As representatives of the Directeur général des élections du Québec and under the authority of the adjoint et directeur des opérations électorales, returning officers are responsible for administering the Election Act in their electoral divisions. In this regard, they must take the measures required to ensure that the electoral process runs smoothly.
The returning officer is appointed for a ten-year term of office following a public competition held by the Directeur général des élections du Québec. There are three steps in the selection process. The first step involves completing a registration form. Those candidates whose experience is deemed relevant are asked to take a written exam, which constitutes the second step. During the third step, the candidates who ranked first, second and third at the end of the second step are invited to take an oral exam. The oral exam unfolds in the presence of a committee made up of three members, one of whom is not a staff member of the Directeur général des élections du Québec. The candidate who ranks first after the three steps in the selection process is appointed returning officer. In the weeks following his appointment, the returning officer must appoint an assistant returning officer according to the rules set by the Directeur général des élections du Québec. A training program intended for new returning officers is given to him so that he can acquire the knowledge and skills required to performs his duties.
Returning officers must have appropriate knowledge of the characteristics of their electoral divisions in order to provide customized management of electoral events. In particular, they must consider the following factors: the types of regions and population (rural, semi-rural, urban), the size of the electoral division, the number of municipalities, the number of candidates and political parties, the availability of premises in which to set up their main offices, revision offices and polling stations, as well as communication methods.
When an electoral event is held, the returning officer opens his main office. From this “command post,” he and his team members coordinate and carry out all the electoral activities of the electoral division. An important part of the returning officer’s duties consists of recruiting and training several categories of staff to perform specific tasks determined by the Election Act. For example, he is responsible for appointing election officers (revisors, revising officers, scrutineers and poll clerks, members of identity verification panels, and officers assigned to the list of electors) on the basis of recommendations made by political parties entitled to do so.
During the election period, returning officers prepare the necessary material, set up the offices and provide information concerning the electoral event to the electorate, political parties and candidates. They also receive, check and acknowledge receipt of nomination papers and authorize independent candidates to collect contributions and incur election expenses. In addition, they coordinate activities involved in duplicating and printing electoral lists and ballot papers. They are also responsible for advance polling, inmate and mobile polling, as well as polling-day operations. Finally, on the day after the election, returning officers count the votes and declare elected the candidates who have received the greatest number of votes. After the event, they write reports and participate in follow-up meetings on the electoral event.
In addition to administering electoral events, returning officers may be required to perform certain duties concerning the establishment of boundaries of electoral precincts and polling subdivisions and the activities of the Permanent Board of Revisors.
The tasks that must be performed by returning officers, on behalf of the Directeur général des élections du Québec, confer on them a mission of public interest. Moreover, in their capacity as mandataries and as managers of public funds, they are required to have certain qualifications and adhere to certain ethical standards. In this regard, returning officers must be impartial, upright and discrete. In addition, they must refrain from working for or being members of any party. They must also exhibit vigilance and transparency in the attribution of goods and services supply contracts. Finally, returning officers must comply with the directives of the Directeur général des élections du Québec and, at his request, cooperate in considering, trying and assessing new voting procedures.