A Guide to Voting in the Canadian Federal Election

If you are a Canadian citizen you have the opportunity to choose who represents you in federal politics. During a federal election, you can elect your local Member of Parliament (MP) and your vote helps choose the Prime Minister.

Who can vote?

To vote in a Canadian federal election you must be:

  • a Canadian citizen (temporary and permanent residents cannot vote)
  • 18 years old or older on election day
  • a resident in the electoral district
  • registered on the Voters List (also called the list of electors)

If you meet the first 3 requirements but are not on the Voters List, you must add your name to the list using the online voters registration service or by handing in a Registration Certificate at your local polling station or Elections Canada office.

Can I take time off work to vote?

Every voter must have 3 consecutive hours off work to vote. If you have 3 consecutive hours of your own time available during polling hours, your employer does not need to give you additional time for voting. However, if you do not have this time available, you must request this time from your employer.

Your employer must give you time off with pay, but your employer can choose when the time will be given.

Can I vote by mail?

Yes, you can apply to vote by mail through a "special ballot". Keep in mind that there is a deadline date to apply to this and you should plan for it well in advance.

You may register to vote by special ballot if your primary residence is in Canada but you expect to be outside your electoral district on the day of the election, either in Canada or elsewhere. This may be useful if you are a student or a traveler and are not in your electoral district on polling day or during the advance polls. 

NOTE: Due to the pandemic, special considerations are being made if you wish to vote by mail and are not outside of your riding or the country. Find out more by visiting the voting by mail page on the Elections Canada website

IMPORTANT: If you register to vote by special ballot, this is the only way you can vote. You cannot vote in person or at advance polls.

How do I vote if I have accessibility needs?

Elections Canada has services to ensure all voters have equal access at voting time. For example, you can ask for a sign-language interpreter or an interpreter for another language. You can also request to vote at home if you cannot go to a polling station or mark your ballot due to a disability.

You can also request to access voting assistant tools like:

  • bigger ballots with larger print
  • magnifiers with light
  • a tactile and braille voting template
  • large-print and braille lists of candidates (only available on advance polling days and on election day.)
  • language or sign language interpretation (must be requested ahead of time)

For accessibility accommodations visit the Accessible Voting page  or you can call 1-800-463-6868 or 1-800-361-8935 (TTY) to ensure your assigned polling station meets your needs.

How do I know if I am on the voters list?

When the election is announced, Elections Canada creates lists of voters using information from the National Register of Electors.

The National Register of Electors is a database of Canadians who are qualified to vote. A few weeks before the election, Elections Canada will send you a Voter Information Card if your name is on the voters lists. The card will tell you that you are registered, and where and when to vote. It also has information about the date and location of advance polls.

Take this card with you when you go to vote.

To check if you are registered to vote or to register or update your information, you can use Elections Canada’s online tool. You can also do this by mail as well as in person, either at your local Elections Canada office up to 6 days before election day or at your polling station on the day you go to vote.

What if I get a Voter Information Card mailed to my home for a family member who isn't eligible to vote?

Elections Canada receives their data from different sources in order to compile their voter lists and errors can happen sometimes.

If you receive a voter card:

  • for a family member that lives at your address who is not a Canadian citizen
  • for someone who is deceased
  • for a person who doesn't live at your address
  • with errors

You must call Elections Canada at 1-800-463-6868 to report the error or to be removed from the list. It is illegal to vote under false information and you could be subject to penalties if you do.

What should I bring with me when I go vote?

To vote in the federal election, you must prove your identity and address. You have three options:

  • Show your driver’s licence or any other card issued by a Canadian government (federal, provincial/territorial or local) with your photo, name and current address.
  • Show two pieces of ID. Both must have your name and at least one must have your current address. Your Voter Information Card counts as a valid piece of ID. You can show it together with a bank statement or utility bill, for example.
  • If you don’t have ID, you can declare your identity and address in writing and have someone who knows you and who is assigned to your polling station vouch for you. They must be able to prove their identity and address, and can vouch for only one person.

