to register.

Definition of Place of Ordinary Residence

For electoral purposes, the incarcerated elector's place of ordinary residence is not the institution in which he or she is serving a sentence. It is the first of the following places for which the elector knows the civic and mailing addresses:

  1. his or her residence before being incarcerated; or
  2. the residence of the spouse, the common-law partner, a relative or dependant of the elector, a relative of his or her spouse or common-law partner or a person with whom the elector would live if not incarcerated; or
  3. the place of his or her arrest; or
  4. the last court where the elector was convicted and sentenced.


The incarcerated elector must fill out an Application for Registration and Special Ballot form, which is available from the liaison officer once an election or referendum has been called. The elector returns the completed application form to the liaison officer, who validates it.

Manner of Voting

During a general election or referendum, incarcerated electors vote in their institutions on the 12th day before polling day. A polling station is set up at 9:00 a.m. to gather the votes and remains open until all those who wish to vote have done so, but no later than 8:00 p.m. Each polling station has the complete list of candidates.

In the case of a referendum, each referendum question is printed on a separate ballot.

To vote, the elector must first complete and sign the declaration on the outer envelope that forms part of the voting kit. The declaration states that the elector's name is as shown on the envelope, and that he or she has not already voted and will not attempt to vote again in the current electoral event. In the case of an election, the elector then completes the ballot by writing on it the name of one of the candidates in his or her electoral district – or, in the case of a referendum, by checking either “yes” or “no.” The elector inserts the ballot into the series of envelopes in accordance with the instructions provided.

Finally, when all electors who want to vote have done so, but no later than 8:00 p.m., the election officers close the polling station(s) and return all ballots and material to the liaison officer. The liaison officer is responsible for returning this material to Elections Canada as soon as possible once the polls at the correctional institution close. Elections Canada's designated courier contacts the liaison officer before voting day to arrange a time and place for pick up. The material is shipped to Elections Canada in Ottawa in time to be processed. The Canada Elections Act prohibits the counting of any ballots received after 6:00 pm., Eastern Time, on polling day.

Results of Voting by Special Ballot

Counting of votes

The ballots of incarcerated electors are counted at the same time as those of Canadian residents temporarily absent from their electoral districts, Canadian citizens residing outside Canada and Canadian Forces electors, provided they have been received at Elections Canada in Ottawa no later than 6:00 p.m., Eastern Time, on polling day. The counting of special ballots is conducted under the supervision of the Special Voting Rules Administrator. The counting procedures are described below.

  • The counting of special ballots shall commence on the 5th day before polling day, or on a day set by the Chief Electoral Officer.
  • Special ballot officers, who are appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the third party in the House of Commons, check the outer envelopes to make sure they have been completed properly.
  • The special ballot officers open the outer envelopes, take out the unmarked inner envelopes containing the ballots, and deposit each sealed inner envelope in a ballot box for the appropriate electoral district.
  • The special ballot officers open the ballot boxes for each electoral district, take the ballots out of the inner envelopes and count them.
  • The special ballot officers complete a Statement of the Count and deliver it to the Special Voting Rules Administrator at Elections Canada.

Communicating the results

As soon as all of the special ballots for every electoral district are counted at Elections Canada in Ottawa, the Special Voting Rules Administrator informs the Chief Electoral Officer of the results of the special ballot vote for each electoral district. The Chief Electoral Officer totals the results, for each electoral district, of the vote by special ballot of Canadian Forces electors, Canadian citizens residing outside Canada and incarcerated electors. These three categories are designated as Group 1. After the polls close on polling day, the Group 1 results for each electoral district are sent to the appropriate returning officer.

The other category of electors whose votes are counted in Ottawa is Canadian residents temporarily absent from their electoral districts. The results of these votes are tallied separately from Group 1 and sent to the appropriate returning officer, who adds them to the results for electors voting by special ballot in their own electoral districts. These two categories – Canadian residents temporarily absent from their electoral districts and electors voting by special ballot in their own electoral districts – are designated as Group 2.

The results of the two groups are reported separately on polling night. All the results of the special ballot votes are then added to the total results for each electoral district.

June 2019