The position of Chief Electoral Officer of Canada (CEO) was created in 1920 under the Dominion Elections Act, to put an end to political partisanship in the administration of federal elections. Before 1920, election officials were appointed by the governing regime of the day.
The position is now independent of the government of the day, or any political parties. The Chief Electoral Officer is now appointed by a resolution of the House of Commons. The CEO reports directly to the House, and holds the position until the incumbent resigns, or reaches age 65. The CEO can only be removed for cause, by the governor general following a joint meeting of the House of Commons and Senate.
Since 1920 there have been six CEOs. The incumbent is Marc Mayrand, a Québec lawyer, who has held the office since 2007.
Originally, the Chief Electoral Officer was responsible only for the administration of elections and by-elections. Under the Canada Elections Act and other laws now governing electoral matters, the mandate of the office has broadened to include the administration of referendums, as well as other important aspects of the Canadian democratic system. These include:
- Providing access to the voting system for all eligible citizens, and encouraging voter turnout – via the provision of not only polling stations and other facilities, but also public education and information about the voting process.
- Overseeing the periodic readjustment of federal riding boundaries through independent commissions.
- Ensuring the registration of political parties; the control of election spending by candidates and political parties; the examination and disclosure of party and candidate financial returns, and the reimbursement of their expenses according to formulas laid down in the Canada Elections Act.
- Enforcing federal electoral legislation.
- Chairing an advisory committee, with representatives of the registered political parties and of Elections Canada, to create good working relationships and resolve electoral administrative disputes.
- Acting as a watchdog, on behalf of Parliament and the public, over government or other efforts to alter the electoral system, in a way that the CEO sees as harmful to Canada's democracy.
Voter turnout in Canadian elections has declined substantially since the 1990s. This phenomenon has created demands of Elections Canada and questions for the Chief Electoral Officer about what they can do to reverse the trend – for example, through increased public awareness, or the creation of new voting methods.