Canadian Election: Deputy Returning Officer DRO Tips

Canada Election 2021 DRO kit, ballot box, ballots, lots of papers. Photo by Don Tai

Canada Election 2021 DRO kit, ballot box, ballots, lots of papers. Photo by Don Tai

In Canada’s elections, there are hundreds of polling locations. Each polling location must have one or more polls, where a Canadian citizen over the age of 18 will receive a ballot, mark their chosen political candidate on the ballot, and finally drop the ballot into the ballot box. At the end of the night after polls close, the ballots in the ballot box are counted. Results for each candidate are then phoned into the local polling office. Results are then tallied up to larger and larger geographic levels.

The deputy returning officer (DRO) is the only election worker outside the local polling office that is authorized to handle the ballots, from picking up new ballots up from the local polling office, handing the ballot out to a voter, putting the ballot into the ballot box after the voter has voted, to finally counting the ballots per political candidate. There is a fiduciary duty that is required by the DRO, who also personally signs each and every ballot used.

The DRO verifies that voters are eligible, crosses them off the official list, prepares and hands the ballot to the voter. Once the voter returns the DRO assists the voter to put his/her ballot in the ballot box.

Problems arise at the end of the night after the election has closed. All ballots need to be accounted for. Each ballot is tallied up per political candidate. The sum of all candidate tallies must add up to the total number of ballots allocated to the DRO from the local election office. There may be ballots that are spoiled by the voter, or ballots that are marked incorrectly by the voter and then rejected. Both these need to be taken into account.

The DRO position has a high mental load over a long period of time, usually 15-16 hours for the day. There is a lot that can go wrong, especially at election close, when you are most tired and mentally spent. These tips will help you prepare as much as possible in advance and therefore reduce the mental load.

2021 Elections Canada ID, ruler and sample ballots2021 Elections Canada ID, ruler and sample ballots. Photo by Don Tai

2021 Elections Canada ID, ruler and sample ballots. Photo by Don Tai

Pesonal DRO Tips:

