Canada Election 2021: What you need to know about voting by mail

Canada Election 2021: What you need to know about voting by mail

The upcoming Canadian election will likely see a dramatic increase in mail-in votes, as many Canadians try to avoid line-ups and crowded spaces during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In Canada the practice of mail-in voting has been available for decades to no fanfare, though this year is expected to be a bit different.

During the last election, 50,000 Canadians used the mail-in voting option to cast their ballot. The current estimate of mail-in voters for the upcoming election, according to Elections Canada spokesman Matthew McKenna, is between 2 and 3 million. As a result, there will be more people working in IT at returning offices, where the ballots will be sent.

“There’s been quite a bit of work done to make sure that they’re ready for that kind of an uptick,” he tells Yahoo Canada News.

Historically, those who’ve used the mail-in options were people who were going to be away from their riding during the election, either because they’re travelling, in school or living abroad.

Mail-in voting became a controversial issue in the 2020 U.S. election, as some Republican and former U.S. President Donald Trump wrongly claimed the voting option was more prone to fraud. All states currently allow at least a portion of the voting population to cast a vote by mail. The rules vary from state to state, with some allowing registered voters to receive a mail ballot, also known as an absentee ballot, while others require a reason. Some states need a witness signature or notarization on a ballot return envelope, while others only require a voter's signature.

For our election, slated for Monday, Sept. 20, Elections Canada expects more voters to use the mail-in option. Even though voters are in their ridings, they might want to avoid the lineups on Election Day. For the first time, the application for a mail-in voting ballot can be requested online. Previously, a voter would have to contact Elections Canada by phone or go to a local returning office.

The process of applying to vote online is easy, making it an ideal option for vulnerable populations or those who face accessibility challenges.

The first step is applying to vote online by requesting a special ballot as soon as possible. Elections Canada must receive your completed application by either:

  • Tuesday, September 14, 6:00 p.m. Eastern time, if you apply online or to Elections Canada in Ottawa.

  • Tuesday, September 14, 6:00 p.m. local time, if you apply to a local Elections Canada office.

Once you’ve applied for a voting kit, it will be mailed to you.

Unlike ballots at the poll, there isn’t a list of candidates to choose from. On a special ballot, there is a blank space where you write the first and last name of the candidate you’re voting for, so you'll have to do your own research or use this Elections Canada tool.

The voting kit will have everything you need, including a series of envelopes that protect the secrecy of your vote and a prepaid, pre-addressed envelope.

Once you vote by applied ballot, you can’t vote at the polls on Election Day. It's crucial to allow enough time for your special ballot voting kit to reach you and for you to return your marked ballot to Elections Canada by election day. There’s a subtle nuance for those who are voting within the riding and those voting outside of their riding. Details on the deadlines are also included in the voting kit.

“If you’re worried about not getting your ballot back in time (by mail), you can bring it to your assigned polling station, on election day, or any other polling station in your riding, and you can drop it off on election day,” McKenna says.

For those voting outside their riding, their votes get processed in Ottawa. The deadline for those ballots is 6 p.m. EST on election day, Sept. 20.

For more information, visit the Elections Canada website.