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Social media changed how – and when – the West got early election results

Voters cast ballots on election day in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015.

James MacDonald/Bloomberg

Paul Bryan of Coquitlam, B.C., didn't wait to hear the election results from Eastern Canada before he voted and instead cast his ballot while picking up his child when the school day finished.

But it was that very information the software developer battled for through four Canadian courts, spending tens-of-thousands of dollars over six years.

Mr. Bryan wanted the ban on releasing election results lifted in the East before the polls had closed in Canada's West.

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He lost the fight in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2006, but said in an interview Monday that social media won where he couldn't – and that forced the government to change the law.

"We had an election and I think it was pretty evident to everyone – including Elections Canada – that people on Twitter and Facebook were chatting it up," he said.

"It was going to be a very difficult law to enforce, and given that, I think it was the right decision."

Months after the 2011 federal election, the Conservative government moved to end the ban on posting early election results before the polls closed across the country. The ban was enacted in 1938 to stop Western voters from knowing early results.

Mr. Bryan, 45, said the law is now where it should be – with no ban on people talking about the election in real time using social media.

David Moscrop, a PhD candidate in the political science department at the University of British Columbia, said knowing election results from elsewhere in Canada would likely not affect how Western Canadians cast their ballots.

"If it's a close vote elsewhere, it will encourage people to go out and vote, and vote perhaps strategically and to try and engineer the sort of government they want."

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But he said that could also have an opposite impact if the election is decided in Ontario and Quebec, potentially discouraging people who think the result is a foregone conclusion.

Mr. Moscrop said enforcing such a ban no longer made sense, so it was only logical to change the law.

"It brought popular attention to the issue, and in an era where social media is so pervasive it was even more silly trying to muzzle an entire country that is used to communicating en masse, and immediately."

This isn't the first time voters in the West have been allowed to hear results from the rest of the country. The B.C. Supreme Court struck down the law in connection to Mr. Bryan's challenge in 2003.

When an election was called in 2004, voting results were released across the country when polling stations were still open in the West.

"Nothing bad happened, the sky didn't fall, we all survived, our democracy was kept in tact," Mr. Bryan said.

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But there is another first for this election that is more important, he said.

"This is probably the first election without this law where people have adopted social media in a significant way. Watching how people interact will be very interesting."

Mr. Moscrop said early returns could encourage voters in the West to go vote.

"Having said that, it's totally live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword, because if it's decided in Ontario and Quebec before it gets out here, that could really depress turnout."

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