Politics·ASK CBC NEWS

How to vote in the federal election while living abroad

Expats should apply to be on the International Register of Electors by Sept. 14. Once you're on the list, Elections Canada will mail you a voting kit with a special ballot. Completed mail-in special ballots must arrive in Canada by Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. ET.

Mail-in ballot is the only way for Canadians living internationally to vote

Whether living in France or elsewhere outside of Canada, Canadian citizens abroad can vote by mailing their special ballots to Elections Canada in Ottawa by Sept. 20. (Adrienne Surprenant/The Associated 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.

If you're a Canadian living abroad, you can still cast your ballot in the federal election.

But unlike people living in Canada, you cannot choose to vote in-person on election day or at advance polls — Canadian diplomatic missions will not serve as polling stations.

As an expat, you can only vote by mail and must have the marked ballot delivered to Canada by election day, Sept. 20. 

Make sure you follow these steps in order to make your vote count:

Step 1: Apply to be on the International Register of Electors 

Elections Canada recommends people submit the application online by Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. ET. Applying to be an international voter means you will have to vote with a mail-in ballot. 

Alternatively, you could fill out this form and return it to Elections Canada by fax, mail or courier service.

When applying, you will have to indicate your last residential address before leaving Canada. Elections Canada will use this address to determine which riding you'll vote in. You don't need to provide any proof of address.

You'll also have to upload a copy of at least one of the following pieces of identification:

  • The second and third pages of your Canadian passport.
  • The front and back sides of your Canadian citizenship certificate or card.
  • Your birth certificate indicating that you were born in Canada.

In 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians who have lived abroad for more than five years shouldn't be removed from the International Register of Electors.

If you want to check whether you're still on the list, contact Elections Canada.

Step 2: Receive your voting kit

Elections Canada has promised to process each application for international elector registration within 72 hours, and to send out the special ballot voting kits as soon as possible. But the agency says it may take longer for expats to receive the kits, depending on the postal system of the country where they're located.

These materials are included in the voting kit. Voters are asked to clearly write down the first name (or initials) and the last name of their chosen candidate on the official special ballot paper on the left. (Paul Hantiuk/CBC)

Your voting kit should include these items: 

  • A special ballot.
  • A blank white envelope.
  • An envelope with your name, riding and a space where you can sign.
  • An envelope with prepaid postage addressed to Elections Canada in Ottawa.
  • Voting instructions.

Elections Canada says voting kits are sent to international voters via Canada Post and domestic mail services of the destination country, but in case of expected delays, it may use DHL or other private courier services for delivery.

The agency also says it never asks voters to pay for the courier delivery. "Anyone who gets such a request is correct to be suspicious of a scam," Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier wrote to CBC. 

If you find anything wrong with your voting kit, you should contact Elections Canada for a replacement kit as soon as possible before Sept. 14 at 6:00 p.m. ET.

There are no Elections Canada offices outside of Canada. Local Canadian embassies, consulates and high commissions won't provide voting kits.

Step 3: Mark your ballot

On the special ballot, you may use a pencil or a pen — with blue or black ink — to clearly write down the first name (or initials) and last name of your chosen candidate as listed on Elections Canada's voter information service portal. 

Some candidates may render their names in languages other than English or French on their campaign materials, but Elections Canada recommends against writing those names on the ballot. Your ballot will be rejected if the counting officer cannot figure out who you vote for. 

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

Step 4: Send off your marked ballot

Once you're done marking your ballot:

  • Put the ballot into the blank white envelope and seal it.
  • Put the sealed white envelope into the envelope printed with your name and riding, then sign the outer envelope and seal it.
  • Put this envelope into the prepaid envelope, and send it to Elections Canada.

Your mail-in ballot must arrive at Elections Canada in Ottawa by Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. ET. Late ballots won't be counted, so you should factor in how long it may take to deliver your ballot.

  • Find out who's ahead in the latest polls with our Poll Tracker.
Elections Canada advises expats to factor in how long it may take to return their marked ballots by mail, and suggests they may use a courier service at their own expense to ensure speedier delivery. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

You can contact Elections Canada to check whether your ballot has been delivered. If you want to track the mailing status of your ballot, you may use a courier service at your own expense.

You may also drop off your ballot in a local Canadian diplomatic mission, but you'll have to check with officers there whether the vote has been sent out to Elections Canada.


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.


 

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