Minutes of the Third meeting of the Citizen round table – abridged version

Members of the Citizen round table met on Friday, June 8. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss online voting in concluding the reflection on access to voting. Other discussions initiated previously that focused on the information provided to electors and on the publication of results by polling subdivision continued. A think-tank workshop also enabled the members to begin discussing another major theme: ways to encourage voter turnout. You can read the full minutes here (in French only).

A word from the Chief Electoral Officer: Topical issues

Mr. Pierre Reid, the Chief Electoral Officer, highlights the contribution of the Citizen round table’s discussions and recommendations to the institution’s reflection and mentions that he is very satisfied with the work that has been carried out. He adds that the issues addressed are highly topical in Québec and Canada. Indeed, some of the improvements put forward by the members of the Table regarding the organization of voting locations were implemented during the Ontario provincial elections and are also being studied at the House of Commons at the federal level.

In addition, recent events relating to online voting in Québec make the members’ reflection on the social acceptability of this option and its challenges all the more relevant to feed into the reflection of Élections Québec.

Mr. Reid also reminds members of the importance of the subject of voter turnout. He specifies that, as part of the 2018 provincial general elections, 300,000 young adults will have the opportunity to vote for the very first time. One of Élections Québec’s challenges consists in encouraging them to participate.

Information provided to electors regarding the 2018 general elections

Information tools that will be available to the electorate for the 2018 provincial general elections are presented to members. Improvements are highlighted along with the new methods developed with regard to:

  • Personalized mailings and information documents;
  • Posters and tools on voting locations;
  • The event website.

Members ask if it would be possible to include information on the candidates on the event website. It is noted that the law does not allow this at the moment. Members also put forward a set of more specific recommendations on the content and layout of the event website.

Advertising campaigns

The advertising campaigns are twofold: the first component aims to encourage voter turnout, while the second component aims to inform electors. The objectives of these campaigns, as well as the strategies used, are explained to the members.

Lastly, it is specified that efforts were also undertaken to raise awareness about voting in educational establishments, thereby echoing a recommendation of members of the Table.

Polling subdivisions

The publication of voting results by polling subdivision (geographic units representing a maximum of 425 electors)—a current requirement of the Election Act—allows for the small-scale verification of results.

During the previous meeting, members questioned the usefulness of this data and its use by the political parties. Members are now invited to evaluate three scenarios relating to the publication of results by polling subdivision:

  • Maintaining the status quo;
  • Increasing the size of polling subdivisions for which results are published;
  • Abolishing the polling subdivisions and publishing results only for the entire electoral division.

In concluding their discussions, members express their unanimous dissatisfaction with the current situation. In their opinion, polling subdivisions are too small, which could contribute to the predictability of electors’ votes. They are also concerned with how the candidates and political parties could potentially use this information.

Half of the members are in support of increasing the size of the polling subdivisions. It is proposed, that the size could correspond to all electors of the same voting location. The other half of members thinks that results should instead be published for the entire electoral division.

Online voting

As part of the reflection aimed at facilitating voting, members are called upon to discuss the issues involved in online voting and its implementation in Québec. They are very sensitive to the risks of this voting option and to the fact that online voting is no silver bullet for increasing voter turnout. In light of the risks raised, many advise against implementing online voting, while others, drawn to the convenience of this option for voters, are prepared to consider its progressive and careful implementation in the medium term.

The vast majority of members, however, feel that online voting will be implemented sooner or later. Consequently, members deem it wise to immediatly initiate studies, carry out public opinion surveys across Québec and launch pilot projects.

Members caution that future implementation would have to be done with great care, very gradually, and be accompanied by a large-scale information campaign. Transparency vis-à-vis the public would also be key. Lastly, they stress the importance of maintaining the option of voting on paper if online voting were to be implemented.

Voter turnout

Members take part in a think-tank workshop to initiate the discussion on a new theme: ways to encourage voter turnout. The theme will be discussed further at the next meeting. A report on voter turnout in Québec, as well as an overview of key factors that impact voter turnout, is presented to members.

During a brainstorming session, each member tables three solutions to encourage voter turnout. These suggestions are compiled to form the basis for discussions at the next meeting.

Some of the ideas tabled relate to the electoral framework, for example those aimed at lowering the voting age, recognizing the blank vote, making voting mandatory or imposing candidate quotas. Other suggestions relate more broadly to civic education, citizens’ contribution to the legislative process, voting information and its communication, and how political parties operate.

At the end of the workshop, members are called upon to identify their favourite and least favourite ideas among those put forward. Civic education is the preferred solution, whereas voting incentives is the least preferred. As for mandatory voting, this option elicites mixed reactions. The Chief Electoral Officer announces that discussions for upcoming meetings, which will allow the group to expand on issues related to these proposals, promise to be interesting.

Closing remarks

The fourth meeting will be held after the provincial general elections, in November 2018.

Mr. Reid expresses his willingness to ensure that the recommendations put forward by the Citizen round table reach the public stage and not serve Élections Québec exclusively. He says that although he has already discussed the work of the Citizen round table with the Advisory Committee, he will consider other ways to make their recommendations more widely known.