Canada election voting guide: All you need know about the 2021 federal vote

WATCH: Those who apply to vote by mail can’t change mind later, Canada's chief electoral officer says

After months of speculation, Canada’s 2021 election is almost here.

Here’s a look at how the Canadian election works, the parties involved, who’s running in your riding, when and where to vote and what to remember when it comes to casting your vote.

This time, Trudeau’s primary competitor is Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole. However, the answer to which party will eventually form the next government depends on individual races for 338 House of Commons seats from across the country.

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Trudeau formally launched the campaign on Aug. 15 after his meeting with Governor General Mary Simon, the personal representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth II, when he asked for Parliament to be dissolved. Simon agreed to the request, making way for the ruling Liberals to push for a vote two years ahead of schedule.

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Right now, Trudeau only has a minority government and relies on opposition parties to push through legislation.

Canadian citizens have the right to choose who represents them in federal politics. If you are a Canadian citizen who is 18 or older, you can vote to elect your local member of parliament (MP). And, it is your vote that helps choose the prime minister.

Here’s everything you need to know about Canada’s upcoming election.

Who can vote?

To vote in a federal election, an individual must be a Canadian citizen and at least 18 years or older as of election day.

Temporary visa holders or permanent residents do not have the right to vote in federal elections.

Voters must carry their proof of identity and address at the time of voting. This includes one original piece of photo identification issued by the Canadian government — federal, provincial or local. A driver’s license or a health card is also considered valid identification proof.

In certain cases, an individual can still vote if they declare their identity and address in writing and have someone assigned to their polling station, who knows them, vouch for them. The voucher too would have to prove their identity.

Who am I voting for?

There are five major political parties in Canada — the Liberal Party of Canada, The Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party. Each of these parties, plus any of the lesser-known parties putting forth nominations, are required to nominate candidates to run in the election.

The deadline to file for nomination is Aug. 30, by 2 p.m. local time.

The updated list of candidates can be found here.

Candidates can also be eligible to run for a federal election without being affiliated with any particular party, either as independents or with no affiliations.

The right to run in a federal election is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Where can I vote?

There are several options available for those eligible to vote in the 2021 federal election. The date, time and address of election day polls are available on the Elections Canada website as well as on voter information cards.

According to Elections Canada, the polls will be open for 12-hour periods, though these hours will vary across time zones.

There is also the option of registering in person at local Elections Canada offices or at polling stations.

For every riding in Canada, Elections Canada sets up local offices, where one can vote in person until the sixth day (Sept. 14) before election day. However, to avail this option, the individual must complete an application for registration and special ballot.

For those looking to get their vote in early, advance polls will be open this year from Sept. 10-13 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. local time.

Advance Polls: What does it mean?

When a poll is held prior to Election Day to allow voters, who think they’d be absent on the day of voting to cast their ballots, it is known as advance polling.

There are several ways to cast your ballot safely before Sept. 20.

By mail

  • To vote by mail, one has to apply online or at any Elections Canada office in the country prior to Tuesday, September 14, 6 p.m. (local time).

At any Elections Canada office

  • In Canada, there are over 500 Elections Canada offices offering the advance polling option. You can vote at any one of them before September 14, 6 p.m. (local time) using the special ballot process.
  • Besides, advance polls are also held on the 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before election day. Voters can call Elections Canada for details.

Apart from these, advance polls are also held on the 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before election day. Voters can call Elections Canada for details.

Election Day Voting Hours

On Election Day, polls will be open for 12 hours across Canada. Here’s a look at voting hours (in local time) at polling places for each time zone across the country.

  • Newfoundland: 8.30 a.m. – 8.30 p.m.
  • Atlantic: 8.30 a.m. – 8.30 p.m.
  • Eastern: 9.30 a.m. – 9.30 p.m.
  • Central: 8.30 a.m. – 8.30 p.m.
  • Mountain (and Saskatchewan in the 2015 election): 7.30 a.m. – 7.30 p.m.
  • Pacific: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.

