A UVic student’s guide to voting in the federal election


How to vote, what a riding is, and how elections really work

election graphic
Graphic via Pixabay.

On Sept. 20, voters across Canada will head to the polls to elect their federal government. For many students, it may be their first time voting.

If this is you — or if you need a refresher on how the process works — you aren’t alone. To help you prepare for election day, we’ve explained how to vote, what a riding is, and how your vote will impact the election outcome.

How to vote

Voting is the primary way Canadians engage in the democratic process. Any citizen over the age of 18 can cast a vote in the Canadian federal election. 

Before you vote, you have to register. This can be done either online through Elections Canada or at your local polling station on election day. To register you will need to provide government ID and your current address. 

Voting takes place at polling stations which are placed throughout each riding, normally at schools or community centres. If you are registered to vote you should get a voter information card in the mail which will tell you the location of your local polling stations as well as what you need to bring with you when you vote. If you aren’t yet registered or haven’t received your voting card, you can look it up on Elections Canada’s website using your postal code. 

For this election, you have to vote at your designated polling station if you are voting in-person. The dates to request a mail-in ballot or vote at an Elections Canada office have passed, and on-campus voting is not happening this year.

On voting day, you will need to bring accepted identification with your permanent address. If you are using a driver’s license, you only need to show one piece of ID. However, you can also pair other forms of ID like a bank statement and your voter information card. 

What is a riding?

Canada is split into districts known as ridings each with their own member of parliament (MP) who represents them in the governing process. The number of ridings and their size is determined by population. Usually, each riding represents roughly 100 000 residents. Currently, there are 338 ridings across Canada.

The Capital Regional District has four ridings within it. These are Victoria, Saanich-Gulf Islands, Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, and Cowichan-Malahat-Langford. The Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, and People’s Party have candidates running in every riding while smaller parties such as the Communist Party and Christian Heritage Party only have candidates in certain ridings. 

Each riding elects an MP, who will represent the riding in Parliament. If you have a concern about how the federal government is operating, or about a local issue that falls under federal jurisdiction, you should reach out to your MP.

How elections work

Canadian elections operate via a first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system. What this means is that in each riding, the candidate that gets the most votes wins and the party that elects the most MPs gets the chance to form government. The leader of the party with the most MPs becomes prime minister. 

Unlike proportional representation electoral systems, which give each party a share of representatives corresponding to their percentage of votes, FPTP only elects the winner from each riding. This benefits large parties that can garner a significant percentage of the vote across the country such as the Liberals and Conservatives and small parties with geographically-concentrated support such as the Bloc Québécois.

Often, under FPTP, the party that forms government will do so without a majority of the votes nationwide. Smaller parties that get a significant portion of the vote but do not receive the most votes in many individual ridings will be left with few seats.

How to vote in a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic means that the 2021 federal election will be unlike any other in Canada’s history. Voters who think they may have COVID-19 or who have recently tested positive are being asked to stay home. 

To make voting safe for Canadians, Elections Canada has installed added safety measures at each polling station. Hand sanitizer will be available at entries and exits as well as voting stations. Plexiglass will be used to separate voting stations.

Voters and poll workers will be required or encouraged to wear masks inside the polling station depending on the province or territory and extras will be available for those who forget. Masks are mandatory at B.C. polling stations. 

Lastly, each voting station will be sanitized between each use and new pencils will be distributed to each voter.