Liberal MPs Suggest ‘Voting by Phone’ Option for Elections Held During Pandemic

March 2, 2021 Updated: March 3, 2021

Liberal members of a House of Commons committee have recommended that Elections Canada consider allowing Canadians to vote by phone should a federal election be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report submitted by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to Parliament on Feb. 26, the Liberal MPs suggested a “voting by phone” option if the prime minister called an election in the midst of a pandemic. 

The MPs cited testimony from witnesses who said the option could help people with disabilities to vote and that the convenience of voting by phone might encourage more people to vote. 

The Conservatives are against the proposal, arguing that introducing such an “untested infrastructure on a national scale” would be irresponsible and would “undoubtedly strain our already overburdened public service.” 

“Finding new polling locations, hiring election staff to work directly with the public at a time of heightened risks, and managing consecutive voting days would require rapid, large-scale changes to the existing election infrastructure,” Conservative MPs said in the report. 

“That is why Conservatives disagree with the recommendation to add the research, development, and administration of a phone-voting option as additional tasks to Elections Canada’s list of concerns for a pandemic election.” 

The Bloc Quebecois expressed “strong disagreement” with the Liberals’ proposal, citing potential identity and voting fraud.

“In our opinion, telephone voting poses considerable challenges for properly verifying the identity of electors who vote this way,” Bloc MPs wrote.

“It also opens the door to fraud, something important to consider especially in light of the theft of data and personal information over the Internet in recent years, and more recently in connection with the various emergency assistance programs rolled out by the Liberal government during the pandemic.”

The Liberal MPs also recommended expanding the capacity of the mail-in ballot process, with Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault telling the committee that  about 4–5 million Canadians would vote by mail during a pandemic, according t0 surveys conducted.

At the same time, the Liberals recommended that Elections Canada include “appropriate communications with mail-in ballots to ensure voters are aware of how they can vote should they miss the mail-in deadline,” which Conservatives were against. 

Perrault had previously recommended allowing mail-in ballots to be received a full 24 hours after the polls are closed. 

“Ballots received after the close of polls should not be counted,” the Conservative MPs wrote. “The election should end on Election Day and Canadians deserve to know the results without delay.” 

They added that “regardless of when the deadline to submit ballots occurs, there will be some votes that arrive too late,” noting that “the anxiety and uncertainty that would be caused by a delay of election results is unacceptable.” 

Bloc MPs said a delay in election results would “fuel voter suspicion and undermine confidence in the electoral system.” 

The NDP said the federal government should not call an election during a pandemic.