For electoral districts spanning more than one time zone, the returning officer — with the prior consent of the Chief Electoral Officer — decides one local time for voting all through the district.

The electoral districts spanning more than one time zone include, Labrador, Gaspésie–Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Kenora, Thunder Bay–Rainy River, Kootenay–Columbia and Nunavut. Voters residing in these electoral districts can find the correct voting hours listed on their voter information cards.

Can I vote by mail?

Yes.

This year, however, there is a twist. All eligible voters — whether residing in Canada or abroad — can apply online to vote by mail. This is new in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; in previous elections, the option to use mail-in ballots was only available to Canadians living outside the country or voting from outside of their riding.

However, there are deadlines to such voting and once the decision is made to vote by mail, voting in-person is out of the question.

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Voters who live in Canada have until the Tuesday (Sept. 14) before election day to apply to be on the register. They would be required to complete an application for registration and special ballot and send it to Elections Canada by mail, fax or in-person with proof of identity and address.

After the application is accepted, they would receive a special ballot voting kit, explaining how to mark the special ballot and mail it in.

Canadians living abroad may apply to vote anytime for future elections. The process is somewhat similar. They are required to fill in an application for registration and special ballot for Canadian Citizens Residing Outside Canada.

Once the application is accepted, their name is added to the International Register of Electors that comprises a list of Canadians temporarily living outside Canada. They too receive a special ballot voting kit detailing the mail-in process.

Elections Canada needs to receive all completed voter kits by the time the polls close for them to count. For the first time this year, voting kits will include both pre-addressed and postage-paid return envelopes.

Making your vote count

The ballot is a card comprising the list of all the candidates’ names in your riding. There’s a white circle next to each of their names and the name of their political parties.

To make sure a vote counts, one must be careful to not spoil the ballot. Signing your name on the ballot or writing anything else on it will annul the vote. However, if an individual makes a mistake, they can ask for a new ballot from the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO).

The DRO can also answer any questions one might have about the ballot or assist if needed in any way. However, they cannot influence the voting process or tell you who to vote for — that is illegal.

Is election day a public holiday?

Election day is not a federal holiday.

However, employers are required to give their staff time off with pay to vote in a federal election.

By law, a voter can get three consecutive hours off work to vote but the employer has the right to decide when that time off will be given.

Student voting

The federal election is taking place after the start of the school year but the Vote on Campus program — which had special polling stations on campuses — won’t be running this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, for students living in residence, returning officers will be setting up few polling stations, according to Elections Canada.

Students who are not in their hometowns on election day can opt to vote in the riding where their campus residence or student apartment is located on Sept. 20. They also have the option of voting during advance polls between Sept. 10 and Sept. 13.

Voting by special ballot is another alternative for students who want to vote in their hometown riding but can’t travel back home for advance polls or election day.

For those attending post-secondary school abroad, voting by mail is the only option.

What’s new?

This year the federal election will have some key differences compared to previous polls, including specifically designed health and safety guidelines to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Safety measures will be “rigorously” applied at polls, both on election day (Sept. 20) and during advanced voting, according to Stéphane Perrault, Election Canada’s chief electoral officer.

“The measures that we have in place reflect consultations that we had over the last year and continue to have with public health authorities at all levels,” Perrault told reporters on Aug. 18 while unveiling the new changes.

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Keeping public health guidelines in mind, Elections Canada is mandating masks this year for anyone voting in provinces and territories that need face coverings.

Additional measures such as disposable pencils, hand sanitizing stations and physical distancing measures with directional signage will also be available at the entrances and exits of all polling stations.

According to Elections Canada — to curb the number of physical interactions with voters — there will also be fewer poll workers at stations this year. There will be one poll worker per desk, separated from electors by plexiglass. Additionally, everything, from door handles and workstations to other surfaces, will be sanitized regularly.

— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun 

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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