Mail-In Voting: Canada’s System Different From System in US, Elections Canada Says

Mail-In Voting: Canada’s System Different From System in US, Elections Canada Says
A voter enters a polling station as the advance vote in the federal election is opened on Oct. 11, 2019, in St-Georges Que. (The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot)
Lee Harding

A record number of mail-in ballots are expected in this federal election, but the process will be much different than the one used in the last U.S. election, says an Elections Canada spokesperson.

In the 2019 federal election, 50,000 Canadians cast their ballot by mail, a number that could swell to 2-3 million this time due to the pandemic. An Angus Reid poll last November found that one in five Canadians, including 36 percent of Albertans and 41 percent of Conservative voters, believed the 2020 U.S. presidential election was unfair and should be contested.

Matthew McKenna, a spokesman for Elections Canada, told The Epoch Times that  Canadians can be more confident in the approach used in this country.

“It’s a bit like comparing apples to bananas in a way. Even though both [countries] include a vote-by-mail element, it really is quite a bit different, especially the fact that we’re a centralized electoral management body,” said McKenna, in contrast to U.S. elections where rules and regulations vary from state to state.

“It’s pretty secure, it’s pretty tight, the number of checks and balances in place,” he adds.

“Those mechanisms allow for the detection of any sort of double-voting. … There is a unique identifier that associates an application to a return ballot, and there’s a special flag to make sure to do a follow up check to make sure that there wasn’t a vote cast in any other way.”

To strengthen election integrity in the United States, the Heritage Foundation recommends that “all polling places should be run either by a politically neutral polling official or jointly by at least two officials representing the two major political parties.”

By contrast, Elections Canada already ensures that whether at a polling station or during the mail-in vote count, political parties can appoint people to scrutinize the vote. Even in cases where parties do not provide such people, the vote count by law must be confirmed by two independent witnesses.

Prof. Aleksander Essex of Western University, an expert in cybersecurity and vulnerabilities to election tampering, says Canadian federal elections are administered more securely because votes are counted by hand, not by vote tabulation machines. What concerns him about mail-in ballots is the inability to ensure a secret ballot.

“Family, friends, voting parties—we hear these kinds of stories in the U.S. where people get together and vote. … You can have other people in the room with you and they can see how you vote and they can direct you how to vote,” Essex said in an interview, adding that “vote-buying, vote-selling, vote-gifting” are hypothetically possible.

“Think of this process as being like a chain, and if there’s one link in the chain that’s weak—well, if I’m a bad guy, that’s the chain link that I’m going to attack.”

A research brief by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) states there were 14.7 million mail-in ballots unaccounted for in the 2020 U.S. election, including nearly 1.5 million in Los Angeles County alone. PILF called this “the greatest blind spot in the American electoral system.” The group also found 1.1 million undeliverable ballots and 560,814 rejected ballots.

Essex said uneasiness over whether a vote arrives and reflects the voter’s intent does not help confidence.

“Step number one is, did [Elections Canada] get your vote? And then step number two is, did the vote get logged or modified or did they steam open the envelope?” he said. “You just have to trust the mail system to not do that on a large scale, right?”

Canadians have until 6 p.m. on Sept. 14 to request a mail-in ballot and can do so in person or online. McKenna says those who choose the latter can be confident of the process.

“If they apply online, we send them a little reference number when they apply, and [after they mail their vote] they can use it and they can check the status of their ballot. … If they prefer to, they can call their local office and ask,” he said.

“If you truly didn’t get your kit, or if you got a damaged kit and it was too late for you to be able to get it back in the mailbox by election day, then you can go to the polls on election day and explain your situation and vote at the regular polls.”

In 2019, 18.3 million Canadians voted in the federal election, including 4.7 million in advance polls. Mail-in votes are not expected to exceed 3 million, which sits well with Essex.

“Mail-in voting is not as bad as online voting, but it’s not as good as in-person voting. … I would consider it to be a problem if the majority of the election was done in the mail-in fashion,” he said, again vouching for Canada’s system.

“Out of everything that I know about how all the elections work across the world, I think that the federal Canadian elections are among the best-conceived and the best-run of any. It’s one of the only things maybe we can feel good about these days, but we really do have a great system.”

Bill C-19, which proposed temporary changes to how elections would be conducted in a pandemic scenario, died on the order paper and did not become law.