Vouching, voter ID, advertising: How new elections law changes impact you
A woman enters Maple High School in Vaughan, Ont., to cast her vote in the Canadian federal election on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power)
OTTAWA -- Changes to how federal elections are run, governed, and monitored come into effect on Thursday, meaning there will be new rules in place before Canadians head to the polls this fall.
The changes are a result of Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act, which the Liberals passed back in December 2018. It made wide-spanning adjustments to Canada's election laws, including new limits on third-party and foreign participation, and campaign spending, while also aiming to boost accessibility and voter participation.
Here is a rundown of some of the changes and what they mean for you.
Changes to advanced voting, polling places:
- Elections Canada is adding thousands more polling stations and making changes to speed up your ability to get to a ballot box once at your polling place.
- More advance polling stations will be opened, and will operate for 12 hours a day on each of the four days they will be open in the week or so before voting day.
- You can also now vote at any time during the election period by mail, or at an Elections Canada office, or at one of more than 100 university or college campus locations using a special ballot.
- Relatedly, the bill allows for political parties or candidate expenses related to accessibility measures, such as sign language interpretation at campaign events to be reimbursed.
Changes to vouching, voter ID:
- The practice of vouching has been reinstated, meaning that if you do not have ID, an elector registered to the same polling station can vouch for you, so long as you declare your ID and address and that person has not vouched for anyone else, unless in the case of long-term care facilities.
- Voter information cards can also once again be used as a proof of address, but you'll also need additional ID, whether a utility bill and student ID card, or a bank statement for example.
- Not a change, but a reminder: If you have a driver's license or other government ID that has your photo, your name and current address, then you only need that one piece but still bring your voter information card with you.
Changes for expats, military members:
- Canadians who live outside of Canada can vote by mail from abroad and no longer need to prove they have been out of the country less than five years. They also no longer need to state their intention to return to Canada.
- The bill also aims to make it easier for members of the Canadian Forces to vote, including facilitating the special ballot process for military members that are on active duty at the time of the election, though they can also vote through ordinary polling if they prefer and are able.
Changes to ads, messaging you'll see:
- Elections Canada is now able to offer expanded public education and information outreach aimed at encouraging Canadians who are historically less likely to vote, such as people with disabilities and Indigenous people, to register.
- This outreach will include using social media influencers to encourage youth and other groups to register to vote. This campaign will launch June 25 and end before the election is called.
- During the election, partisan or issue advertisements conducted by political parties or third-parties have to have an identifying tagline, and companies that sell political ads are being told to maintain a publicly-searchable database so you can see what’s circulating.
- There are new punishments and enforcement tools for publishing or distributing false statements and misleading material, or impersonating Elections Canada. Elections Canada will be monitoring online activity, as will other security agencies.
Changes to timing, new pre-writ period:
- A new pre-election period has been created, it starts on June 30 and ends the day before the election is called. This window includes spending limits for political parties and third-parties so there will be some restraint on the amount of pre-election campaign activity can occur.
- The length of the election has also been limited, to a maximum of 50 days, meaning no more 78-day election campaigns. That means you can expect a writ drop in September.
- The campaign spending limits for registered parties are currently estimated at just over $2-million in the pre-election period and $28 million during the election; third-parties can spend just over $1 million on a national scale during the pre-writ and just over $500K during the election. Candidate limits for spending in their electoral district only apply during the campaign and average $110,000.
The bill also makes multiple changes aimed at eliminating foreign interference and enhancing privacy obligations of political parties, including banning any foreign entities from spending money to influence elections, prohibiting organizations selling advertising to knowingly accept elections ads from foreign actors, and requiring political parties to have publicly available policies on the protection of personal information that details how and what information the party collects, how the information is used, and under what circumstances it may be sold.
The next federal election is scheduled for Oct. 21.