Alberta’s election agency reported record turnout at the start of advance polling, with more than 140,000 people casting ballots on the first day of early voting.
The strong enthusiasm ahead of next Tuesday’s election follows legislative changes designed to make it easier to vote in early polls, measures that could also leave the results in extremely close races uncertain for days because of how some advance votes are counted.
Elections Alberta said the 140,000 ballots cast this past Tuesday was more than double the turnout on the first day of advance voting in 2015. Of those early voters, 33,000 took advantage of changes to the province’s election law, brought in by the NDP government, that allow voters to cast advance ballots at any advance polling station in the province. Anyone voting on election day must vote at their designated voting station.
The incumbent NDP and the United Conservative Party were both encouraging supporters to vote in advance polls. UCP Leader Jason Kenney cast his vote on Tuesday, while NDP Leader Rachel Notley is expected to vote on election day.
Drew Westwater, Elections Alberta’s deputy chief electoral officer, said participation in advance voting has been increasing across the country for years. He said this year’s increase is likely due in large part to people who would have voted anyway simply casting their ballots earlier, but the agency hopes that making it easier to vote will also boost overall turnout.
“That’s the whole goal, to increase voter participation at the advance polls and to increase access to the polls,” he said.
The new rules designed to make it easier to vote could also make it more difficult to determine the results on election night. Mr. Westwater said any advance ballot cast outside a voter’s home riding won’t be counted on election night; instead, those ballots will shipped in from across the province and counted over the next several days. Mr. Westwater said he expects those ballots to be added to the official results by Thursday or Friday.
In ridings with a large margin of victory, those additional ballots would be unlikely to make a difference. But if there are any ridings where the first- and second-place candidates are separated by a small handful of votes, the result could be too close to call for days.
“Generally speaking, whatever trends you had on election day, you probably had at the advance polls,” Mr. Westwater said. “It’s not likely [that a riding result would change], but it’s very important when it’s a close race. If it’s five or 10 votes, that could swing.”
Keith Brownsey, who teaches political science at Mount Royal University, said strong turnout in early voting is a sign of enthusiasm, but there’s no evidence that it benefits either an incumbent or opposition party any more than the other.
He said Alberta has had some of the lowest voter-turnout numbers in the country in recent elections and anything that makes it easier to vote – particularly for younger voters – could help.
“You bring in the young voters by making it convenient, and they’ll vote again in the next election – and the next, and the next," he said.