Mail-in voting: How to know your ballot is safe

If you’ve been wondering about the security of the upcoming federal election with so many Canadians planning to mail in their ballots, we’ve got you covered.

Also: Is Canada Post the only option? What stops people from voting twice?

In this file photo, a man mails a letter outside a Canada Post office in Halifax in 2016. Elections Canada says it is expecting millions of mail-in votes in this election, based on its latest data. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

This story came from an audience member, like you, who got in touch with us. Send us your federal election questions and story tips. We are listening: ask@cbc.ca.

Elections Canada is prepared to receive up to five million mail-in ballots in this year's federal election. To put that into perspective, only around 50,000 mail-in ballots were cast in 2019.

With millions of votes expected to arrive by mail, many readers have been asking us about the security of mail-in ballots. 

Can mail-in ballots lead to people voting twice?

One audience member read our article on how to vote by mail and asked in the comments about what's stopping people from voting twice or forging mail-in ballots.

Elections Canada has measures in place to prevent voter fraud and people attempting to vote once by mail and then again on election day.

For example, once your application for a special ballot is accepted — which you'll need to vote by mail — your name is struck from the voter list that's kept at the polls.

If you do show up on election day and find your name struck out, you'll have to explain what happened to the voting kit you were sent. If you did not receive your kit or misplaced it, you'll have to swear an oath that you have not cast a special ballot. 

You will then be allowed to vote. But you'll be counted as having voted in-person and having received a voting kit. Elections Canada will then verify against their records of mail-in ballots to make sure you have cast only one vote.

WATCH | Canada's chief electoral officer on preventing people from voting twice: 

What stops people from voting twice

12 months ago
Duration 1:12
Stéphane Perrault, Canada’s chief electoral officer, talks about the measures in place to prevent people from voting by mail and then showing up to the polls on election day.

Is Canada Post my only option for mail-in voting?

Some CBC readers asked us if they must rely on Canada Post to get their mail-in ballot where it needs to go on time.

The short answer is yes, unless you want to pay.

The Elections Canada website states that you can use an expedited parcel delivery service for your mail-in ballot, but it will be on your own dime. 

CBC News asked Canada Post questions about what is being done to account for an influx in volume during the election period, but the postal service deferred to Elections Canada as "the lead organization." 

Elections Canada told CBC News it meets daily with Canada Post to "provide logistical support and advice."

  • Use Vote Compass to compare the party platforms with your views.

If you're voting by mail and want information about potential delays, you can check the Canada Post Delivery Alerts page to see the latest about weather and postal events that may impact mail delivery in your neighbourhood.

Voters who applied to vote locally and are concerned about mailing their completed special ballot voting kit back on time also have the option to drop it off on election day, at their assigned poll or at any polling location in their riding. But you don't have this option if you applied to vote by mail away from your home riding.

How will I know if my ballot has been received?

Many of you wanted to know if you will receive confirmation from Elections Canada that your ballot has been received after mailing it.

The short answer is, no. But there is a way you can check yourself.

After your vote has been mailed off, you can call 1-800-463-6868 to make sure Elections Canada has received it.

What if someone votes in my name using my special ballot?

A few of you asked what's stopping someone from taking a voting kit that isn't theirs and casting a ballot in another person's name. 

For one, they could get in serious trouble. It's an offence under the Canada Elections Act to interfere with, attempt to interfere with or prevent an elector from voting using the special ballot issued to them, according to Elections Canada. 

  • Find out who's ahead in the latest polls with our Poll Tracker.

If you're voting by special ballot, you will have to hand sign the outer envelope before mailing it in. Election Canada holds on to these outer envelopes in case they are needed to verify that each voter has only voted once.

If you think someone else has voted using your special ballot, you can still go and vote on election day, but you'll need to make a solemn declaration that you haven't already voted.

You can also file a complaint to the commissioner of Canada Elections, who can investigate further and administer charges or penalties if required.

How is our system different from the U.S.? 

The 2020 U.S. presidential election had a record-breaking 65 million votes cast by mail, which led to false claims of voter fraud by then-president Donald Trump. 

It's important to note that the U.S. Justice Department found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of that election.

  • Have an election question for CBC News? Email ask@cbc.ca. Your input helps inform our coverage.

Some of you wanted to know more about how Canada is going to handle the abundance of mail-in ballots differently from the U.S.

Tamara Small, an associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Guelph, told CBC News there are a few differences that are important to note. One is that there is a single governing body overseeing the federal election (Elections Canada), as opposed to each U.S. state dictating the way votes are cast and counted. 

WATCH | Tamara Small answers your mail-in ballot questions: 

Your mail-in voting questions answered

12 months ago
Duration 2:30
Tamara Small, associate professor of political science at the University of Guelph takes viewer questions on voting by mail ahead of the 2021 federal election.

"One electoral body running all the mail-in ballots across the country under the same process gives us a lot of reasons to feel confident about the process," said Small. 

Voting by mail also isn't new. Elections Canada notes that Canadians have been able to vote by mail since 1993.

"This is something [Canadians] have been doing for a long time, and they are really good at it," Small said.

Do you have a question about the federal election? Send it to ask@cbc.ca or leave it in the comments. We're answering as many as we can leading up to election day.


Tyler is a producer for the Ask CBC News team. He is also a social media editor who's been with the CBC since 2017. He is based in Toronto and has focused on Canadian and U.S. politics throughout his career.

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