How do I vote if I do not get a Voter Information Card?

If you are not on the National Register of Electors and did not receive a Voter Information Card, and you want to add your name to the list, you will have to fill out a Registration Certificate. You can do this in person at the polls as well as by completing it online, printing it out and bringing it with you when you go to vote. Once your returning officer authorizes the certificate and you prove your identity and address using one of the options described above, you will be able to vote.

Who am I voting for?

In a federal election, you are voting for the prime minister of Canada but you do this indirectly by voting for your local Member of Parliament (MP). Local MPs belong to a political party so when you vote for them you also support the leader of that party at the federal level. The leader of the political party that gets the most "candidates" or MPs elected across the country becomes prime minister of Canada. In Canada, unlike other political systems, you do not vote for the prime minister directly.

You will be asked to cast your vote based on the MP that will represent your riding in the House of Commons of Canada. Each MP is considered one seat and the House of Commons is made up of a total of 338 seats. Ontario is represented by 102 MPs.

You can read more about Canada's electoral system in our What is Canada's political system? article.

How do I choose who to vote for?

Each candidate and party has different ideas about what is important, how to spend tax money, and how to solve problems. You need to decide what is important to you, and what you think is best for Canada. Then you need to find out which candidate and which political party you agree with most.

In an election period, the candidates will try to let people know what they think is important by distributing flyers, visiting door to door, speaking at community meetings, and getting stories in the newspaper or on the radio. Groups in your community may also organize an All Candidates Meeting where candidates from all the parties will gather to speak and answer your questions.

You can also find out more about what candidates and their party think about issues by phoning their election offices or visiting their websites. You can find contact information and the website addresses for all registered political parties in Canada on the Elections Canada website.

What does the ballot look like?

The ballot is a card with a list of names of all the candidates in your riding. The ballot will have a white circle beside each candidate's name. The candidates' political parties will be on the ballot.

The Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) will explain to you what to do with the ballot. It is the DRO's job to answer any questions you have about the ballot.

You will go behind a screen so you can vote in private. No one should see how you vote. Unfold your ballot. Find the name of the person you want to vote for. Mark an "X" in the white circle beside this person's name.

After you mark your "X," refold your ballot. Give it back to the DRO, and they will put your ballot in the ballot box. You are finished voting.

To make sure your vote counts - be careful not to spoil your ballot:

  • Do not sign your name on the ballot.
  • You can only make one "X" on your ballot.
  • Do not write anything else on your ballot.

If you make a mistake while marking your ballot, you can get a new one. Take your ballot back to the DRO. Say you have made a mistake. The DRO will give you a new ballot.

Can I get help while voting?

Yes. If you find voting difficult for any reason, a friend or relative can help you vote. You can also ask the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) to help you vote. 

If you don't speak or read English, you can bring someone to translate or interpret for you.

If you do have help marking the ballot, make sure that the person helping you does not try to influence who you vote for; that is against the law.

Find more information about the help you can get to vote on the Elections Canada website.

Who can I call if I have any questions about voting?

During the campaign period you can call or visit your returning officer. Each riding or "electoral district" has a returning officer. Returning officers answer questions from the public. Returning officers try to make sure that the voters list is correct and as complete as possible and make sure that all the voting is done properly.

If you have any questions about voting, or to get the phone number and location for your returning officer, contact Elections Canada:

  • In Canada: 1-800-463-6868
  • TTY: 1-800-361-8935
  • Fax: 1-888-524-1444
  • Website: elections.ca

For More Information

  • Elections Canada - The official site for federal elections in Canada. Use this site to find your electoral riding and answers to frequently asked questions about voting in Canada.
  • Voter Information Guide - This Elections Canada guide is available in more than 30 languages.
  • Election Words To Know - Elections Canada has compiled a glossary of electoral terms and pictures.
Last updated: September 13, 2021 4000626