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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Marking ballots with pencils does not increase the risk of election fraud

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EDMONTON — Since advanced voting opened Friday, Elections Canada has been actively dispelling online claims that polling stations are using pencils that could be intentionally smudged or altered to spoil voters’ ballots.

The claims have caused a somewhat misleading call-to-arms on social media as those concerned about election fraud urge voters to bring pens to their polling station to prevent their ballot from being tampered with.


Posts claiming that pencils provided at Elections Canada polling stations increase the risk of election fraud can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The majority of these posts express concerns that ballots marked in pencil can be smudged, invalidating the ballot. Others suggest more insidious scenarios, including allegations that pencilled selections could be erased or altered to “rig” the election.

“Do not use pencil, it can be erased… black pen is accepted on ballots as per Elections Canada… don’t let anyone tell you different,” read an Instagram post published Monday by the PPC Simcoe North, Ont. campaign.

Many of these posts urge voters to instead bring a pen with them to vote – an approved option widely publicized by Elections Canada.


Elections Canada is required by law to provide black lead pencils at polling stations – this has always been the case. This year, voters will be provided with a personal, single-use pencil to mark their ballot in an effort to be more COVID-19 friendly.

However, Elections Canada makes it very clear both on their website and social media feeds that voters can bring their own pens, markers or other writing tools to mark their ballots without seeing them discarded.

“Elections Canada provides electors with pencils at polling locations, as this is mandated in the Canada Elections Act. However, electors are welcome to bring their own pen, pencil, sharpie, etc. to mark their ballot,” Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier told CTVNews.ca by email Monday.

Gauthier added that there are numerous integrity measures in place to ensure ballots – which come in booklets with unique, sequential serial numbers – are not tampered with.

“The ballot themselves have several security features, including a specific coloured paper and a tear-off strip (counterfoil) which includes its own unique serial number,” she said.

“After an elector returns their folded ballot back to the election worker, the worker compares the counterfoil number against the stub number in the booklet to make sure it’s the same, then takes off the counterfoil and tears it up before giving the (still folded) ballot back to the elector to put in the box.”

Workers at polling stations also work within full view of the public and are never alone, which means there would be witnesses to any vote tampering. According to Elections Canada safeguards, two scrutineers and party representatives are also posted at every polling station.

And while it should be noted that the pencils provided at polling stations are not equipped with erasers, Elections Canada adds that allegations pencil-marked ballots could be smudged to invalidate a result are unfounded.

In fact, CTV News witnessed a test conducted by Elections Canada of one of the pencils provided at polling stations on a sample ballot. The ‘X’ smudged slightly, but not enough to distort the mark, even when rubbed with water.

According to Elections Canada, as long as there is a mark beside a candidate’s name — even if it’s smudged — the vote counts.

“When voting in person, electors mark their ballot inside the circle next to the name of their chosen candidate. When voting by special ballot, they must write in the name of their chosen candidate,” said Gauthier.

“In both cases, as long as the ballot is properly/legibly marked and the voter’s intent is clear, it will be counted.”


Claims that using pencil could allow someone to intentionally smudge, alter or erase ballots are false. However, if you are concerned about using pencil on your ballot, you’re both encouraged and entitled to bring a pen or marker.

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Edited by Adam Ward

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