Backgrounder: Fair Elections Act – Better Customer Service for Voters

In 2011, 60 percent of non-voters cited everyday life issues as the reason for not voting. While voter turnout increased in 2011 when compared to 2008, there is more work to be done to increase participation in Canada’s democracy.

Report on the Evaluations of the 41st General Election of May 2, 2011

Most non-voters told an Elections Canada survey that it was practical reasons that prevented them from voting in 2011: travelling (17%), work/school schedule (13%), too busy (10%), lack of information (7%), to name a few. “Over the past several elections, there has been a steady rise in the proportion of electors who have identified everyday life issues as the main reason for not voting and a steady decline for political reasons…”, according to Elections Canada. (Report on the Evaluations of the 41st General Election of May 2, 2011)

Better customer service will remove some of these practical obstacles. That means an additional voting day, less congestion at voting locations and more advertising of basic voting information like: where, when and what ID to bring. It also means requiring Elections Canada inform disabled voters of the extra tools available to help them vote.

More Voting Days

During the 2011 General Election more than two million Canadians cast their ballots on an advanced poll day. That is why the Fair Elections Act will establish an extra day of advance polling. The proposed change would give Canadians access to four advance polling days – the 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before Election Day.

Reduced Congestion at the Polls

In order to reduce congestion at polling sites, the Fair Elections Act proposes a number of practical changes that should make the voting process more efficient.

First, by streamlining the process for appointing election officers and providing for additional resources for Elections Canada, the Fair Elections Act would make voting locations more accessible for Canadians and reduce congestion at the polls. Changes would allow for:

  • additional election officers to be appointed to ease congestion at polling stations;
  • Chief Electoral Officer to appoint liaison officers to facilitate communication between his Office and Returning Officers in ridings; and
  • Registered parties and electoral district associations—rather than just candidates—to recommend names for election officer positions at polls. Nominations would be required earlier – by the 24th day before polling day – thereby allowing more time for training.

Back to Basics

Since Elections Canada began promotional campaigns in 1993, voter turnout in general has plummeted from 75% in 1988 (the last election before the Elections Canada had this mandate) to 61% in 2011. For example, despite the efforts and resources Elections Canada has put to encourage electoral engagement the youth voter turnout continues to drop. An analysis done by the Library of Parliament shows that from 1984 to 2000 the voter turnout for youth aged 18-24 dropped 20 percentage points and this trend has not reversed in recent years.

In an Elections Canada report investigating youth participation rates in the 2011 General Election, youth non-voters expressed that not knowing where (25%), when (26%) or how (19%) to vote played a role in their decision not to vote. That is why Elections Canada’s Report on the 41st General Election, listed its first priority on youth turn out to be “increasing awareness about when, where and how to vote, by providing information in formats suitable for youth.”

The job of an election agency is to inform citizens of the basics of voting: where, when and what ID to bring; and to ensure disabled people know of the extra tools available to help them vote (such as wheelchair ramps, sign language services, Braille services for the visually impaired, for example).

Under the Fair Elections Act the Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public with information only on:

  1. how to be a candidate;
  2. how an elector may have his or her name added to a list of electors and may have corrections made to information respecting him or her on the list;
  3. how an elector may vote under section 127 and the times, dates and locations for voting;
  4. how an elector may establish his or her identity and residence in order to vote, including the pieces of identification that he or she may use to that end; and
  5. the measures for assisting electors with a disability to access a polling station or advance polling station or to mark a ballot.