Voting in the Federal Election: Nothing Could be Simpler

First things first – am I eligible?

To vote, you must be a Canadian citizen and 18 years or older on polling day.

Do I need to register?

Nope – you likely already are. Even if you are not, you can still vote at your polling station with the proper ID (see “So how do I actually vote?”). The vast majority of eligible voters are already registered in the National Register of Electors. Elections Canada updates the Register from a number of sources.

I am only living here for school – my permanent home is somewhere else. Should I vote for the riding I am living now, or my permanent home’s?

You are supposed to vote at your ‘place of ordinary residence.’ If your stay here is only temporary (say, you live in student residence or off campus and plan to move “home” during school breaks) you should vote in your home riding. However, if you live off campus and plan to stick around, you should vote where you live now.

How do I vote? Where do I go?

If you are registered to vote, you should have received a voter information card in the mail that has the address of your nearest polling station on it. You can visit the polling station at any point during the day on October 14th. Additionally, you can find your polling station by entering your postal code. That listing should also inform you how late your polling station will stay open.

Make sure to bring proof of identification with you.

If you have not registered, you can still vote at your local polling station but you will need to provide proof of address and identity. There are three ways to do this.

I’ve got things to do – how long is this going to take?

It really depends. Sometimes it’s quick, other times it may take a while. Set aside a block of time to fulfill your civic duty. While it doesn’t always take this long, your employer is required to give you three consecutive hours off of work for voting purposes. You won’t have time only if you don’t have the chance while not working. Unless that’s the case, there’s really no excuse. People in other countries are dying to vote – democratic voting should be seen as a privilege, not a pain.

I can’t make it to the election date. Can I vote ahead of time?

If you are in your riding, you can visit your local Elections Canada office and register to vote by special ballot. The special ballot registration deadline is 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26. Once you have registered for a special ballot, you are unable to vote in any other way. You will have to submit your special ballot by May 2 or earlier. You can even vote by mail!

If you are able to make it to a polling station in your riding for advance voting, that is another option. Advance polling takes place on April 22, 23 and 25. Stations will be open from noon to 8 pm. Find your riding on the Elections Canada website for the advance polling station in your riding, or call 1-800-463-6868.

I don’t know my local candidate, but I know who I want as federal leader. Can I just vote for them?

No – you  can only elect a local leader for your riding. The party that receives the most votes in ridings throughout Canada will have the majority rule. Because there are so many different ridings in Canada, the media cannot provide as much coverage on your local candidate as they can on federal leaders. You will not see Stephen Harper or Jack Layton anywhere on your ballot – only your local riding representative for their party. You may feel uncomfortable voting for someone you know little about – this is why it’s important to attend candidates’ public addresses and All Candidates’ Debates. If you don’t have time to do that, however, your local candidate will have values similar to the party you side with on the whole.

How do I find out about the candidates running in my riding?

The Elections Canada website is a good place to start. On the home page, you can find your electoral district by entering your postal code. That will take you a list of all the registered candidates in your riding. For more detailed information, you can also visit each party’s website and search for your riding. Most candidates have their biography and other information listed there. Click here for more information about the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Green Party. Also, keep an eye out for information in your local newspaper. There may be an all-candidates debate in your riding that you can attend to learn more.  on campus debate, .

Can homeless people vote?

Absolutely, but often the appropriate paperwork or procedures can be barriers.  Here’s the official Elections Canada statement.

Yes, an elector who is homeless or without a fixed address can vote, if he or she registers on the voters list during an election. To register, the elector must provide proof of identity and the address where he or she is staying.

Proof of identity can be an official document bearing the elector’s name. For identity and residence, the attestation of residence by the administrator of a local shelter is acceptable, if the shelter has provided food, lodging or other social services to the elector. In order to register and vote, the elector will also be required to provide a second document authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer showing the name of the elector. Without such proof, a person who is homeless can register on election day as long as another voter who is registered in the same electoral district, and who provides satisfactory proof of identity and residence, can vouch for that person.

Source: Elections Canada. Retrieved September 2, 2008 from

Am I allowed to eat my ballot? It looks delicious.

Funny you should ask. It’s against the law actually. Here’s what Elections Canada says.

Eating a ballot, not returning it or otherwise destroying or defacing it constitutes a serious breach of the Canada Elections Act. These rules are part of a system of unobtrusive checks and balances that are intended to protect the integrity of the voting process and Canadians’ trust in the integrity of the electoral system….

These provisions, based on practices that date from the 19th century, are essential to ensure that electors can exercise their right to vote in conditions that reflect the importance of this aspect of the democratic process and that the count of the votes is accurate. Canada’s system to control all ballots is recognized worldwide as being at the forefront of measures aimed at preventing electoral fraud.

Read more about how Elections Canada keeps track of all ballots here.

Source: Elections Canada. Retrieved April 19, 2011.


Candidate – someone who has put their name forward to run in a riding

Riding – a geographic area represented by an elected official (i.e. Member of Parliament)

Running – no, we don’t mean a fast type of walking, we mean putting your name as one of the options people can vote for in a riding

Polling station – the location you go to vote; often a school, church or community centre

Elector – eligible voter

More information…

On eligible voters – visit section 3 of the Canada Elections Act
On places of ordinary and temporary residence – visit section 8 of the Canada Elections Act

Image via

By Sonya Reznitsky