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Got questions about voting in Canada? Here are some answers

Vancouver city council debates on if permanent residents can vote in future municipal elections.
Vancouver city council debates on if permanent residents can vote in future municipal elections. File / Global News

The most persistent message in the weeks leading up to next month’s federal election is to get out and vote. 

Sounds easy — but how exactly do you go about voting, especially for the first time? And who can answer all the burning questions that first-time voters might want to ask? 

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Elections Canada’s director of outreach and stakeholder engagement Lisa Drouillard recently joined Global News for an informative Q/A. 

We asked her all about how to register to vote as a new citizen; how to vote for the first time; and whether we can take selfies with our ballots. Here’s what you need to know before you head to the polls. 

What should you bring on voting day?

Elections Canada says you need proof of your identity and proof of address in order to vote.

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You can show one piece of photo ID issued by the Canadian government, such as a driver’s licence, or two pieces of ID that have your name on them, with one also showing your address. A list of acceptable IDs is available online.

The website also makes it clear that there are options if you don’t have ID — you can still vote. You can declare your ID and address in writing and have someone vouch for you. There are more details on that here.

What should I do if I do not get a voter information card? 

Don’t panic. Drouillard says any elector with either government-issued ID (with name, photo, and address) or two pieces of ID (one showing name, one showing your address) can register at the polls.

Or you can call the 1-800 number (1-800-463-6868) or visit an Elections Canada office. 

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Do I have to register beforehand as a voter?

Turns out, no, you don’t.

But remember that most people who are eligible to vote are already registered. And if they are already registered, they’ll likely receive a voter information card in the mail, indicating where and when they can vote.

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Registering in advance would definitely make things easier, but you can always register at the polls.

John Beebe from Democratic Engagement Exchange says it’s one of the things he finds he has had to demystify for many people.

“You don’t need to be registered to vote before you go to vote,” he said. “You will have to register before you actually cast your ballot. But if you’re not registered, you can just show up at your polling place.”

READ MORE: Find your riding, your local candidates and their voting history

How does one register in advance?

The short answer is: you can register by going online, or by calling Election Canada at 1-800-463-6868, or by walking into an Elections Canada office near you.

How do you vote in advance?

You can visit any Elections Canada office up until 6 p.m. ET Tuesday October 15. There are more than 500 of them across the country. 

You can also vote by mail up — again, up until 6 p.m. ET Tuesday October 15.

You will have to use a special ballots process to vote in advance through these methods.

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Immigrants at Calgary citizenship ceremony speak about voting for the first time in Canada
Immigrants at Calgary citizenship ceremony speak about voting for the first time in Canada

There are also advanced polling days — October 11 to 14 — when you can visit the polling station assigned to you anytime between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. 

If you live near a university campus, it might also allow you to vote in advance. You don’t have to be a student either. You can vote at certain campuses across Canada between October 5 and 9. First piloted during the 2015 election, the Vote on Campus program is being held at 121 offices across 109 post-secondary campuses across the country.

More people seem to know about and prefer voting in advance, Drouillard said. Elections Canada is seeing more people voting in advance at a returning officer’s office, for instance.

“We are seeing a lot more people using the opportunity to just vote at their RO office,” she said.

READ MORE: A look at true and false statements by party leaders in French-language debate

What sort of behaviour is off-limits at a polling station? 

You can’t campaign within the polling stations, or try to influence other voters at the polls.

What about selfies?

You can’t take photographs within the polling station.

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“You can’t take a selfie until you get out of the polling station,” Drouillard said. “And you can understand, the rationale is that we don’t want people taking pictures of themselves voting in a particular way. It’s an integrity risk around coercion et cetera. So you can’t take pictures within the polls.”

So basically, you can’t take a selfie with your ballot, or with a polling worker. You also can’t take photos of your ballot. 

“Outside the polling station, they’re fine to go,” Drouillard said.

Federal Election 2019: 500 Elections Canada offices open as voting day approaches
Federal Election 2019: 500 Elections Canada offices open as voting day approaches

How do I make sure my ballot isn’t spoiled?

Drouillard said she often gets this question when Elections Canada is running pop-up voting exercises to familiarize people with the voting process. 

“’Do I have to put a check? Do I have to put an X? Do I have to fill in the full circle?’” she said. “And the answer is, any of the above.”

As long as you do not mark a circle on the ballot other than the one you intend to, and you make a clear mark next to the name of one candidate — “you’re good, and there’s no reason why your ballot would be spoiled.” 

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And in case you’re wondering if a machine is in any way involved in counting ballots, Drouillard stresses the following point: “All of the ballots are counted by hand. They’re not counted by machines.”

Some other facts to ease your mind

Drouillard says the way to vote in Canada is pretty straightforward.

“The ballot in Canada is about as simple as a ballot can possibly look,” she said.

She’s even heard of people — who have previously voted in other countries — return to polling stations and ask if voting was really that easy.

“Sometimes we get people actually coming back — who voted elsewhere — and say ‘Is this the real thing, because it’s too simple,’” Drouillard said.

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Can I mail in a ballot?

Yes. There is mail-in voting, where you essentially vote by mail. You do this if you live overseas as well. But you have to stay on top of deadlines related to this process.

“You need to either call or go online to request a mail-in ballot and then get the kit,” Drouillard said. “And then there’s a double envelope system and you have to either mail it in or bring it in to an Elections Canada office before the close of polls.”

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What if someone takes a photo of their mail-in ballot before posting it?

That’s still illegal, so don’t do it.

“Actually it’s illegal to take a photo of a ballot in any (circumstance),” Drouillard said.

Syrian refugees prepare for their first Canadian election
Syrian refugees prepare for their first Canadian election

How do I vote from overseas?

You can vote by mail. You need to be a Canadian citizen of voting age, and you need to have “lived in Canada at some point in your life.”

“So if you are a Canadian citizen by birth but you’ve never lived in Canada, then that’s the one limitation,” Drouillard said. “You need to identify a riding that you associate with.”

Then it’s a matter of applying to vote by mail before the election. Drouillard says you can apply online or you can go through Canadian embassies and consulates abroad, and to make sure to apply before the Tuesday prior to election day, and to leave ample time for international mail.

You get on a register of international electors and then you use a very similar special ballot kit to the one that’s used for vote-by-mail within Canada,” she said.

Elections Canada’s website says: “Make sure to apply to vote by mail before October 15, 6:00 p.m. Eastern time, and to return your marked ballot to us by 6:00 p.m., Eastern time, on election day.”

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What do I do if I work on advanced voting days as well as election day?

If you haven’t voted in advance and find yourself needing to vote on election day itself, employers have an obligation to give you three hours in a row to vote during your riding’s voting hours.

Elections Canada says: “If your hours of work do not allow for three consecutive hours to vote, your employer must give you time off.”

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