Boost in advance voters shows election ‘more exciting, more competitive’

While official numbers have yet to be calculated, one Calgary political scientist says the fact three times the number of Albertans voted in advance polls leading up to Tuesday’s election than in 2015 suggests the electorate is engaged.

Relatively speaking, of course.

Melanee Thomas, assistant professor in the University of Calgary’s political science department, says the surge in numbers isn’t that surprising given that people were allowed to vote anywhere in the province rather than their electoral division, with Elections Alberta opening up 260 locations for the April 9-13 period.

Of the 696,000 people who voted in advance polls, 223,000 of them took advantage of this. Thomas says this could simply be for convenience, with habitual voters who know who they are voting for simply getting it over with. In that case, the 2019 turnout numbers may not vary all that much, and in fact may even decrease compared to 2015’s 57.1 per cent. That turnout was the highest in 22 years. Voter turnout in 2012 was 54.4 per cent.

On the other hand, it could indicate voters are seeing the 2019 election as particularly competitive.

“It’s not lost on me that 2012, 2015 and 2019 are all elections where there was at least some degree of narrative around change in government,” Thomas says. “When you haven’t done that since ’71, it does suggest that things are more competitive and more exciting.”

Alberta has traditionally had low turnout for provincial elections because of that historic fait-accompli attitude.

Even with that 2015 bump in numbers, the turnout was still considerably lower than federal election numbers, Thomas says.

Generally, when turnout goes up, it means that demographics that traditionally do not vote have felt engaged this time around.

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Still, Thomas downplays the notion that the 2019 election campaign was unusually nasty or angry.

“I have seen things that are unprecedented, but I don’t think pointing out that candidates say things that seem to be offside in terms of equity and diversity, I don’t think pointing that out is nasty,” Thomas says.

This time around, if there is a boost in numbers it will likely be due to specific constituencies being spurred into action. That could include younger, mostly male voters who are not in post-secondary studies and are concerned about the economy, which should bode well for the United Conservative Party. But she said we could also see a boost in left-leaning voters, who feel empowered by the fact that Alberta has a viable left-wing choice, which is a relatively new political development in this province.

As of press time, there were no reports of any major issues at the polling stations. But results from Calgary-Acadia were expected to be delayed because St. Stephen School opened later because it was under lockdown. It was to remain open for an extra half hour.

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