Reflections on having worked the Ontario elections

We follow 12, count'em, 12 steps to get your vote count. You need only follow 3 steps.

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to work as a “Deputy Returning Officer” in the provincial Ontario elections, district 15, poll 88. Here’s a few things I learned:

  • No resumé, interview or background check is administered to work the election. I got my position from filling out a form after voting in advance polling. Just about anyone and their dog could get a job working the poll.
  • At our poll the day was dead. We kept expecting a rush, but alas there never was one.
  • You work a 13 hour day. Feels like 18.
  • Anyone can vote. Anyone.
    • New this year was a policy that anyone (I mean anyone) could get away with voting, by swearing an oath. They may be committing a crime, and voting illegally, but there’s nothing we can do to stop them from voting. (We would note it in our ledger however).


Walking away from the experience, I now have two opinions:

  • The electoral process is unnecessarily complicated. Lots of forms, instructions, lists, envelopes. Combine this with ill-trained staff and supervisors and there’s a big potential for screw-ups. And there were (twice I corrected our district’s processes based on badly interpreted instructions from our higher-ups). The instructions (a 120-page book) could be a looot simpler by providing a general overview of the process and outcomes, instead of jumping deep into scenarios and instructions.
  • Involvement by the scrutineers (at least for me) helps nail down the importance of properly safeguarding the process.

Suggestions for improving the process

  • Train the supervisors and area managers by having them go through a half-day scenario apart from the regular training where they go through the whole day’s events. Their job is different and requires training that goes above the regular training provided to the Deputy Returning Officers.
    • Specify to the supervisors and area managers how their job is different from one election to the next. Many supervisors are hired because of their experience with prior elections, but it’s not enough to expect them to know for themselves what is different this time around.
  • Nail down to Deputy Returning Officers the importance of the sanctimony of their polling box. That box does not leave their sight. You are responsible for what goes in and what goes out of that box. Your job starts and ends with that box. (How about a “Deputy Returning Officer’s Creed” à la Full Metal Jacket? “This is my polling box. There are many like it but this one is mine.”
  • Electoral reform! That a voter is tied to specific poll in a specific location at a specific location is very archaic to me. I’ll bet Ebay, Amazon and Netflix have more complex information systems than would be required to manage our electoral process (at any level, provincial or federal). More on this later.
Further reflection
Two things I really appreciated about working the elections:
  • No one was an asshole. Not one person. Some were in a hurry, some never even looked at me, but not one person was rude. Some were a barrel of fun of course, but every single person was respectful. Some educated their children about their experience and engaged them in the process. Boy was it hard to say “Sorry sir, I have to legally tell you your son can’t actually mark the ballot for you”. Meh – whatchagonnado?
  • It was really really touching to see new immigrants, particularly elderly new immigrants, being so proud to vote for the first time. It was very humbling. Led by (who I presume is their) daughter or son, the experience was one they enjoyed and appreciated, and I was glad (and humbled) to be there to share the experience with them.
    It may not have helped to see a total of 9 candidates on the ballot (5 more, I’m sure, than they expected), but hey! All that’s worth doing takes effort, right?
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