A word from the Chief Electoral Officer: A look back at the 2018 general election
Mr. Pierre Reid, the Chief Electoral Officer, opened the meeting by reminding members that holding a general election is a substantial challenge and presenting a few points from the institution’s assessment of the election. He stressed the record number of candidates who ran in the general election and the achievement of near gender parity among candidates. He stated that he was proud of the work done by his teams in regard to ensuring that polling proceeded smoothly, the speed with which citizens’ questions and complaints were answered, and the success of programs geared to children and young people.
He also pointed out that Élections Québec teams are conducting follow-up meetings to identify improvements to be made to the electoral process for 2022 and 2026, making the report by the members of the Citizen round table an important part of this reflection.
Members’ assessment of the 2018 general election
Most of the members’ voting experiences were positive. The members discussed Élections Québec’s successful and less-successful actions.
Several members mentioned that the short waiting times, the courtesy shown by election officers and the general atmosphere at polling stations made their experiences pleasant ones. In addition, certain experiences in particular should be noted as successes:
- The event website, for its look, its user-friendliness and the variety of information it provides;
- Small polling stations, for the positive feedback that members received and the enthusiasm they generated among parents;
- The awareness campaign, for its humour, positive tone and use of innovative communication platforms;
- The information provided to the electorate on the notice to the elector, in the Voter’s Manual and on the reminder card;
- Access to voting, for the efforts made to facilitate and build awareness of voting in residential facilities;
- Returning officers, for their expertise and excellence in their role as voting ambassadors.
A few member experiences were considered to be less positive:
- Waiting caused by slow computer systems;
- The insufficient training of election officers and their work in particular inadequate signage providing directions to polling places and inside it;
- The lack of information about candidates and political parties;
- Confusion created by the co-existence of two Élections Québec websites (event site and institutional site).
For the next general election, the members identified three aspects to be improved on a priority basis:
- Aspects pertaining to election officers: recruiting, training, work, etc.;
- Slow speed of computer systems;
- Lack of information on party programs and candidates.
Protection of personal information
The members were invited to express their views on on measures to oversee practices of political parties in relation to the protection of personal information, particularly electors’ personal information appearing on the list of electors. Prior to the meeting, the members reviewed the provisions of the Election Act regarding the sending of the list of electors to political parties, candidates and MNAs. This information may be used only for electoral purposes.
Most members said that they were unaware that candidates’ and political parties’ practices regarding the use and protection of personal information were so unregulated. They felt that greater oversight and obligations would be desirable.
Although some members acknowledged that political parties may find data on electors useful in mobilizing voters and encouraging them to get out and vote, most members said they were uncomfortable with the possibility that political parties use that information to build databases. Some members proposed that the Chief Electoral Officer stop sending out the list of electors, which is prescribed by the Act, while others feared that doing so would penalize smaller parties, which, unlike larger parties, do not have the necessary resources to develop databases based on other sources of information.
Limit the transfer of certain data
The members discussed various oversight measures, including the possibility of restricting the information provided. The members agreed to propose that the genders, dates of birth and other information on electors registered to vote outside Québec, to vote at their domicile or to vote at a residential facility should no longer be provided to parties and candidates. Should the list of electors be sent out or not? Opinions were divided on this point. The members also suggested that the frequency of sending out the list of electors be reduced. The list is currently sent by the Chief Electoral Officer three times a year.
More stringent oversight regarding the protection of data
Table members shared a desire to ensure greater oversight of political party practices in regard to the protection of personal data and to improve transparency. They agreed on a certain number of measures to be put in place and paired with consequences in the event of non-compliance:
- Everyone called upon to use these data would be required to sign a confidentiality agreement.
- Electors would have the option to view their personal information held by a political party and to ask the party to modify or delete it.
- Such data could be kept only for the duration of the election period.
The members believe that an independent public authority should also be empowered to conduct investigations and impose penalties.
Four ways evaluated to encourage voter turnout
The meeting continued with discussions on the four measures to encourage voter turnout that were mentioned by members during their previous meeting.
The members showed little enthusiasm for making voting mandatory. They prefer solutions aimed at making electors want to vote.
The members want voters to have the option to cast blank votes and for such votes to be recorded just like votes cast for candidates. If most of the votes cast are blank, a new election will be held.
The members recommended giving all electors a symbolic token of appreciation, such as an “I voted!” sticker or a similar small object to encourage voter turnout. Most members disagreed with the idea of offering a financial incentive.
Lowering the voting age
Because lowering the voting age would enable a greater number of people to express their views at election time and could help instill a habit of voting among young people, the members were nearly unanimous in their support for this measure. As a prerequisite, the members recommended—unanimously, this time—the establishment of a civic education course starting in the third year of secondary school.
The next steps
Members were invited to identify two subjects that they would like to discuss at the next meeting, one of which will be put on the meeting’s agenda. Following a discussion, the two subjects identified as the group’s clear favourites were the following:
- Public consultation methods other than elections;
- Rebuilding the social fabric between politics and citizens.
The fifth meeting of the Citizen round table is planned for February or March 2019.