What will happen to my marked ballot? Your questions answered

Once you vote, your mission’s accomplished, but there’s still an odyssey ahead for your ballot. We look at what happens to that little piece of paper from the time it's cast to the 10 years later, when it's destroyed.

Ballots will be shredded after 10 years and recycled into other paper-based products

A voter cast a ballot at the advance polling station located in Toronto’s Noor Cultural Centre on Sept. 10. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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Elections Canada estimates close to 5.8 million people voted at advance polls between Sept. 10-13 — ahead of millions of other voters who'll cast their ballots on Sept. 20. 

The agency also says it expects to receive a larger amount of mail-in special ballots than in the previous election.

Some readers have asked CBC News what happens to their marked ballots.

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

Where do the marked ballots stay before being counted?

If you vote on election day, the ballots sit inside the box until the polls close and polling station staff take them out and start counting by hand.

If you voted in advance, the ballots should have been transferred from your polling station to an Elections Canada returning office in the same riding. Depending on their geographical size, some ridings have more than one returning office.

If you cast a special ballot in-person at an Elections Canada office in your home riding by Sept. 14, or you have a ballot that you get to that office by mail or in-person by Sept. 20, it will also be transferred to the riding's returning office.

Depending where you send the mail, your marked special ballot may go to a returning office in your home riding or Elections Canada’s headquarters in Ottawa. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

But if you cast the special ballot in-person at an Elections Canada office outside your home riding, or if you mail the ballot from outside your home riding, it will go to the Elections Canada headquarters in Ottawa.  

Special ballots cast by Canadian Armed Forces members, as well as those cast by people in jail or prison are also mailed to the Ottawa headquarters.

Elections Canada says all votes will be kept at secure locations before counting begins, and ballots may be placed in other facilities when necessary.

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

  • Get live federal election results and analysis on Sept. 20 with CBCNews.caCBC TVGem and CBC Radio. Find full details on how to watch, listen and read here.

When will the ballots start to be counted?

Ballots cast on the election day will be counted at polling stations once the polls close. 

Advance poll ballots may start to be counted as early as one hour before closing of the polls, but that's at each returning officer's discretion.

Special ballots mailed to Elections Canada's Ottawa headquarters could be counted as early as 14 days before the election day — if the volume of ballots justifies this decision.

Elections B.C. staff members count votes following an electoral reform referendum in December 2018. Counting of special ballots cast in home ridings can only begin after voters’ identities are verified. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

But those special ballots mailed to or dropped off at Elections Canada offices in home ridings won't be counted on election night. That's because the agency says local returning officers must verify the voter's identity indicated on the ballot's outer envelope before counting can begin.

The integrity verification process for these locally cast special ballots will start on Sept. 21, and may take up to 24 hours, the agency says.

When will ballot counting be complete?

Elections Canada says its website will keep updating preliminary results sent from returning officers to the agency's headquarters until all votes are counted.

It may take two to five days to count all the special ballots cast by voters in their home ridings.

Returning officers normally finish validating election results in the week after the polling day.

But ballots may have to be recounted — with the presence of a provincial superior court judge — if the leading candidates win the same number of votes or if their vote counts differ by less than one thousandth of the total votes cast in the riding.

Elections Canada will publish the final voting results several months after the election day.

Where will the ballots go after the election is over?

All ballots across the country will be shipped to Elections Canada's Ottawa headquarters after all judicial vote recounts are finished — and will be stored in its distribution centre for 10 years as mandated by the Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

Marked ballots may be retrieved from storage upon request of a court judge, but Elections Canada officials say this has never happened to the best of their knowledge.

Ballots and other election materials used in some federal by-elections in 2017 are stored in Elections Canada’s distribution centre. (Andy Leblanc/Elections Canada)

Where will the ballots go after the storage period ends?

After their decade-long retention, all marked ballots — along with unused ballots and other paper-form election materials stored in the distribution centre — are to be loaded to a metal-sealed truck operated by recycling services provider Cascades and transported to the company's facility, less than 10 kilometres away, for immediate shredding.

Cascades spokesperson Hugo D'Amours says the company will recycle the shreds into other paper-based products, such as paper towels and tissue papers. Some shreds may be sold to other companies.

"Manufacturing paper products or packaging products out of recycled material is eco-friendly," he said. "We use seven times less water than the average of the Canadian industry to manufacture the same product."

After disposal of election materials, Cascades will return to Elections Canada the broken truck seal and a record of disposal — which includes the seal's number, date and quantity of disposal, and signatures of the approving officer and the truck driver. 

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



Winston Szeto

Journalist, CBC Kelowna

Winston Szeto is a digital journalist based in the unceded territories of the Syilx, also known as Kelowna, British Columbia. Send him tips via email at winston.szeto@cbc.ca.

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