Canada's voter registry goes to the people

There are no voter registration drives in Canada. The register drives to the voters. It is the job of the government to make sure voters get on the list.

''It's the only country in the world to do a door-to-door enumeration of voters,'' says Richard Rochefort, an official of the Chief Electoral Officer's staff in Ottawa.

Here is how the enumeration of the voters has worked during this election summer. Canada is divided into 282 electoral districts, which corresponds to the number of seats in the House of Commons. Each of those districts or ''ridings'' is subdivided into polling divisions, with a total of 70,000 such polling districts in Canada.

Every riding has a returning officer who oversees the polling list. The polling divisions are handled by two people who go door-to-door collecting names.

There is an incentive to get every voter on the list. For each of the first 200 names the payment is 48 cents, but the payment rises to 72 cents per name after that.

Across Canada some 110,000 enumerators have been at work making a list, and it pays to check it twice. ''The enumerators get paid $200 to $250 for their work,'' says Mr. Rochefort.

An American might think this system could be open to corruption, stacking the deck for election day. There are safeguards, mainly in the way enumerators are chosen. The political parties pick them: Getting the part-time job is a tiny political payoff. But in this case patronage keeps the system honest.

In every district the political parties that ran first and second in the last election each choose one enumerator for each polling dictrict. Those two people go door-to-door together. Since each is slightly partisan, one makes sure the other doesn't cheat. There are fines and even jail sentences for fooling around with the election list.

Enumerators visit each house and apartment in their district. If the person is not in, they leave a note saying they will return. If they are unsuccessful a second time, another note provides a number the voter can call to get on the list for election day.

Enumerators can even ask neighbors who the voters are in a certain house; this method is used in rural districts where the rules for enumerating are slightly different.

There is only one enumerator in a rural polling division and that person is allowed to use old lists, neighbors, and other forms of common sense to get people on the list. The reasoning is that people in the country don't move so often and know each other better.

But the government will go only so far to register voters. In this election period the enumeration ran until Aug. 13. The revision period, during which voters could contact returning officers to get their names put on the list, ended Aug. 17.

The system is almost as accurate as a census. Officials say it gets ''almost 100 percent'' of voters.

Currently there are 16.2 million voters on the list. It is estimated there will be 16.4 million when revisions are complete.

The system is not without problems. The summer election call meant many people were out of town; that has meant extra work for both enumerators and voters. Weekend enumeration is not allowed.

Many people would like a permanent voters list. But the enumeration process probably is here for a few more elections because it is something that is quickly forgotten once an election is over.

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