Universal Voter Registration: The Canadian Model

Generally speaking, Canada has a system of universal voter registration.  The Canadian government has largely taken on the onus of registering its citizens to vote as a means of protecting their constitutional right.  It does so by capturing the information needed to register voters when citizens interact with various branches and agencies of the Canadian government. Although no system is perfect and invariably someone will slip between the cracks, the Canadian universal voter registration system provides a model to contrast with the United States system of citizen-initiated opt-in registration. Additionally, Canada allows for election day registration for those who the universal registration system missed. Details on the system are provided below. 

National Election Administration: Elections Canada is the federal agency created by the Canadian Parliament, responsible for conducting business generally associated with federal elections, by-elections and referenda in Canada.  It is a non-partisan, independent body that is most well known for orchestrating elections at the federal level.  However, it also bears the responsibility of administering campaign finance provisions in line with the Canada Elections Act, as well ensuring compliance with electoral laws.  Finally, it is a main source of voter education and studies on alternative voting methods. This central election administration agency makes it possible to coordinate and develop a national system of universal voter registration. 

National Voter Roll: The National Register of Electors is a list of voters’ names compiled from various federal and provincial government branches and agencies by Elections Canada. The National Register, established by Bill C-63 in December 1996, is intended to provide information on all eligible voters at the federal level. It is intended to replace the prior system of conducting voter registration through a census.  Prior to the establishment of the register, Elections Canada hired thousands of volunteers each election to go door-to-door, registering eligible Canadians to vote.  This system was abolished by Bill C-63 because it was determined that a national voter registry would be less costly, less time consuming and would be easier to keep updated. 

In order to make this possible, Elections Canada has information-sharing agreements with several Canadian government branches and agencies as a means of keeping its voter rolls updated.  According to its website, the body exchanges information with the Canada Revenue Agency, Canada Post, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, provincial and territorial registrars of motor vehicles and vital statistics, & provincial electoral agencies. 

Privacy & Opt-Out Provision: Elections Canada is mandated to keep all information on The National Register of Electors confidential via the Canada Elections Act and the Privacy Act.  The information is made available to a select group of people, including political parties and candidates at the time of an election, but can only be used for electoral purposes.  Canadian citizens have the right to have their information excluded from the National Register of Electors or prevent its transfer to the provinces and territories by writing to the Chief Electoral Officer.  If they wish to vote, Canadians can simply register with the office of the returning officer at the time of an election, at an advance poll, or the day of an election at the poll.