Nearly 100,000 uncounted mail-in ballots in federal election: Elections Canada


Nearly 100,000 mail-in ballots were not counted in the federal election, most because they arrived after the deadline, an Elections Canada report has revealed.

The body that administers elections in Canada says 99,988 special ballots were “set aside” and not counted, including because they arrived too late, were not properly completed or did not have a signature.

Canadian expats living abroad, people working away from home in Canada and members of the Armed Forces were among those whose special ballots were not counted.

A record number of people have requested special ballots for the September 21 election. But most Canadians voted in person at a polling station, although COVID-19 restrictions, including sanitization and physical distancing, caused long delays in some.

Analysis by Elections Canada found an 82% increase in the number of absentee ballots in last year’s general election compared to the 2019 federal ballot. The report says more than 1.1 million special ballots were received, including from incarcerated Canadians.

In a federal election, local electors voting by special ballot must return it to Elections Canada before the polls close.

International voters, those voting by mail away from home, including Canadian Forces and prisoners, must return their ballot to Elections Canada headquarters in Ottawa by 6 p.m. for it to count.

Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, Stéphane Perrault, recommended this month that Parliament take steps to ensure ballots arrive on time, including extending the registration period for a special ballot .

Proposals for electoral law reform

‘The earlier voters cast their special ballot, the more likely it will be received by the deadline,’ his report to MPs said.

“It is important to note that this is the first time that Elections Canada has released special ballot voting data in such detail,” said Matthew McKenna, spokesperson for Elections Canada.

“The Chief Electoral Officer has also previously made recommendations to Parliament on how to amend the Canada Elections Act to improve the special voting process.

Perrault suggested that people voting by mail ballot could nominate a political party rather than a candidate, as is the case in provincial elections in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, to speed up the process.

Elections Canada has put in place certain measures to facilitate voting by special ballot before the election, in particular by allowing people to drop off the envelope containing their ballot at the polling stations in their electoral district.

Make it easy to vote, says NDP

Many Canadian embassies and high commissions have reached out to expats to tell them how to vote by mail, with some offering to send their ballots directly to Ottawa.

Some embassies have also warned that postal services could be suspended due to COVID-19 delays, suggesting voters fill out and mail their ballots early.

Anne McGrath, the NDP’s national director, said voting should be easier, not harder. She had proposed measures to help more people participate in the elections.

These included the suggestion that a postmark with a date could be used for mail-in votes “so voters who did the right thing and mailed in their ballot before the deadline will see their vote account”.

A total of 1,275,226 voters applied for a special ballot in the 2021 election, up from 700,542 in 2019. Not all were returned.

Some election officials went to extraordinary lengths to obtain special ballots for Canadians living and working in remote areas.

In British Columbia, an election worker who usually runs a chocolate factory flew by helicopter to lighthouses with a ballot box to help lighthouse keepers vote in time.