Elections Canada needs to clarify how mail-in ballots are handled

Photo by Mikaela Wiedenhoff on Unsplash

11am Sept. 19 Update: Elections Canada sent me the message below. Now I have heard from 3 campaign managers who have never seen this info yet during this election; that could be the fault of their Party.

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Special Voting Rules ballots are counted at local offices and at Elections Canada headquarters.

Deputy returning officers (DROs) and poll clerks verify outer envelopes and count Special Voting Rules (SVR) ballots cast by local electors, including electors in acute care hospitals and external service point (ESP) offices, at the office of the returning officer.

No ballots are counted in additional as SVR assistant returning officer (AARO) offices.

Ballots from other categories of SVR electors are counted at Elections Canada headquarters in Ottawa.

  • A service point supervisor oversees the verification of outer envelopes but is not present during the counting of the votes.
  • Candidates or one of their representatives can be present at the verification of the outer envelopes and counting of special ballots.

The verification of outer envelopes begins on election day before the polls close.

The DRO and poll clerk perform the following tasks:

  • They verify all the outer envelopes to determine whether the elector is entitled to vote in the electoral district. Outer envelopes which do not meet the requirements of the Canada Elections Act are set aside unopened (e.g. if not signed by the elector).
  • They count and open the valid outer envelopes, remove the anonymous inner envelopes and place them in a sealed ballot box. The outer envelopes are retained separately.
  • After the polls close, they open the ballot box, open the inner envelopes and count the votes and rejected ballots.

SVR ballots received at Elections Canada headquarters include ballots from:

  • Canadian Forces electors who voted from Monday
  • national and international electors
  • incarcerated electors

To be counted, ballots from these electors must be received at Elections Canada headquarters in Ottawa by 6 p.m. on polling day.

Counting SVR ballots at Elections Canada headquarters begins no later than September 12.

An SVR administrator oversees the verification and counting of ballots.

Special ballot officers work in pairs with another service agent who, as much as possible, was recommended by a different candidate, association or registered party. They perform the following tasks:

  • They verify the outer envelopes and count the SVR ballots by electoral district.
  • They set aside the rejected outer envelopes and leave them unopened
  • They count and open the valid outer envelopes, remove the anonymous inner envelopes and place them in a bag. The outer envelopes are set aside. They open the ballot bag, open the inner envelopes and count the votes and rejected ballots.

After the close of polls on election day, Elections Canada headquarters sends the number of SVR votes cast for each candidate and the number of rejected ballots to returning officers.

For more information about the Canadian federal electoral system, visit our website at elections.ca, or call 1-800-463-6868, toll-free in Canada and the United States. Our hours of operation are Monday to Sunday, 7:00 a.m. until midnight (Eastern Time).

Public Enquiries Unit

Elections Canada


I used Elections Canada’s online form to ask a clear questions:

“What is the process for opening and counting the mail-in ballots in Ottawa?”

The answer they sent does not mention mail-in ballots. It’s gonna be a long week, Comrades.

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Photographs and audio and video recordings are not permitted in polling places. These restrictions apply to everyone, including established media outlets—except, with the permission of the Chief Electoral Officer, when filming party leaders in the process of voting. Photographing one’s own marked ballot is therefore prohibited. However, behind the voting screen, electors with a disability are allowed to use their cellphone as an assistive tool to help them vote.

All ballots are counted on election day. Elections Canada does not use automatic ballot-counting machines to count ballots or tabulate results. Ballots cast at ordinary and mobile polls must be counted after voting hours end on election day. The count for ballots cast at advance polls may begin one hour before voting hours end on election day.

People allowed to attend the count are:

  • Deputy Returning Officers (DRO) who count the ballots
  • Poll clerks (PC) who tally the votes counted and help the DROs complete paperwork
  • Candidates or their representatives (up to 2 representatives for each candidate) can witness the count.
  • If no candidates or representatives are present, at least 2 electors or election officers should be present to witness the count

The procedure for the counting of ballots is as follows:

Note that only the DRO can handle ballots.

  1. The DRO unseals the top of the ballot box
  2. The DRO takes out one ballot out of the ballot box and makes sure that DRO initials and (A)PD of the polling station are on the back. Note DROs can compare initials on ballots with the initials of previous DROs on Log of poll workers – Events Log (page 2-3) EC 50060 to make sure the ballot was issued by a DRO working at that polling station
  3. The DRO unfolds the ballot and says out loud which candidate is marked. The ballot is shown to everyone present
  4. The ballot is put in its appropriate pile
  5. Each time the DRO calls out a candidate’s name, the PC puts a mark under that name on Tally Sheet EC 50090. If the DRO rejects a ballot, the PC puts a mark in the rejected column
  6. Steps 2-5 are repeated until every ballot has been placed in a pile
  7. The DRO makes sure there are no ballots left in the box and shows it to everyone present
  8. The PC writes the totals in each column of the Tally Sheet EC 50090
  9. The DRO and PC sum the totals, and verify that it matches the Total from line 3 of the Last Page of the List (the number of Voted ticks)
  10. On each envelope, write the total number of ballots is written. The DRO puts each pile of ballots inside its appropriate envelope
  11. The DRO and PC complete the Statement of the Vote EC 50100
  12. The PC prepares Copy of Results for Candidates EC 50110 and gives a copy to each of the candidates or representatives present
  13. The Statement of the Vote, the ballots in sealed envelopes, and all other related documentation are sent back immediately to the Returning Officer who will validate the results at a pre-determined time shortly after election day.

For more information about the Canadian federal electoral system, visit our website at elections.ca, or call 1-800-463-6868, toll-free in Canada and the United States. Our hours of operation are Monday to Sunday, 7:00 a.m. until midnight (Eastern Time).

Public Enquiries Unit

Elections Canada