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Understanding voting

Counting of the votes and reporting of provincial election results

Summary

We rely on multiple oversight measures to ensure that the electoral process remains secure, reliable, and non-partisan. Your ballot paper is protected from the moment you place it in the ballot box. No one can change your vote. Learn about the various steps involved, from counting the votes and releasing the preliminary results, on election night, to the official announcement that the candidate who received the most votes has been elected.

In this section

All electors vote using ballot papers that election officers count by hand. No voting or counting machines are used in Québec provincial elections. There was no electronic or Internet voting in 2022. That said, pilot projects may be developed in the coming years.

During provincial general elections, we hire more than 60,000 temporary employees across all electoral divisions to safeguard our democracy. These citizens help ensure that elections run smoothly. They receive training and take an oath to faithfully and honestly perform their assigned duties.

Opening the ballot boxes and counting the votes

Votes cast on election day are counted after the polling stations close at 8 p.m. Polling stations will remain open until any electors already in line at 8 p.m. have been able to vote. This can delay the counting of the votes in these polling places.

When counting the content of a ballot box, no one is left alone with the ballots. It is a security measure. That is why election officers always work in teams of two. The deputy returning officer of a polling station is responsible for hand counting the ballots, with the assistance of the poll clerk. Candidates may attend the count or assign a representative for the polling station. However, neither candidates nor their representatives may handle ballot boxes or ballot papers. They simply observe the proceedings.

When counting the votes, election officers complete a series of steps. Here are their main tasks:

  1. The deputy returning officer unfolds each ballot paper contained in the ballot box for which they are responsible and allows each person present to examine it.
  2. The deputy returning officer rejects any inadmissible ballots and accepts all ballot papers that have been properly marked while organizing them according to the candidate for whom each vote was cast. Although the deputy returning officer is solely responsible for accepting or rejecting a ballot paper, all those present are entitled to hear the grounds for the decision.
  3. The deputy returning officer counts the number of ballot papers in each pile.
  4. The poll clerk records the number of valid ballots cast in favour of each candidate on the statement of votes. They also record the number of rejected and unused ballots. The total must correspond to the number of blank ballots received at the beginning of the day.
  5. The deputy returning officer and the poll clerk insert the different piles of counted ballot papers into separate envelopes, sealing them with stickers that cannot be removed without leaving a trace. All those present (election officers, candidates, and representatives) initial the stickers. The envelopes containing the ballots are then inserted into a large waterproof envelope, which is sealed, initialled, and placed in the ballot box.

Once the poll clerk has completed the statement of votes, the deputy returning officer places the original in the ballot box, gives a carbon copy to the returning officer, and provides a copy to any candidates or representatives who request one.

Finally, the election officers seal the ballot box, and all those present (including the candidates and representatives) initial the seals.

Advance polls

The ballot boxes used for advance polls are stored under supervision until the votes are counted. These boxes must be kept in a secure location protected by an alarm system or a security guard.

The ballot boxes remain sealed until election day. At the end of each advance polling day, all corners of the ballot box and its opening are covered with stickers that cannot be removed without leaving a trace. The deputy returning officer and the poll clerk, as well as any candidates or representatives present, all initial these stickers. No ballot papers may be altered, added to the ballot box, or removed from the ballot box.

On election day, the counting of votes cast at advance polls may begin as early as 6 p.m. This explains why the first results are sometimes released very soon after the polling stations close. But even if the votes in some ballot boxes have already been counted, no results can be released until the polling stations close at 8 p.m.

In addition, people participating in or observing the counting of votes cast at advance polls are not permitted to leave the room or to communicate the results to anyone not involved in the count until the polling stations close. Thus, they cannot influence voters who have not voted yet.

The steps involved in counting the votes cast at advance polls are the same as those described above. Election officers work in teams of two, in the presence of the candidates or their representatives. Any person present may examine the ballots. Ballot papers are accepted or rejected by the deputy returning officer and then counted in the same manner. The results are recorded on the statement of votes. Once counted, the ballot papers are inserted into separate envelopes and placed back in the ballot box, which is then sealed and initialled by all those present (election officers, candidates, and representatives).

