Backgrounder - Citizen Voting Act

The Citizen Voting Act will:

  • Help prevent non-citizens from voting in federal elections;
  • Require voters living abroad to provide proof of identity, past residence and citizenship;
  • Create one set of rules for all Canadians voting from outside the country.1


On May 2, 2014, the Ontario Superior Court (Frank et al. v. Attorney General of Canada) struck down the law preventing citizens from voting if they have been out of the country more than five consecutive years or have no intention of returning. Estimates show that this could lead to 1.4 million new eligible voters2 and an outdated system to administer their votes.

Problem: An estimated 40,000 non-citizens are on the voters list

Elections Canada estimates that the names of approximately 40,000 non-citizens are currently on the National Register of Electors. That means they could receive Voter Information Cards telling them how to vote and upon arrival at a voting location could be permitted to vote illegally.

Solution: Take them off

The Citizen Voting Act will authorize the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with names, genders, birthdates and addresses of non-citizens, so Elections Canada can cross-reference and remove them from the National Register of Electors.

Problem: No Proven Link to Riding

Voters living in Canada must vote where they live at the time of an election; they cannot pick and choose their riding. By contrast, Canadians living abroad do not have to prove any past residence in the riding in which they vote. Rather, they can vote in any riding they choose based on an unverified personal or family connection. It is unfair to allow a person who has never lived in a community to vote on who will represent that community.

Solution: Proof of Past Canadian Residence

The Citizen Voting Act will ensure that Canadians living abroad follow the same rules as those living in Canada. The bill will require they prove identity and most-recent Canadian address, using the same documentation as do voters who live in Canada under the Fair Elections Act: a photo ID containing a prior address or any two of 39 pieces of ID approved by the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada. If none of their documentation has the past address on it, voters living abroad will be able to rely on an attestation of past address from a properly-identified voter from the same riding. Canadians agree with this approach. According to Ipsos Reid in April 2014, 87% of those polled said it is “reasonable” to “require someone to prove their identity and address before they are allowed to vote.”3

Problem: Double-standard for voting abroad

Canadian residents voting from abroad must request a ballot at each election, using identification and proof of residence. After applying for a ballot in one election, citizens living abroad are forever after automatically sent a ballot for each subsequent election, to a foreign address at which they may no longer even reside.

Solution: One set of rules for all Canadians voting abroad

The Citizen Voting Act will eliminate that discrepancy by establishing one set of rules for citizens voting outside of Canada. The new bill will apply the Fair Elections Act ID rules to all voters, including those living abroad. Existing information on non-residents will be maintained and all voter information will now be included in the National Register of Electors.

Proof of Citizenship

The Citizen Voting Act will require in law that everyone voting outside Canada provide proof of Canadian citizenship (this does not apply to the Canadian Forces).

Audit of Voting Procedures

Following each general election and by-election, the Chief Electoral Officer will be required to engage an external auditor to conduct, and report on, an audit of Elections Canada’s compliance with special voting procedures.

How Does The Citizen Voting Act Compare To The Law In Similar Countries?

Many likeminded democracies place restrictions on voting by non-residents. With limited exceptions for citizens serving abroad, the following countries place restrictions on non-resident voting:

  • The United Kingdom: non-residents can only vote if they have been abroad for less than 15 years.4
  • Ireland: non-residents cannot vote.5
  • Australia: non-residents can only vote if they have been abroad for less than 6 years and intend to return to resume residing in Australia within the 6 years. They must provide either their Australian driver’s licence number or their Australian passport number, or have a person who is on the federal electoral list confirm their identity (not address) by signing the application form.6
  • New Zealand: non-resident citizens can vote only if they have been abroad for less than 3 years.7
  • Germany: non-residents can only vote if they have been abroad for less than 25 years. They must also have lived in Germany for 3 consecutive months following their 14th birthday.8

In other words, Canada generally has more generous enfranchisement than similar democracies. It is reasonable to expect that citizens living abroad follow the same identification requirements as those living within the country.


  1. Specific voting procedures for Canadian Forces electors are not changed by the Citizen Voting Act.
  2. Affidavit of Don J. De Voretz in the Frank et al. v. Attorney General of Canada litigation (May 2012).
  4. Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Non-residents must have been previously registered to vote in the United Kingdom in the 15 years before leaving (or their parent/guardian was registered to vote in the United Kingdom within that period, if the non-resident was too young to register to vote while living in the United Kingdom).
  5. Citizens Information Board (Ireland), Registering to Vote.
  6. An overseas elector who ceases to have the intention to resume residing in Australia within six years, yet intends to resume residing in Australia at some time, may apply to remain on the electoral roll in one year increments. Australian Electoral Commission:
  7. See New Zealand, Electoral Act, 1993, s. 80 Disqualifications for registration. See also, New Zealand Electoral Commission, Who Can and Can’t Enrol.
  8. Federal Republic of Germany, The Federal Returning Officer, Germans Living Abroad, 2014; L. Pedroza, Access to Electoral Rights – Germany, European University Institute, June 2013, pp. 5-6; Federal Elections Act, section 12(2).