  1. When you are initially counting your ballots at the election office, on the front mark the ballot ranges and the number of ballots left over from this book onward. On the back mark the number of the last ballot. This allows you to quickly know how many ballots are left in your stash, very useful when closing
  2. For the initial count, curl the book slightly and use your thumb to flip the corner. This will allow you to count the ballots a lot faster. For 750 ballots it will still take you over an hour.
  3. I put all my new ballot books into a special fanny pack. This separates them from all the other stuff in your kit. When you need a new book, or must run for some reason, the fanny pack is easily identified and familiar to you. More clarity and less complexity will help you when you are dog tired.
  4. Ensure you have enough paper clips and some masking tape. For 750 ballots you will need 75 paper clips, one for 10 counterfoils. I use a magnetic paper clip dispenser, with elastic bands partially covering the mouth, so that you don’t spill paper clips everywhere.
  5. Tape your counterfoil bag to the left side of your desk, making it easy to not lose any
  6. Go through your closing envelope. Prefill all the envelopes with your district and poll number, before election day, in pen. Prefill the candidate envelopes. Not only will you familiarize yourself with the numerous envelopes, but you will save effort when you are fresh, rather than at the end of the night when you are a wreck and spent.
  7. There two final tally “Statement of Vote” envelopes that are critical: A white and a yellow envelope. The pink copy must be kept by the DRO. On the yellow envelope write your district and poll number, and “inside the box”. At closing this copy goes into the ballot box before you seal it. On the white envelope write your district and poll number, and “outside the box”. At closing this copy and the ballot box are returned to the local office. Do not seal this white copy inside your ballot box.
  8. The night before, review all your books. Though they cover the most critical topics, not everything is covered in the tutorial session. There are a couple of other books, such as this year’s CoVid-19 infection control procedures.
  9. For election night only, in your books cross out all the early voting procedures. These will be clearly marked. At the end of the election night it will be easier for you to understand.
  10. While you are a DRO, you are also one of the team, responsible for the smooth operation of the polling station. You need to know a bit about everything. Keep this in mind when you are reviewing your books. If you see something not correct, speak up.
  11. There are two copies of the Voter List: One for the registration officer and one for the DRO. The DRO version will have the check boxes.
  12. If a voter needs a change of info, registration, voting status, transfer, helper, qualification or vouching, send them back to the registration officer. This splits the work and frees the DRO up.
  13. Consider putting up a safety screen to the left of your desk. When people have finished voting and hand you back their ballot, they often will go too close to you. You then cannot social distance.
  14. When initially taping up and sealing your ballot box, at the bottom of the ballot box use an extra side tape to tape down the box seams on the inside. Do this and you will not allow any ballots to slip in under the inside flaps. At the end of the night you will be very tired, and may not notice a ballot has slipped in under the seam, which will throw off your count.
  15. During the election, use a paperclip and collect ballot counterfoils in packs of 10. In this way you can easily count the number of ballots already given to voters and therefore in your box. Count 10 packs and you have 100 ballots. During busy times you will not have time to do this, but when you are free, collect counterfoils together. During the day and at the end of the night it will be easier to account for all ballots.
  16. After you have a voter’s card or ID, here is the proper order of work:
    1. Cross off their name on the list. Keep the ruler on their name and under the check box area.
    2. Keep their voter card as a reminder
    3. Write down their sequence number on the sequence number control sheet. Each voter has a unique sequence number
    4. prepare the ballot (ensure you have initialed the back, then folded it)
    5. Give the voter the ballot. They will then choose the candidate and make a mark
    6. At this point you can call the next voter and do the ID check, but do not do anything else until you complete the initial voter. Mixing up two voters is very bad. Have the second voter wait until the first voter returns and you have completely processed them
    7. Take back the ballot from the voter, rip off the counterfoil, put the counterfoil in the counterfoil bag
    8. Give the ballot to the voter to put into the ballot box
    9. check off the check box beside the voter’s name
    10. put the voter card into the voter card bag
    11. Yu may now process the second voter, who is waiting

    If they have no voter ID card, you will need to be especially careful because the voter card will not trigger your memory to do the final steps. The desk is a busy place with a lot of people and distractions, so it is easy to be called and forget where you were in the process. If you have no poll clerk it is even more mentally taxing. You really need to concentrate on each and every step, because leaving out any step will make accounting at the end of the night more difficult.

  17. Initial one book of ballots at a time. When the voter is making her mark, you can use this “in between time” to initial unused ballots. Use a piece of paper to keep track of where you have not yet initialed.
  18. Folding the ballot. Fold 1/3d, fold again, rip off until the darker area of the ballot. Turn the ballot over and view your initials. If you do not see your initials, then you must remember to initial the ballot. Try to figure out why the ballot was not yet initialed, as you have made a mistake. Only then give the ballot to the voter.
  19. Don’t worry about the hourly collection of the sequence number sheets. Let the RO or CPS worry about proper hourly collection. Let them also fill in the district and polling number for you. The DRO has enough to concentrate on, especially without a poll clerk
  20. At the end of the night you will be really dog tired. After election close, after you open the ballot box, you will need to call out the votes for each ballot, and then do a count for each candidate. Have someone else do a second count to corroborate your count. it is easy to make a counting mistake. let someone else d othe mental math to reconcile the count
  21. At the end of the night, if you wrote the number of ballots left on the front of your book, it will be easy to calculate how many unused ballots are left. The total number of ballots less the number of unused ballots equals the number of ballots used
  22. Before you seal the box, find the seal sheet. Select one long seal and write the seal number down on the seal sheet. Ensure you put the seal sheet into the ballot box before you finally seal the box.

There is a lot for the deputy returning officer to remember and do. I hope that these tips will make your election night more enjoyable. After a while you will get into a groove and are more able to relax and talk with voters. Preparation will reduce your mental load and make the experience more enjoyable. There is no easing the 15-16 hr day. it will take its toll.

Good luck!

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