Making elections fairer and more accessible

Bill 32 has passed to make elections in Alberta more accessible and help them run smoothly, efficiently and fairly.

Status: Bill 32 passed Dec 12, 2017
Ministry responsible: Democratic Renewal, Justice and Solicitor General

Overview

Bill 32: An Act to Strengthen and Protect Democracy in Alberta amends the Election Act and the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act to:

  • enhance the fairness and integrity of elections
  • encourage greater voter participation
  • make it easier for people to vote
  • enhance the efficiency of election administration

Enhance the fairness and integrity of elections

New limit on third-party spending

New spending limits on third parties will apply starting Dec 1 prior to an election year, which is 3 months before the beginning of Alberta’s fixed election period:

  • third parties will not be permitted to spend more than $150,000 on political advertising before the election is called
  • of that $150,000, no more than $3,000 can be used to promote or oppose the election of one or more candidates in any one electoral division

Money spent on canvassing and organizing events to promote or oppose a party or candidate will be considered advertising expenses toward this new limit.

Political parties, leadership contestants, nomination contestants and candidates will be prohibited from colluding with third parties, such as political action committees, to circumvent spending or contribution limits.

Third parties will not be allowed to incur expenses to sell memberships, fundraise or collect information about voters in support of a party, candidate, nomination contestant or leadership contestant unless they are volunteers or are making an eligible political contribution. This means that corporations, unions and persons not resident in Alberta will be banned from this activity.

Restrictions on government advertising

Advertising or publishing information about government and provincial corporation programs or activities will be restricted from the time the writ has been issued for a general election to the day after election day.

Exemptions would be considered for advertising or announcements that are:

  • required by law
  • required for procurement or employment purposes
  • important health or public safety messages
  • continued advertising required for ongoing programs

For byelections, advertising or publishing information that disproportionately affects voters in the electoral division in which the byelection is taking place will be restricted.

Election Commissioner position

A new, independent Election Commissioner will be responsible for fully investigating complaints and recommending prosecutions.

The Election Commissioner’s annual report must include information on the:

  • number of complaints
  • types of complaints
  • investigations conducted
  • disposition of each complaint or investigation

Increased penalties

Penalties for general offences under the Election Act will be increased.

For example, the maximum penalty for general offences would increase to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of not more than one year.

Encourage greater voter participation

Public engagement and education

Elections Alberta will be required to provide information to the public about the election process and their democratic rights.

There will be a specific requirement to implement public education and information programs for people and groups most likely to experience difficulties exercising their democratic rights.

New Albertans

A person who is new to Alberta would be eligible to vote as long as they:

  • ordinarily live in Alberta, with no minimum residency period required
  • are a Canadian citizen
  • are 18 years or older

Young Albertans

To encourage young Albertans to participate in the electoral process, Elections Alberta could be allowed to collect information about 16- and 17-year-olds so that they can be registered automatically to vote when they turn 18.

Elections Alberta could be required to inform young people who are added to the register in this manner that they may ask to be removed from the register. This provision will not come into force until proclaimed.

Door-to-door enumeration

Elections Alberta will be required to conduct a door-to-door enumeration across the entire province prior to the next provincial election to confirm, revise, delete and add voter information to the List of Electors.

Make it easier for people to vote

Polls

Advance polls

  • One advance voting day will be added in addition to the existing 4 advanced voting days.
  • Voters may vote outside of their electoral division when voting at advance or mobile polls.

Mobile polls

  • Mobile polls must be set up at emergency shelters and support centres for those experiencing homelessness or poverty. This is in addition to mobile polls that are already required in treatment centres and supportive living facilities.
  • Special mobile polls could also be set up at post-secondary institutions, work camps, correctional centres or other public buildings.
  • Mobile polls will be authorized to be held on advance voting days.

Regular polls

  • Voters must still vote at their designated poll in their electoral division if voting on election day.

Poll hours

  • The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) will have the authority to:
    • change a polling place’s hours in the event of a local emergency, such as a blackout or burst pipe at the polling place.
    • apply to court to address more significant emergencies, such as a natural disaster.

Polls on reserves

  • Elections Alberta will be required to reach out to First Nations and Métis communities to talk with them about the possibility of having polling places on their land.
  • Polling places will only be set up in First Nations, on reserves or in Métis communities with the consent of those communities.

Personal health numbers

Voters could be allowed to use their personal health numbers as a validation tool when updating their voter registration information on the List of Electors, in addition to existing methods. This provision will not come into force until proclaimed.

Voter assist terminals (VATs)

VATs are automated ballot marking units designed to accommodate the needs of voters who require assistance at the polls.

Electors would be able to use VATs to mark their ballot using a braille-coded keypad, audio ballot capability and "sip and puff" devices.

Special ballots

Applications for special ballots will be allowed as early as Jan 1 in an election year.

Special ballots will only be mailed to electors after the writ is issued.

Enhance the efficiency of election administration

Elections Alberta staff

Elections Alberta will be able to hire the most qualified candidate from a larger pool of candidates:

  • returning officers could be hired earlier than 2 years after a general election
  • the most qualified candidates may be hired and would not need to live in the electoral division where they would work
  • non-Canadian citizens and 16- and 17-year-olds could be hired to perform certain roles

Poll books

Elections Alberta will use electronic poll books to keep track of who has voted at advance polls.

Timeline

Unless otherwise noted, this legislation will come into force on Jan 1, 2018.

News

Making Alberta elections fairer and more accessible (Dec 4, 2017)