The writ of election
Table of Contents
- The writs of election
- Issue of the writs for a general election
- What happens after the election
- Issue of a writ for a by-election
The writs of election
What is a writ of election?
A writ is a formal written order instructing the returning officer in each electoral district to hold an election to elect a member of Parliament.
- specifies the day by which the names of candidates must be entered into nomination
- sets a polling date; and
- sets a date on which the writ, with the name of the successful candidate noted on the back, is to be returned to the Chief Electoral Officer.
Issue of the writs for a general election
During a federal general election, 338 elections take place simultaneously—one in each electoral district. There is one returning officer and one writ for each electoral district. The writs are a link between the national coordination of the election and the 338 individual elections taking place across the electoral districts.
Starting with the call of the election, the writs go through a formal process with several steps (from being prepared and printed to being signed, returned and stored for safe-keeping), some of which are prescribed in law, while others are governed by convention and tradition.
Polling day must be no earlier than the 36th day and no later than the 50th day after the day on which the writ was issued, making the minimum and maximum lengths of a federal election period 37 days and 51 days, respectively.
Formal process for the writs when an election is called
When an election is called—while returning officers immediately begin (or, in some cases, have already begun) the work of setting up their offices, hiring staff and coordinating the vote—the formal process of preparing or “drawing up” the writs generally takes seven to 10 business days. That process is as follows:
- The election call—the Governor in Council issues a proclamation for a general election to be held. The proclamation sets the date for voting.
- On the same day that the Chief Electoral Officer receives the proclamation, he notifies each returning officer that the writ for their electoral district will be issued.
- The writs are printed by Elections Canada and thoroughly reviewed for accuracy. Each writ must contain key election dates and be inscribed with the names of the electoral district and the returning officer and his or her city of residence.
- Each writ is then signed by the Deputy Governor General before being returned to the Chief Electoral Officer.
- In the days following the call of the election, the Chief Electoral Officer signs each of the 338 writs by hand and then sends them to the Deputy Registrar General of Canada.
- The Deputy Registrar General of Canada is the last person to sign the writs before their formal issue. He also places an official seal on each of the 338 writs, which takes about 48 hours to complete.
- The writs are then sent by Priority Post to the corresponding returning officers who keep them in a secure location for the duration of the election period.
The writs of election—a timeline
|Writs are printed—each writ includes key election dates and is inscribed with the names of the electoral district and the returning officer and his or her city of residence||1–2 days from the call of the election|
|Writs signed by Deputy Governor General||As soon as possible after printing|
|Writs signed by Chief Electoral Officer||As soon as possible–typically within one week of election call|
|Writs signed and sealed by Deputy Registrar General of Canada||As soon as possible–typically takes 48 hours in total|
|Writs delivered to returning officers||Typically 7–10 business days from election call|
|Election results are validated||Within 7 days of election day but up to 14 more days, if return of ballot boxes is delayed|
|Returning officer writes the name of the winning candidate on the writ, then, signs the writ and returns it to the Chief Electoral Officer||7 days after the election results are validated or as soon as possible after a judicial recount|
|Chief Electoral Officer notifies the Canada Gazette of newly elected members||Ongoing. Completed as the writs are returned to the CEO|
|Chief Electoral Officer sends certified list of all elected members to the Clerk of the House of Commons||Completed as the writs are returned to the CEO. A final notice summarizing the list of successful candidates is provided after all writs have been returned (typically within one month of election day)|
|Elected members are sworn in||Completed at the convenience of the Clerk of the House of Commons and the member. May be done before the Clerk receives the certified list of all elected members|
What happens after the election
Once the votes are counted and the results are validated, there is a process whereby returning officers write the name of the winning candidate for their electoral district on the back of the writ, then, sign the writ and return it to the Chief Electoral Officer (hence, the name, “returning officer”).
When all of the writs have been returned, the Chief Electoral Officer provides the Clerk of the House of Commons with a certified list of all of the members elected to serve. Newly elected members can then be sworn in to serve in the House of Commons.
The official writs are kept by Elections Canada for 10 years. They are then transferred to Library and Archives Canada where they are stored securely.
The oldest federal election writs housed at Library and Archives Canada date from 1865.
Validation of elections results
Validation is scheduled by the returning officer to take place on a fixed date within the first seven days after election day.
- To validate the election results, the returning officer must have received all ballot boxes for their electoral district.
- If the returning officer has not received all of the ballot boxes, the validation process may be postponed up to 14 additional days.
When validating the election results, the returning officer compares the preliminary results communicated on polling night to the statement of vote completed at the polls and makes any necessary corrections.
Process for the writs after the election
- Seven days after the results have been validated (or, if there was a recount, without delay after receiving from the judge the certificate with the tally of the vote for each candidate), returning officers write the name of the winning candidate in the prescribed form printed on the back of the writ, called the “return of the writ,” then sign that form.
- Once the winning candidate's name has been included, and the return of the writ has been signed, the returning officer sends the return to the Chief Electoral Officer.
- When the Chief Electoral Officer receives the returns, he signs them, publishes a notice in the Canada Gazette, and provides notice to the Clerk of the House of Commons, stating which members have been elected to serve in the House of Commons.
- When all of the writs have been returned, the Chief Electoral Officer provides the Clerk of the House of Commons with a certified list of all of the members elected to serve.
Swearing in newly elected members to serve in the House of Commons
Newly elected members of the House of Commons must swear or affirm allegiance to the Crown before taking their seats in the House.
The swearing-in is typically done by the Clerk of the House of Commons on an individual basis at the convenience of the member. The Clerk does not have to wait for the certified list from the Chief Electoral Officer.
The House of Commons, not Elections Canada, is responsible for the swearing-in of new members. You may wish to refer to the House of Commons website for more information on this process.
Issue of a writ for a by-election
Specific procedures for a by-election
Whenever a vacancy in the representation of the House occurs, for whatever reason, the Speaker addresses a warrant (a written authorization) to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ of election to fill the vacancy.
The writ for a by-election must be issued between the 11th day and the 180th day after the receipt of the warrant by the Chief Electoral Officer.
The Parliament of Canada Act requires by-elections to be called within six months of a seat becoming vacant, and a by-election period must be no longer than 51 days in total. The date of the by-election is fixed by the Governor in Council.
The Parliament of Canada Act includes an exception for a vacancy that occurs within nine months before a fixed date general election; in that case, no by-election is called and the seat remains vacant until the general election.
A writ for a by-election would be superseded and withdrawn when a by-election has been ordered for a day subsequent to the dissolution of Parliament and the calling of a general election.