A record number of Canadians opted to vote early in the federal election – choosing to cast their ballot before the leaders make their final pitch.
According to Elections Canada, about one million more people voted in advance polls this year, compared with the 2015 election. The turnout is 29 per cent higher than the record set in 2015.
“The trend is non-stop," Elections Canada spokesperson Paul Giroux said.
The agency views the higher turnout as a success, given its mandate to make voting more accessible and easier. But the higher turnout in advance polls doesn’t automatically mean overall turnout will go up.
“It’s completely premature” to say what impact the higher number of early voters will have on total turnout, said Tim Abray, a PhD candidate at Queen’s University who is studying voter behaviour.
Because this is only the second election in a row in which advance polls were open on the Thanksgiving weekend, he said not enough data or history are available to say what the impact will be.
“We don’t have enough experience with this," Mr. Abray said.
While the 2015 election had record advance poll turnout and higher than normal overall turnout, the two don’t always coincide. For example, in the 2017 Nova Scotia election, advance polls had an increase in voters of more than 10 per cent, but once the election was done, overall turnout hit an all-time low.
The impact of higher turnout in advance polls on overall numbers can go “both ways,” Mr. Abray said. When it coincides with higher overall turnout, he said it’s attributed to the issues on the campaign resonating with voters and leading to more engagement. On the flip side, he said voter turnout in advance polls is sometimes viewed as suppressing overall turnout because people may make voting a lower priority if they see high numbers early on.
Mr. Giroux attributed the hike in early voters, in part at least, to convenience. The advance polls were open from Friday to Monday. While the traditional voting day, on Oct. 21, falls during the week, when many people are at work, the advance polls gave people the chance to vote when their schedules might be less hectic.
In 2015, advance polls were also open for four days, however, Elections Canada extended the hours this time, so that they were open for 12 hours each day. Mr. Giroux said in 2015 the hours were not set nationally and so the polling times varied among communities.
According to Elections Canada, about 4.7 million Canadians voted in advance polls this year compared to about 3.7 million in 2015.
Because of the increase in advance polling, Elections Canada said staff begin counting the ballots from the early voting an hour before the polls close on election day. The results are released after the local polls close.
Elections Canada said snowstorms in Manitoba and resulting power outages may have prevented people from voting early in that region. The agency said it will beef up resources in Manitoba on election day and “adjust” services as required.
Canadians can still vote by mail-in ballot, as long as it arrives by Oct. 21, and polls will be open for 12 hours on election day.