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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. 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, the elector is responsible for ensuring that Elections Canada in Ottawa receives the ballot no later than 6:00 p.m., Eastern Time, on polling day. Electors may mail the ballots themselves or, in most cases during a general election or referendum, leave them with the deputy returning officer to forward by special arrangement. The ballot must be sent in the envelopes provided. A ballot received by fax cannot be counted. The Canada Elections Act also prohibits counting ballots received after the deadline.

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.

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