Advance polling cover votes cast:

  • On an advance polling day
  • At the office of a returning officer
  • In an educational institution (CEGEP, university, vocational training centre)
  • In a residential facility (CHSLD, private seniors’ residence, etc.)
  • In a hospital, a rehabilitation centre, a palliative care home, or an addiction resource
  • At the domicile of an elector who is unable to move about for health reasons
  • In a custodial facility
  • Outside Québec, by electors abroad

Voting outside Québec

The steps involved in counting votes cast by electors abroad are similar to those described above. Election officers work in teams of two, in the presence of the candidates or their representatives. Ballot papers are accepted or rejected by the deputy returning officer and then counted in the same manner. The results are recorded on the statement of votes. Once counted, the ballot papers are inserted into separate envelopes and placed back in the ballot box, which is then sealed and initialled by all those present (election officers, candidates, and representatives).

An elector who has requested a kit for voting abroad cannot vote in Québec. For a completed ballot paper to be counted, Élections Québec must receive the envelope containing it before 8 p.m. on election day.

Certain checks must be conducted before a postal vote can be accepted. To begin with, the registration process for voting outside Québec makes it possible to verify whether a person is a qualified elector. Élections Québec staff can confirm an elector’s identity by comparing the signatures appearing on the copies of identification documents they submitted with the one appearing on the return envelope containing the ballot paper. Only then is the envelope containing the ballot paper removed from the envelope bearing the elector’s signature. The inner envelope is placed in a ballot box, along with other envelopes containing ballot papers.

During the 2022 provincial election, to facilitate voting in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to postal voting was temporarily extended to two groups of electors:

  • Persons at elevated risk of developing complications from a COVID-19 infection due to their health status (i.e., people with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems)
  • Persons in isolation due to COVID-19

The steps involved in counting votes cast by mail were similar to those described above for other voting options. Security measures were put in place to verify that each requested postal voting kit was sent to a qualified elector for that person’s use.

Staff members conducted various checks before counting votes cast by mail.

  • They confirmed that each elector’s name was included on the list of persons registered for postal voting. This ensured that the elector who returned the kit was the one who had requested it. Electors who registered for postal voting but later changed their minds could not give their kit to another person.
  • They verified whether the returned kit included a photocopy of an identity document with a signature. If not, the kit was rejected.
  • They made sure that the Declaration of the elector had been completed and that the signature on the declaration matched the signature on the copy of the elector’s identification document. If these conditions were not met, the ballot was rejected.
  • They confirmed that the ballot paper had been inserted into the inner envelope (envelope A) and that this envelope had been properly sealed to maintain the secrecy of the vote.
  • They ensured that envelope A remained sealed until the counting of the votes. It was placed in a ballot box, along with other envelopes containing ballot papers.

For a completed ballot paper to be counted, Élections Québec had to receive the envelope containing it and all other required documents before 8 p.m. on election day. Voting kits received past that deadline were automatically rejected without being opened.

On voting days, election officers at polling stations use a list of electors that indicates which electors have already voted. On this list, any person who requested a postal voting kit would be marked as having voted.

If a person was marked on the list of electors as having voted but claimed not to have voted, he or she was required to make a sworn declaration and sign the form provided. This made it possible to detect any electors who voted by mail and then tried to vote a second time at their polling place. Such persons could also face a fine.

As with the counting of votes cast at an advance poll or on election day, candidates and their representatives could observe the counting of votes cast by mail.

Election night results

On election day, the counting of votes cast at advance polls may begin as early as 6 p.m. This explains why the first results are sometimes released very soon after the polling stations close. But even if the votes in some ballot boxes have already been counted, no results can be released until the polling stations close at 8 p.m.

Returning officers are responsible for organizing and conducting elections in their electoral division. On election night, they compile all the results for their division. They enter the results based on the copy of the statement of votes for each ballot box, which allows us to release results to the media and on our website as they come in. The results released on election night are preliminary.

Media outlets often make projections and predictions while the counting of the votes is still ongoing. Sometimes, they declare that certain candidates have been elected before all the votes have been counted. The results posted on the Élections Québec website are updated throughout the night until all preliminary results have been reported.

