Electoral Reboot: Voting for the Weekend

Electoral Reboot: Voting for the Weekend

UPDATED: September 27, 2016 11:35amET

Should Canadians follow the lead of other countries that vote on the weekend?

Elections Canada wants Parliament to consider the change. Here is what chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand argued in a Sept. 27 report to MPs:

Australia, New Zealand and a number of European countries have their polling day on a weekend, and Canada should consider a similar move. Weekend polling may make the vote more accessible for some Canadian electors—although it should be noted that Elections Canada’s consultation with electors with disabilities underlined the importance of para-transportation services being available on a weekend polling day, were this change to be made.

Weekend voting would also increase the availability of qualified personnel to operate polling stations and of accessible buildings, such as schools and municipal offices, for use as polling places. While schools can present ideal locations for voting, concerns about student safety make it increasingly difficult for ROs to obtain access to schools for voting while students are on the premises. For all these reasons, Elections Canada believes that having polling day on a weekend would better serve Canadians.

The idea was also raised again at the Special Committee on Electoral Reform as an option to increase turnout.

“Give people a day off to vote,” Patrice Dutil, a Ryerson University political scientist, told MPs in July.

“Vote on a Sunday when most people are not at work, dealing with kids, dealing with school, taking them to lessons, doing all the things that a normal family does during the week.

“It used to be an idea that was received with a great deal of hostility. I think times have changed.”

Watch Dutil at the committee:

DO VOTERS LIKE MONDAYS?

Canadians traditionally vote in federal elections on a Monday.

The Canada Elections Act is clear, thanks to fixed-date voting legislation. A general election “must be held on the third Monday of October,” four years after the previous election – though ultimate discretion remains with the Governor General (and the prime minister).

That means the next federal vote is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.

Advance polls, though, include Saturday and Sunday voting times.

More than 3.6 million Canadians used an advance poll in 2015, especially over Thanksgiving weekend, representing 21 per cent of the total vote (and outdoing Elections Canada projections). That was compared to 2.1 million advance votes in 2011 (14.7 per cent of the total).

Overall voter turnout rose from 61.1 per cent to 68.5 per cent in 2015 — the highest number in more than two decades.

Elections Canada’s report on the 2015 campaign argued that:

Canadians’ voting habits are shifting in fundamental ways. Canadians expect service options that align with their lifestyles, personal and family situations, geographic settings, and health circumstances. Simply stated, electors increasingly want to vote when and where it suits the, — no longer just on election day at a designated polling station.”

 

TURNOUT AND ACCESS

That same Elections Canada report found that: “Electors’ reasons for not voting have remained constant over the last three elections, with reasons related to the electoral process being a distant third behind everyday life issues and political issues.”

Meanwhile, Elections Ontario has raised the idea of weekend voting, arguing access to schools (typically used as polling stations) would be easier.

Quebec’s chief electoral officer called for Sunday elections in 2004, making similar arguments about time and convenience, especially for younger voters. As well: more ease in staffing polling stations, more options for employers in giving time off to vote, and better access for older and special needs voters.

On the other side, an Elections Canada study noted: “Opponents object that people may prefer to take advantage of a day off for other activities and may not bother to vote.”

In studying the April 2016 provincial election, Elections Manitoba reported that one-third of non-voters were too busy, working, or out of town.

 

PRIOR ATTEMPTS

Sunday voting has been tried once in Canada: the 1966 Quebec election. Voter turnout was 73.6 per cent — a six-per-cent drop from the previous election. This was also the first Canadian election with 18 as the voting age.

A 1991 royal commission on electoral reform recommended against moving elections from Monday to Sunday.

A 2007 Conservative government bill called for an extra advance voting day on the Sunday before the election — essentially creating a two-day election. The legislation was re-introduced twice more in subsequent Parliaments but never passed the House of Commons.

Daniel Johnson, Sr. (centre), led Quebec's Union Nationale to a mjaority government in the 1966 election -- held on a Sunday. (Library and Archives Canada)

Daniel Johnson, Sr. (centre), led Quebec’s Union Nationale to a majority of seats in the 1966 election — held on a Sunday. (Library and Archives Canada)

 

AROUND THE WORLD

Many countries vote on either a weekend or public holiday, especially in Europe and South America.

Australia and New Zealand voters mark their ballot on a Saturday. In France, it’s been on Sunday since the 1880s.

In looking at Sunday voting in Europe, Canada’s Library of Parliament concluded in 2005 that: “Although studies found that Sunday voting facilitated the process for some electors, it effectively created a new class of non-voters who simply did not want to give up their free time on the weekend.”

The U.K. has considered weekend voting, but elections on Thursday have been the tradition since 1935; the last Saturday vote was in 1918.

Americans vote on Tuesdays. A non-partisan group called “Why Tuesday?” wants the United States to move to weekend voting. A bill to switch to Saturday and Sunday voting for congressional elections was introduced in 2015.

A 2012 U.S. government report suggested, though, that voter turnout would not be strongly affected.

-Andrew Thomson