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Only about 52 per cent of electorate cast ballots in Ontario election

Citizens lineup at a Parkdale/High Park Polling Station at the Humbercrest United Church to cast their vote for the Ontario Provincial Election in Toronto on Thursday June 12, 2014.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Voter turnout in Ontario's election ticked up for the first time in almost 25 years, but the province still has one of the lowest turnouts in Canada.

Elections Ontario is estimating 52 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in Thursday's election, though final results won't be published until June 18. The highest turnout was in Ottawa-Orleans with 61 per cent heading to the polls while the lowest turnout was in Mississauga-Brampton South, where just 42 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.

It's the second-lowest overall turnout the province has ever had, just a slight increase from the 2011 election that drew 48 per cent of eligible voters. Until Thursday's election, voter turnouts in Ontario had been steadily declining since 1990.

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"The reason why turnout is low in any given election is the same across all elections, which is that there is an increasing number of people who don't feel like they have a duty to vote," said Peter Loewen, assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, who said voter turnout is decreasing across Canada, particularly among young people.

Ontario's voter participation is especially low when compared with the rest of the country.

While B.C., Alberta and Manitoba all had similar turnouts – a little more than half the eligible pool of voters – in their most recent elections, the rest of the provinces drew more impressive participation. Saskatchewan had 66 per cent of voters turn out in 2011, Quebec's election attracted 71 per cent of voters this year and Prince Edward Island topped the list with a hefty 77-per-cent turnout to re-elect Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz in 2011.

Mr. Loewen said part of the difference boils down to size: In a small province such as PEI, the provincial government's decisions have a more direct impact. Who you vote for could determine whether you have a job next year, he said.

There's also a cultural difference, including that sense of civic duty, according to Ilona Dougherty, the president and co-founder of Apathy is Boring, a Montreal-based group aimed at encouraging young people to vote.

"Each province has its own identity and culture and way of doing things, so that definitely has an impact," Ms. Dougherty said.

"Voting is very much a community activity. If there is that drive in the whole community like we see in PEI but also like we see in Quebec, there's an encouragement or a sense of duty that's different from other parts of the country."

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A Globe and Mail analysis found incumbent parties benefit when voter turnout is low in by-elections and a quick glance at recent low turnouts in general elections – including Thursday's – indicates a similar trend. In 2008, the federal election had it's lowest-ever voter turnout with 59 per cent, and the incumbent Conservatives came out on top. The same was true in B.C.'s 2013 re-election of the Liberals with just 52 per cent of eligible voters participating.

Ontario's voter turnout peaked in 1971 with 74 per cent of the voting population casting ballots. The province experienced an upswing in participation during the 1980s and 1990s with most elections breaking 60 per cent turnouts, but since that point voter turnout in Ontario has fallen into the same downward trend that can be seen across the county.

After a divisive, lengthy campaign season that even included a controversial grassroots effort encouraging people to decline their ballots, many predicted the voter turnout would dip even further in this year's election. Ms. Dougherty said little upticks, like the 4-per-cent increase the province saw this time around, are usually caused by particular issues or candidates that fire up a portion of the electorate, but overall voter turnout continues to fall.

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