TORONTO -- With COVID-19 infection rates on the rise, some Canadians may be eager to avoid crowded polling stations for the upcoming federal election and instead cast their vote by mail.

However, voters planning to use the mail-in option have a separate process and set of deadlines to meet and should start the process well ahead of the Sept. 20 election in order to get their vote counted.

As with last year’s U.S. federal election, mail-in voting volume in Canada is expected to be significantly higher this year than in past elections. In the 2019 federal election, for instance, about 50,000 Canadians voted by mail, most of whom were living out of the country.

This year, Elections Canada expects that as many as 3 million Canadians could vote by special ballot, with the majority of them choosing to vote by mail, Elections Canada spokesperson Matthew McKenna told in an email.

To handle this, Elections Canada has bulked up its IT resources at the offices responsible for processing applications and mailed ballots, and is preparing staff to handle a significant increase in mail-in volume.

“We’ve spent the past months improving and testing these systems to ensure that we have the capacity to handle the maximum expected demand,” said McKenna.

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The idea of mail-in voting has at least one high-profile backer, as University of Toronto epidemiologist David Fisman told his large Twitter following this week that he planned to use that option.

“I just applied for my mail-in ballot. It took about 3 minutes. This is a great, safe way to get your vote in during the pandemic,” he tweeted.


Voting by mail has a few steps to it, and Elections Canada advises those planning to use it to start the process as soon as possible.

To vote by mail, you first have to apply for a special ballot that has a blank space for the candidate’s name, which you fill in yourself. This differs from typical ballots, which have a list of candidates to choose from. Because of this, it’s important to make sure you know your candidate’s name, as simply writing down which party you prefer will not count.

To apply for the ballot, you’ll need copies of your ID and proof of address, or failing that, an affidavit from someone authorized to receive oaths in that province or territory. You can apply for a special ballot voting kit either online, by mail, or in person at an Elections Canada office, but your application must be received by Sept. 14, at 6 p.m. ET.

Once you have the special ballot and fill it out, you have to make sure it gets to Elections Canada by Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. ET for it to count. Typically the ballot is sent in by mail – using a prepaid envelope – but you also have the option of physically dropping it off at any polling location in your riding.


While Sept. 14 may seem like a long way off, keep in mind that the process could potentially take considerably longer than the six-day window between the application deadline and the voting deadline.

Remember, there needs to be time for Elections Canada to process and accept the special ballot application, to send it by mail to you, and then for you to send it back to Elections Canada. And if you apply for your special ballot application by mail, rather than in person or online, that’s three separate mailings that have to take place by Sept. 20 for your vote to count.

With millions of Canadians expected to be choosing the vote-by-mail option, Canada Post is sure to be busy in the days leading up to the election, and it’s also always smart to plan for any potential hiccups in the process.


Something to keep in mind is that once you’ve applied for a special ballot kit, you are locked in to that process and are no longer eligible to vote in person and you won’t be able to do so either at an advance poll or on election day.

In other words, don’t apply for a special ballot as a fallback plan. Once you begin the process, you’re locked in and must see it through if you want your vote to count.


While Elections Canada is planning for a sharp increase in mail-in voting, it’s possible that the counting process could be slower this time around than usual, which has the potential to delay some results and could mean it takes longer than in previous years to get a clear picture of the new government.

“In some ridings, due to the volume of special ballots and mail-in ballots we have to count and the necessary integrity controls we must complete, preliminary results may not be known for several days following the election,” said McKenna.

In other words, it’s an election year where you’ll want to start early and be ready to stay late.