Election Watch #11: The Advance Poll

This week’s developments in the election campaign teach us why Americans love baseball. The game consists of innumerable small spurts of action, leaving interminable chunks of time to be filled with discussions of statistics and left-handed-batter-against-right-handed-pitcher-type of strategy. This is the part of the campaign when candidates have said the same sound bites over and over again until they probably say them in their sleep, and often seem to be doing so. Wind up the politician, turn the switch, and watch him spew.

Tuesday night’s non-interview between Lisa LaFlamme and Tom Mulcair is a great example. All she had to ask was “How does it feel to be losing?” which she did over and over again with admirable tenacity but uncreative journalistic instinct. He, of course, ignored her questions and continued with his main campaign points, treating the “interview” as simply another chance to practise the Big Lie technique. And I don’t mean to pick on Mulcair in this respect; they’re all doing exactly the same thing.

The Advance Poll

So, in order to give you some hot-off-the-press information from something with which I have intimate knowledge, let’s talk about the Advance Poll. At which I sat for four excruciating 8-hour days, looking up hundreds of voters’ names, addresses and numbers in a huge three-ring binder, so this data could be entered (by hand) on a big sheet by another polling clerk. Which, I gather, is then entered (by hand) into the Elections Canada computers. The system has been developed over hundreds of years. Why change now?

Misconceptions about the Advance Poll.

It was originally intended to give a voting chance to people out of their riding on Election Day. It has since become simply a convenience for those hoping to miss the lineups (which is not working any more). A few people complained about this, but in fact it’s impossible to decide who should be allowed to come and who should not. The bottom line is that the Advance Poll helps get more voters out to the polls, and every increase in voter turnout is to the good.


It is becoming obvious that the Advance Poll is a very convenient convenience, with its popularity growing rapidly. This year there was a 71% increase in voter turnout over 2011, with only a 33% increase in amount of time to vote (from 3 to 4 days).

Unfortunately for those of you who tried to vote, there is no way Elections Canada can predict this rise ahead of time, or solve it when it happens.

You see, the Advance Poll is organized the same way as the regular voting day. Each riding is cut into polling divisions, and voters from several of those divisions are brought together into a few polling places to vote.

However, for the Advance Poll, the riding is only divided into about twenty polling divisions, with the polling stations located in about 6 venues, each containing 3 or 4 polls.

So unfortunately, if you happened to live in an area with a lot of, for example, retired people, then during working hours there is likely to be a big lineup at your poll, while people in working neighborhoods just walk through the door. Their polls tend to be stronger after 5, when the workers come home.

Since this was a long weekend, Sunday was the lightest day, and at our poll, Monday was the heaviest. No idea why.

When the Returning Officer suddenly discovered that he had a lineup of over an hour at our polling booth, there was nothing he could do to make it go faster. There was no sense in adding an extra person to the three-man polling booth. Everyone was doing the job he or she was trained for, and an extra person would just get in the way. Likewise, there was no way to simply add an extra polling booth. The process is much too complicated, and there are legal ramifications if the person’s right to privacy, right to vote, or the secrecy of the ballot is threatened. In a situation such as this, improvisation is not an option.

If the Advance Poll increases in popularity, I assume that in future Elections Canada will increase the number of polls in each riding, so each poll will handle a smaller group, so people can get through faster.

Unless, of course, we make the inevitable switch to electronic voting, in which case it will all go much faster (once the bugs are worked out).

The ID Argument

The other area of complaint is, of course, identification. The problem is that the rules have changed twice over the last two elections, and are not the same provincially as federally. The rule for everyone to remember is that, in this election, the notification card that you receive is NOT acceptable as identification, like it was in the last election. As an employee of Elections Canada I cannot give you my opinion on that.

The best document you can have is an official government picture ID, like a driver’s license. That alone gets you through the door. A Passport is NOT acceptable, because your address is written in by you, and thus scarcely official. If you have a passport, you need one more piece of ID with your address on it. The standard is two official documents, showing the same name as your voter registration, and one of them must also have your address. This year for the first time documents on your phone are acceptable.

The best advice I can give on the ID issue: read the information you have been given (or that is available on the Elections Canada website), and follow it. It’s a small price to pay for the right to vote.

“I Got Bumped off the Voters List!”

This turned out to be a media kerfuffle. If you have proper ID to vote, it takes an extra 5 minutes to re-register. Problem solved.

Voter Attitude

But let’s give Canadians credit. Considering the several thousand voters that passed through our doors this weekend, and considering the wait times and the inevitable glitches in the huge bureaucracy that runs an election, there were few complaints and very little bad feeling. In fact, I got the impression that everyone who came was glad to be there, proud to have voted, and thankful to us for making it possible. There were even several who told us “Thanks for volunteering,” which is scarcely accurate. Poll workers are not paid a huge wage, but they are recompensed for their work. It is only the scrutineers – representatives of the candidates who are allowed to supervise and maintain the democratic nature of the process – who volunteer their time to their party.

I think voters in most of the world would be amazed at the calm, friendly atmosphere of our polling places. The only tension is on the faces of the poll staff, trying desperately to work as fast as possible without making even one tiny mistake, without allowing even one person’s vote to be compromised.

So, despite the lineups and the glitches, those who voted in the Advance Poll have exercised their franchise and contributed to democracy.

And that’s a win, no matter which party gets in.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.