Ten Things You May Not Have Known About the Canada Elections Act

Whatever you may think of the current election, the law regulating it is a significant piece of legislation, comprising some 22 parts, three schedules, and 577 sections. The Canada Elections Act sets out the ground rules — who may vote, how they must do it, how one becomes a candidate, and who counts the ballots, etc. Much of this is almost routine for us, particularly given the fact that we’ve had four federal elections in six years. But some of what’s in the act is not the stuff of news chat, and so I thought it might be amusing to give you a glimpse of a few of the lesser-known provisions of this crucial statute.

  1. Officially, at least, one votes “at” an election, not “in,” as we usually say.
  2. You vote in the riding in which you have your “ordinary residence”. Of course, that’s sometimes tricky to determine. It turns out that for some, sleeping is the key: “If a person usually sleeps in one place and has their meals or is employed in another place, their place of ordinary residence is where they sleep.”
  3. But you can vote even if you’re homeless: a shelter “that provides food, lodging or other social services to a person who has no dwelling place” is an ordinary residence for that person. I can see, though, that the logistics of this might make it a very little used provision.
  4. If you’re imprisoned on a sentence of less than 2 years, you can vote; two years or more, and you can’t. [UPDATE: Please see the comment by Padraic below.]
  5. By November 15 in each year, the Chief Electoral Officer must send each member of parliament the list of eligible voters with “each elector’s surname, given names, civic address and mailing address.” This is how those letters find you. But you can opt out of the Register of Electors.
  6. Elections must be on “the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election” — unless not.
  7. “flood, fire or other disaster” in an electoral district can result in the withdrawal of the writ for that district, in which case the new polling day has to be within 6 months.
  8. You can’t use a loudspeaker within hearing distance of a polling station on election day to promote or oppose a party or candidate. But you can tweet?
  9. Speaking of tweeting, the act doesn’t deal with the new social media. It places many restrictions on “broadcasting” as defined in the Broadcasting Act — thus, for example, you can’t broadcast election advertising “outside Canada” (!) during an election. . But it’s not at all clear (to me, at least) that Facebook or blogs are restricted.
  10. You don’t have to make any special mark — e.g. an ✖ or a ✔ — so long as your ballot has been “marked in a circle at the right of the candidates’ names” — and only one. Oh, and no write-in candidates, please.


  1. Wasn’t #4 struck down in Sauvé?

  2. How right you are, Padraic. I had forgotten that Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer), 2002 SCC 68 found s.51(e) to be a violation of Charter rights. Many thanks for the correction.

  3. Nothing about debates, eh?