A few days later, the results are made official at the declaration of election, which takes place following the addition of the votes and after the time limit for filing an application for a judicial recount has expired.

Addition of the votes, judicial recount, and declaration of election

Addition of the votes

The day after the election, the results for an electoral division are initially confirmed, in a transparent and public manner, at the addition of the votes. All candidates running in the electoral division (or their representatives) as well as electors may attend. The returning officer opens each ballot box to collect the original copy of the statement of votes before reading the results out loud. Anyone present is allowed to compare these results with those listed on the carbon copies from the previous day, including those used to announce the preliminary results.

No machines or software applications are used when validating and certifying the results. The contents of the ballot boxes are not counted again during the addition of the votes. Élections Québec cannot, on its own initiative, open a ballot box to validate the outcome of an election. This power is reserved for the courts.

At this point, the results released on election night can be adjusted if the addition of the votes reveals a discrepancy between the information released and the copies of the statement of votes. Once the addition of the votes is complete, the returning officer will declare elected the person who received the most votes. The ballot boxes are then closed and sealed.

Judicial recount

In general, the results clearly show who is elected. However, sometimes a judicial recount of the ballots is required. It takes place under the supervision of a judge.

  • If two candidates are tied for first place, a judicial recount is automatically held. If the recount confirms a tie, a new election will be held in that division.
  • If the difference between first and second place is less than one thousandth of the votes cast, the second-place candidate may request a judicial recount.

Within the next four days following the addition of the votes, any person may file an application for a judicial recount with the Court of Québec. The returning officer is responsible for taking the necessary steps to ensure that ballot boxes are stored securely until the end of this period.

  • If no applications for a judicial recount are filed within four days, the returning officer will declare elected the candidate who received the most votes.
  • If an application for a judicial recount is filed and granted by the Court, a judge will oversee a recount of the votes. Any person may apply for a judicial recount if they have reasonable grounds to believe that ballot papers have been unlawfully counted or rejected, or that a statement of votes is incorrect. Once the Court confirms the results, the returning officer will declare elected the candidate who received the most votes.

The returning officer sends the declaration of election and the result of the addition of the votes to the Chief Electoral Officer. The declaration of election is an important official document; it is required for sitting in the Assemblée nationale.

After providing the Secretary General of the Assemblée nationale with a list of candidates declared elected, the Chief Electoral Officer publishes a notice in the Gazette officielle du Québec listing the surnames and given names of all elected candidates, along with their political affiliation and the name of their electoral division.

We retain all ballot papers, statements of votes, annotated lists of electors, and poll books for one year. In the case of a contested election, this period begins on the day of the Court decision. These documents are kept under seal; they can only be accessed by the courts, if necessary. After a year has passed, ballot papers are shredded and recycled. Since they cannot be reused, ballot boxes are also recycled.

Reporting of results by polling station

We release results for individual polling stations as early as possible, generally after the declaration of election has been issued for the winning candidate. Within a few months, we publish this information in a report on the official results of the poll, which is tabled in the Assemblée nationale.

Each polling station corresponds to a single ballot box. If a ballot box contains fewer than 10 ballot papers or if a single candidate receives all the votes in a ballot box, we combine that polling station’s results with those from another one to protect the secrecy of the vote. The official results will show no votes for the polling station in question. However, these votes have, in fact, been counted. They have simply been included with the results from another polling station.

Polling station or polling subdivision?

Each electoral division is divided into multiple polling subdivisions. A polling subdivision covers all electors who live in the same area. On election day, each polling subdivision corresponds to a single polling station (each polling place hosts multiple polling stations).

However, at advance polls, multiple polling subdivisions are assigned to the same polling station. In addition, electors from various polling subdivisions are allowed to vote at the office of a returning officer, as well as at a CEGEP, university, or vocational training centre. Accordingly, the results for an advance polling station do not necessarily correspond to votes cast by electors from a single polling subdivision. Likewise, the polling station results released on election night provide only a partial picture of the results for the corresponding polling subdivision.

Learn more about the provincial election results by polling station and how to interpret them (in French)

Other resources

The Charter of the French language and its regulations govern the consultation of English-language content.

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