Excitement, Employment, Election: Takeaways from a Deputy Returning Officer

By Jenny Jia '23 Top Takeaways from a Deputy Returning Officer. (Two more years!)

By Jenny Jia ’23

Late August, summer showers. It’s been an unfruitful three months. Can’t (legally) drive, can’t travel, can’t muster the courage to talk to my dad. So my eyes widened when I finally encountered an opportunity:

Interested in democracy but not old enough to vote? Come work with us and be part of the upcoming federal election!



I applied with a disadvantage—my age. I can’t vote myself, and now I’m thinking I could just help others with the process? Okay. 

It was simple though. Elections Canada asked for some of my personal information, my competency levels in different languages, and a brief personal statement. Probably easier to complete this job application than that Digital Literacy course. About five days later, I got a call. Well, actually, the Elections Canada office called me multiple times but I never picked up because my mom warned me about stranger danger. The fifth time made me lose it, and thankfully, I answered the line.

A middle-aged sounding man asked for Jenny and prompted me with training dates for a three-hour course on my position. After we agreed on a Saturday, I thanked him, chucked my phone on the bed, and laughed. I felt very powerful in the moment because, well, a new page in my life had just turned. A milestone: my first job! My first job. A full-time, paid test of my people skills. What’s more, however, are the lessons learned through experience. Throughout this three-week exchange with Elections Canada, I’ve gotten to know the “ins” of the system. Some “insider knowledge.” Well, here they are. Here are my top takeaways from my role as a Deputy Returning Officer

  1. It is a COMMITMENT. 

Prior to Election Day, I enrolled in a three-hour training session with my fellow DROs of Vancouver Quadra. We learned about the election process, the ballot, the list of electors, and how to deal with COVID Canadians (chuckle). Later, throughout the week, I spent an additional hour every day studying my Guidebook. I prepared for every possible circumstance: a transfer voter, a mail-in voter who did not receive a ballot, a voter with a vouchperson to confirm their identity. I practiced folding, ripping, and issuing ballots. I even memorized a four-page flowchart I was given

By the last week, I had mastered the entire process. But that did mean I had to push aside some of my homework, hobbies, and hockey watching till another day. Yet, I don’t regret it one bit, because…

  1. It’s the best way to get to know your neighbourhood!

As a Deputy Returning Officer, I was given access to the “neighbourhood directory” better known as the List of Electors. So…I could see everyone who was registered to vote within my area. Yes, everyone. And I served 201 electors. 201 faces, young and old (mostly old). Some WPGA alumni were on the list, some faculty, and some family friends that I didn’t even know lived in my area. It’s interesting to see the voter turnout (which was roughly 43% for the station I ran), demographics, age range, and the process of name-face matching. Speaking of faces… 

  1. You’ll recognize so many familiar friends. 

I took a full day off school on Election Monday, but I still managed to recognize some faces, even from our West Point Grey community. Around 4 o’clock, Ms. Neil came in, ready to elect. My interior designer showed up as a vote virgin, this being his first election as a Canadian. Finally, near closing hours (~6:30pm), Mrs. and Mr. Bowles popped by to cast their ballots. It felt as if I were at school that day! 

  1. You get to uncover your neighbourhood’s voting patterns!

I ran one of five booths at my polling station, Southlands Elementary School. 201 ballots were cast at my booth, so we collected ~1000 in total. At the end of the long haul (8:00pm), a Registration Officer and I unloaded the ballot box together and counted each ballot one by one, keeping a tally to confirm accurate numbers. We pulled a ballot from the box, declared the selected candidate to two witnesses, and showed them the “X” marking on the circle as confirmation. Two hundred and one times. After everybody was done counting, the witnesses called Elections Canada with the totals, and each DRO was given a sheet with the count. So, yes, I have a carbon copy of official, confidential election results. Of course, I have an obligation to remain silent about the exact numbers, but let’s just say the candidate that won my neighbourhood was definitely not Joyce Murray…

  1. It’s a mental job.

I always hear investment bankers discuss their 100-hour workweek. To that, I say: child’s play. Yeah, I woke up at 5:30. Yeah, I started at 6:00am and wrapped up at 10:30pm. That’s like, nearly 18 hours. But I was energized from the responsibility I had on this very significant day; people were coming in to vote every minute. I saw about 1,000 new faces and 200 driver’s licenses. If not serving electors, I would busy myself by filling out hourly time tables, tracking serial numbers, and rearranging those tiny pencils. Yeah, I can definitely do it all over. It’s the “Hello bonjour, may I please see your identification” part of my day that prompts me to keep going. Two homebrewed matchas with a 2L Nalgene of water and I’d gladly do this for the rest of my life. Investment banking is overrated anyways. 

  1. You can finally put that third-language class you took in Junior School to good use!

In all seriousness, about a third of my interactions with electors were not in English whatsoever. I am fortunately a native Mandarin speaker (the largest demographic in my neighbourhood), and I was one of two bilingual officers on site. Many elderly voters required assistance in their mother tongue, and they even asked me for the Chinese translation of each party. Additionally, I was required to greet electors in both English and French, the official languages of Canada. I even threw in some Spanish with a Hispanic voter. Finally! Enough of those pre-recorded audio clips! Let’s talk to real people!! 

  1. People. 

The best and worst part of any day. Whimsical interactions I had felt like a fever dream. There was this one instance when, after submitting her ballot, a meemaw started climbing the gymnasium ropes along the side of the wall. Three officers had to usher her out after that. Or on the lunch break I took, when a dad and his daughter walked past me and thought I was her pre-k teacher. When my station supervisor warned me, verbatim: “DO NOT study law in Spain. You will learn nothing.”

Such silly situations. But such mundane moments of my workday fulfilled my experience as a Deputy Returning Officer, a sixteen-year old paving her way as part of the Canadian workforce for a day. 

In two years, I’ll be eligible to work at the stations again. And in two years, I’ll be joining these vote-goers as I cast my first ballot. 

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