OTTAWA -- Canadians are inching closer to election day, when the 36-day campaign will come to a close and a new Parliament will be ushered in, but will there actually be a clear winner on Sept. 20?

The short answer: it’s complicated.

An Elections Canada spokesperson told on Tuesday that the increased volume of mail-in ballots will change the timeline this time around.

Local mail-in ballots, those marked and sent to returning officers by voters in their own ridings, won’t start being counted until at least Sept. 21 due to Elections Canada’s ballot integrity process.

“Before they start counting those ballots, there’s a step that needs to happen and that’s called the integrity check,” said Natasha Gauthier.

That includes, among other measures, checking to see if the outer envelope is signed by the elector and ensuring the individual has voted only once.

“These are all things that take some time, so we’ve said it could take up to 24 hours for the returning officers to do those checks, those verifications before they even start the count,” she said.

Elections Canada can start counting mail-in ballots, as well as ballots from the Canadian Armed Forces and incarcerated electors, up to 14 days before election day. Returning officers can also start counting ballots cast at local advance polls one hour before polls close on election night

The body has issued 1,000,787 voting kits to electors living within their riding and 552,488 have so far been returned. Another 146,925 kits were sent to electors living within Canada but outside their riding, and 54,186 were sent to those living abroad.

Among the 10 ridings with the most special ballot kits requested, five were decided in 2019 by fewer votes than the number of special ballots requested in 2021, meaning the voting outcome there could in theory hinge on that factor.

Gauthier said the body is also allowing, for the first time, voters to bring their mail-in ballot to their local polling station on Election Day if they’ve missed the deadline. These ballots will then be sent to the returning officer.

“In a place like Ottawa-Vanier, well, the returning office is 1,000 kilometres from the polling location, so if the polls close at nine o’clock, those dropped off ballots aren’t going to be at the returning office at 930, they’re going to be there the next day,” she said.

As such, Gauthier said it could take between two to five days for counting to conclude and for there to be a final result. However, media outlets may still declare a winner beforehand, should the results be clear enough for that to happen.

Elections Canada will be posting the results of the mail-in ballots at the end of each counting shift – in other words, two to three times a day following Sept. 20.