Bill C-33: 7 Reforms to Increase Voter Participation and Electoral Integrity

The Government of Canada has introduced An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act in the House of Commons on November 24, 2016. The Bill includes seven measures that, if passed, would increase voter participation by breaking down barriers to voting while enhancing the efficiency and integrity of our elections.

The Voter Information Card (VIC) as identification (ID)

The Fair Elections Act excluded the VIC as a piece of ID a voter could use to cast a ballot. Elections Canada held a pilot project first in 2010 and then for the 2011 general election where certain polling places, such as long term care homes or seniors’ residences, could accept the VIC as a piece of ID. In 2011, approximately 900, 000 Canadians at 5,608 polling stations were eligible to use the VIC. The pilot was successful, and Canadians from these three groups successfully used their VIC to vote. The Chief Electoral Officer recommended allowing Canadians to use the VIC to vote but was prevented from doing so when the Fair Elections Act was passed. It excluded the VIC from the list of acceptable ID.

Canadians told us during the Electoral Reform Dialogue that they wanted us to remove barriers to voting. We heard stories from seniors turned away from the polls thinking they could use the VIC as ID. If passed, our bill would make it easier for people to vote by adding the VIC as an approved form of ID.

Restoring Vouching

Before the Fair Elections Act was passed voters could vouch for another eligible Canadian without proper ID. A February 2016 survey by Statistics Canada found that an estimated 172,000 non-voters stated lack of ID was a reason for not voting in the 2015 election. Indigenous people in particular were impacted by this. Canadians told us during the Electoral Reform Dialogue process that eliminating vouching created a barrier to voting. For example, homeless people without other forms of ID were unable to establish their identity or their eligibility to vote. Restoring vouching will make it easier for people to vote.

Expanding the Chief Electoral Officer’s communication mandate

The Fair Elections Act restricted the kind of public education campaigns the CEO could undertake. Currently, the CEO may only conduct educational programs with primary and high school age children. Canadians told us during the Electoral Reform Dialogue process that they wanted more done to improve civic literacy and to build knowledge about Canadian democracy. The CEO recommended his mandate be extended to undertake this kind of non-partisan public education work across Canada. Lack of information about voting can be a barrier to voting. This measure will lift this limit and allow the CEO to communicate with Canadians without restrictions.

Creating a National Register of Future Electors

Canadians told us they wanted to encourage young people to vote. Research has found that when people vote in one election, they are more likely to make it a life-long habit. A 2004 Yale University study found that one of the best predictors of future voting habits are past voting habits. The CEO recommended that one way of preparing young people to vote would be by introducing youth pre-registration. If passed, our bill would allow Elections Canada to work with young people in schools and other settings to sign up to vote. Pre-registration would be open to Canadian youth ages 14-17. They would be added to a new National Register of Future Electors, maintained by Elections Canada, allowing them access to educational resources and other information about democracy, elections and voting. When they turn 18, Pre-Electors will automatically be added to the National Register of Electors, putting them in a better position to vote.

Cleaning Up the National Register of Electors

The Chief Electoral Officer has asked for more tools to continually improve Elections Canada’s National Register of Electors, on which they estimate there is a very small proportion of people who are not eligible to vote. Our bill, if passed, would give Elections Canada new resources to clean up the data in the register. It will help Elections Canada operate more efficiently. The previous government introduced legislation to address this issue in the previous Parliament, but the bill did not become law.

Relocating the Commissioner of Canada Elections

The Commissioner of Canada Elections is a non-partisan official responsible for investigating potential voting issues such as voter fraud or financial irregularities. The Commissioner ensures the Canada Elections Act rules are followed. From 1974 to 2014, the CEO appointed the Commissioner and the Commissioner reported to the CEO within Elections Canada. The Fair Elections Act transferred the Commissioner to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Director reports through the Attorney General to Parliament, unlike the CEO who reports directly to Parliament. We heard from Canadians during the Electoral Reform Dialogue that there were concerns the Commissioner could be subject to less independence. Our bill will enhance the integrity of the election system by clarifying this situation.

Expanding Voting Rights to Canadians Living Abroad

Today, Canadians living abroad may only vote within five years of leaving Canada and must have an intention to return. These restrictions are currently being challenged before the Supreme Court of Canada. We heard during the Electoral Reform Dialogue process from Canadians living abroad who wanted to participate in Canadian elections. This proposal does not impact Canadian Forces voters. The Canada Elections Act will continue to require Canadian citizens to have lived in Canada at one time. Our bill will remove a barrier to voting and will extend voting rights to over one million Canadians living abroad.