Understanding the new voting rules and helping clients prepare for Election Day
In 2014, the Canadian government passed the Fair Elections Act, an amendment to the Canada Elections Act. While some applauded the effort to cut down on voter fraud and rein in third-party spending, the Chief Elections Officer pointed out many instances where the new law will create obstacles to voting. Particularly, these obstacles will be faced by students, seniors, low-income households, people experiencing homelessness, and anyone without a long-term permanent address.
All Canadian citizens who are 18 years of age or older have the right to vote. However, in order to cast a ballot, all voters must prove their identity and address. While this has always been the case, the acceptable methods of doing so have changed. A few changes that all voters should be aware of are listed below.
New rules around Voter Information Cards and vouching:
- Each registered elector receives a Voter Information Card (VIC) in the mail before the election. This card provides local polling information and has the recipient’s name and address on it. Before the Fair Elections Act came in to force, voters could use the VIC as voter ID. Now, this is no longer accepted as ID or proof of address. Instead, Elections Canada offers a range of other free ID options that can qualify as proof of address (provided they have your address on them) including a bank statement, a government statement of benefits, a utility bill, and others. Many of these options (e.g. utility bills) can be shown on a smartphone screen. The entire list of available ID options can be found here.
- Under previous rules, anyone without ID could have a neighbour vouch for them at the polls. While this option was available to all, it was particularly useful for homeless voters without ID. In the last federal election, over 120,000 voters used this option. Now, in order to vote, an individual must show two pieces of ID with their name printed on it – a library card, bill, health card, student ID, etc. – with one piece including a current address. If a client does not have a piece of ID with their current address on it, please see the two following options.
What to do if you do not have ID with your current address:
- If a voter shows up at the polls with two pieces of ID, but neither piece has their current address, they can sign an oath confirming their address. However, in order for this to be valid, another voter – who does have ID that lists their address – must confirm the first person’s address by also signing an oath. But there’s a catch: the person confirming the other voter’s address must live in the same polling district, and can vouch for only one person per election.
- Another option for voters who have some form of ID but do not have proof of address is a letter of confirmation of residence form that can be downloaded from the Elections Canada website. Voters who do not have a permanent residence, are insecurely housed, or have just moved can use this form to vote if they have the form signed by the administrator of a student residence, seniors’ residence, long-term care facility, shelter, soup kitchen, First Nations’ band or reserve, or Inuit local authority. Voters must then bring the signed form, along with another piece of ID that lists their name, to the polling station to vote.
What organizations that work with the homeless or insecurely housed should do:
- Make sure that your institution is registered with your local returning officer at Elections Canada. You can contact your retuning officer here. This is necessary in order for the letter confirmation of residence form (mentioned above) that you give to your clients to be valid.
- Provide as much information as possible to clients and residents regarding the new rules. Printing out the list of pieces of ID that will be accepted on Election Day and displaying it on message boards and in common areas is a helpful step. For residents that are homeless, their current address is the address of the shelter – this is why they need the signed letter of confirmation of residence form.
- Encourage and assist clients to register to vote online before October 19. All voters must register before they can cast a ballot. While it is possible to register to vote at the polling station on Election Day, this adds significant time and complexity to the process.
- Host a mock election or voter training event. The non-partisan organization Samara, which is dedicated to increasing political engagement, has created a free Vote PopUp Kit that can be downloaded on their website. The Kit contains all the instructions and materials that are needed to host a mock election in your community. By participating in the event, clients will learn about what they need to bring to vote, the location of their polling place on Election Day, and how to register to vote.