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Elections held across Canada during the pandemic hold key lessons for Ontario

May 17, 2022 Print

Montreal – COVID-19 has added an extra layer of challenges to pretty much everything we do — including electing governments. As Ontarians head to the polls and Quebecers prepare to do so in the fall, a new report from the Institute for Research on Public Policy shares some key lessons that the province’s election organizers can take from the six major elections carried out in Canada during the pandemic.

In the report, published by the IRPP’s Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation, Allison Harell and Laura Stephenson analyze what worked and what didn’t in provincial and federal elections held over the past two years and assess the impact this has had on electors’ behaviours and perceptions of the electoral process.

“By comparing experiences across these elections, we can draw some key lessons about the impact of election administration decisions on voter behaviour and satisfaction in Canada,” explains Harell, who co-directs the Consortium on Electoral Democracy with Stephenson.

The key takeaways from their findings are:

  • Turnout levels for the pandemic elections in Canada declined almost everywhere.
  • The pandemic elections saw a decline in election-day voting and an increase in advance voting. In some provinces, more people voted prior to election day than on the actual day. This is an important trend that has the potential to completely change how campaigns work.
  • Most people didn’t change their mind and ended up voting using the method that they had intended to.
  • For the most part, voters reported being satisfied with how the election was run.

From their analysis, Harell and Stephenson provide two major recommendations.

First, while election management bodies can’t plan for every possible problem, electors themselves can handle new ways of voting and new procedures at the ballot box. Providing options in an uncertain situation allows voters who may be more at risk to choose alternative ways of participating. Although this adds organizational complexity, it can improve the voting environment so that electors feel that their vote counts.

Second, clear communication with voters about what to expect is particularly important; unexpected changes can lead electors to blame key actors regardless of whether the situation was in their control. That’s a lesson that election organizers in Newfoundland and Labrador learned the hard way when they had to change tack the day before the election and cancel all in-person voting.

Ultimately, running an election during a pandemic requires flexibility and planning. “Our report shows that, no matter which voting options are provided, when the process runs smoothly, is clearly communicated and electors are given a reasonable set of choices, confidence in electoral democracy in Canada is likely to remain high,” says Stephenson.


Elections During a Health Crisis: Voter Involvement and Satisfaction across Pandemic Elections in Canada can be downloaded from the website of the Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation (centre.irpp.org).

The Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation is a permanent research body within the Institute for Research on Public Policy. Its mission is to build a deeper understanding of Canada as a federal community. To receive updates from the IRPP, please subscribe to our e‑mail list.

Media contact: Cléa Desjardins, tel. 514-245-2139 cdesjardins@nullirpp.org

Media Contact

Cléa Desjardins
Communications Director
Tel. 514-245-2139 • cdesjardins@irpp.org