Canada: Election Day 101: Read This Before You Vote Or Volunteer In Ontario's Provincial Election

On June 7, 2018, Ontarians will elect the province's 42nd Legislative Assembly. The Ontario Election Act and Election Finances Act govern what candidates, volunteers, and voters may (and may not) do on Election Day. Here's what you need to know.

This Election Day primer is designed to help you exercise your civic duty, whether as a voter or volunteer, on June 7. It is intended as general guidance only. If you have any specific questions, please contact Elections Ontario.

To jump to information for voters, click here.

To jump to information for volunteers, click here.


Who can vote?

First, the basics. You must be 18 years or older, a Canadian citizen and a resident of Ontario to vote on June 7. You will also need at least one piece of identification. If you received your Voter Information Card ("VIC"), you may bring your VIC as well as an additional piece of identification that shows your name. If you have not received your VIC, you will need to bring a piece of identification that shows both your name and your address. Refer to the list of acceptable forms of identification on Elections Ontario's website to avoid problems at the polls.

In rural polling divisions, it is possible to receive a ballot without sufficient identification by vouching. You must take an oath as to your eligibility to vote and another voter with sufficient identification must take an oath vouching for your eligibility. A voter may vouch for multiple people.

Where do I vote?

Ontario is divided into ridings, which in turn are divided into polling divisions. Each polling division will have a polling place. On June 7, a single location may be the polling place for multiple polling divisions. These locations must comply with the accessibility standards set by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005. They are often churches, schools, libraries, or similar locations.

Polling places are provided for hospitals, retirement homes, and similar institutions. Residents of the institutions may vote at the provided polling places, and bedside voting shall be arranged. These polling places may be mobile, in order to visit several institutions in a riding.

You must vote at the polling place for your polling division. Your VIC will describe its location. If you are unsure or have not received your VIC, Elections Ontario has an online tool for finding your voting location.

When can I vote?

Polling stations will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. Voting hours may be extended if voting does not start on time or is delayed.

The doors to the polling place will close when the polls do, at which point you will not be able to enter and vote. If you are inside the polling station or in line to vote at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, you will be permitted to vote even if the doors have closed.

If you are working on Election Day, and your hours of employment do not allow for three consecutive hours to vote while the polls are open, you may request that your employer allow additional time to provide for those three consecutive hours. Employers are required to grant such requests, but they may do so at the time of day that best suits the convenience of the employer. If an employee requests and is granted additional time to vote, their employer is not allowed to make a deduction from the employee's pay or otherwise penalize the employee for being absent from work during the three consecutive hours allowed for voting.

How do I vote?

When you arrive at your polling place, you may find stations for multiple polling divisions. Find the station with the number that corresponds to the number on your VIC, or ask one of the Elections Ontario staff.

At the station, you will find a Deputy Returning Officer ("DRO") and a poll clerk. There may also be scrutineers representing the candidates. After you present your identification, you will be handed a folded ballot with the DRO's initials on the back. Take the ballot behind a voting screen and, if you wish, make a mark in the circular space next to your preferred candidate's name. Take the ballot back to the station and deposit it in the ballot box after the DRO has confirmed the initials on the back of the ballot. When you are finished, you must leave the polling place.

If you are not on the voters list, you may add your name by providing a piece of identification with your name and current address. You must be at the polling place for the polling division in which you live. After you add your name, you may receive a ballot and proceed to vote.

It is illegal to display your ballot with an indication of how you voted, or to use your phone in a polling place without permission from the returning officer. Alas, this means you may not take a selfie with your ballot.

For more information on how to vote, visit the "How to Vote" page on Elections Ontario's website.


Before the polls open

The primary manner of volunteering on Election Day is to be a scrutineer. Scrutineers are a candidate's representatives at polling places.

To be a scrutineer you must be at least 16 years old and have a form designating you as a scrutineer signed by your candidate. When registering at a polling place, you must take an oath or affirmation of secrecy. Each candidate may have one scrutineer in a polling place, even if there are multiple polling places in a location. Scrutineers must wear an Elections Ontario label identifying them as a scrutineer.

Your role as a scrutineer is to observe the electoral process, including the voting by electors and counting of the ballots after the polls close.

If you arrive before the polling place opens, you are entitled to have ballots counted in your presence, to inspect the polling materials, and to observe the sealing of the ballot boxes.

While the polls are open

As a scrutineer, you are entitled to remain in the polling place throughout the day and to observe the voting. You are also entitled to request and receive an update from the poll clerk every half hour with information on which voters have voted or forfeited their right to vote.

Scrutineers who are eligible electors may challenge an elector through the DRO at the poll place they are scrutineering. The DRO may, at the request of the scrutineer, require an individual to make a statutory declaration regarding their identity and eligibility to vote. Once the individual makes the declaration, they are entitled to receive their ballot. If the individual refuses to make the declaration, they forfeit their right to vote.

While scrutineers are granted significant access to polling places, you must be sure to avoid interfering with the voting process. You are not permitted to wear anything identifying your candidate or party affiliation, including buttons, logos, or colours. You may not speak to electors, act as an interpreter, touch the ballots, request or reveal information about how a voter voted, use your phone in the polling place, go behind the voting screens while an elector is voting, or compromise the secrecy of the vote. Scrutineers who are disruptive or do not follow the rules may be barred from the polling place by a Returning Officer.


A significant part of volunteering on Election Day is encouraging electors to cast their vote, otherwise known as Get Out The Vote ("GOTV"), or "pulling" the vote. This can be stressful, but it is also among the most rewarding — and important — things you can do to serve our democratic process.

As part of their GOTV efforts, campaign volunteers are allowed to access multi-unit residential buildings on Election Day between 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. To gain access, you must have valid identification, a valid Canvasser Authorization Form from your candidate, and at least one person in your group of volunteers must be over 18.

Campaigning on Election Day

While GOTV efforts are permitted, political advertising is restricted on Election Day and the day prior. Political advertising is anything that can be seen, read, or heard that promotes or opposes a political party or candidate. This does not include lawn signs, social media or web content that is not advertising, or materials designed for GOTV purposes.

For more information on what is permitted and restricted during a blackout period, visit the "Rules for Political Advertising" and "Social Media Rules During an Election" pages on Elections Ontario's website.

After the polls close

After voting ends, the returning officer will close and lock the doors to the polling place. If you are a scrutineer, you must be inside prior to the doors closing. You will not be allowed to leave and re-enter once the doors are closed.

You are permitted to observe the counting of the ballots by hand or machine, depending on how the votes are cast.

For a manual count, you may object to ballots that are unmarked or incorrectly marked. The DRO retains final say on whether a ballot is rejected. After all ballots are counted and sealed in their respective envelopes, you may sign the envelopes. When the unofficial count is complete, you may share the results with your candidate.

This election also marks the first general election in which some Ontario polling places will be equipped with electronic polling machines. You will be able to observe the tabulation process, from the operation of the vote tabulator to the posting of the unofficial results by the Tabulator DRO. Because the tabulator processes the ballots, you will not be able to object to any of the ballots.

For more information, please see Elections Ontario's "Scrutineer's Guide".

The Bottom Line

This primer is designed to ensure that you know your rights and responsibilities on Election Day, however you decide to participate. If you will be voting, ensure that you know what you need to vote, where you need to go, and when you need to be there. If you will be volunteering, talk to your local candidate to coordinate with their efforts, and ensure that you understand the rules that apply to you and that you have the necessary documents to do your work.

Thank you for taking the time on June 7 to participate in our democracy. See you at the polls!

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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