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Same low-vote areas remain in Calgary after a high-turnout provincial election

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Although the April 15 Alberta provincial election saw the highest voter turnout since 1982, two local community leaders focused on low-turnout areas say much work remains to be done.

Several traditionally low-turnout Calgary ridings saw turnout boost by as much as 17 per cent. These numbers followed a staggering 64 per cent province-wide turnout, according to official numbers released Friday by Elections Alberta.

The new Vote Anywhere system allowed people to vote outside their riding, and accounted for 31.8 per cent of the advance vote. (The advance vote represented 36.7 per cent of the overall vote, a record in Canadian elections.) 

However, the ridings themselves were still ranked mostly the same as the previous two elections. What changed was that the floor of turnout was lower.

A few weeks ago, LiveWire Calgary sought to find out which ridings were low-turnout, and why. Our tentative conclusion was that lack of time, and the associated factor of income level, were critical factors in people not voting.

Larry Leach, executive director of east Calgary community organization 12CSI, repeated the sentiment. While he also praised Vote Anywhere as a “great initiative”, he said the trends remained the same.

Leach said that the increase in low-turnout areas was probably the same trend seen in the 2017 civic election, where there was “no appreciable increase other than the overall increase citywide.”

At 45.9 per cent turnout, Calgary-East saw the least eligible voters in the entire province.  Leach said that getting that riding, which represents most of 12CSI’s communities, ranked higher remains a basic long-term goal.

Andrew Ng works with the Calgary branch of Apathy is Boring, an organization devoted to increasing youth turnout nationwide. He said that while the data is still preliminary, the increase in turnout was likely a combination of Vote Anywhere and the desire for change.

Ng said that his organization was still waiting on the numbers to be broken down by demographic, which will take Elections Alberta a few more months to deliver.

“I would assume that the youth also came out,” Ng said.

“A lot of voters expressed to me the convenience of being able to vote anywhere, especially on campus.”

When the election was called on March 19, Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said that the NDP had likely timed the vote for young students – their likely voting base – to be on campus.

Still, Ng says that young voters can be pressed for time.

“One of my friends asked me at 7:30 on election day where to vote, and she’s a student.”

“It’s a story of how busy people actually get. . . she’s one of many students who are working, who take a full slate of classes, they have jobs, they have other commitments.

“This [was] also right around exam time.”

Ng said Apathy is Boring’s main success this election was raising awareness.

“I would say we successfully created a story that resonated with people – when they saw the numbers, whether it’s the fact that millennial voters make up the biggest block of voters, or whether it’s the fact that only one out of four people aged 18-30 voted in the [2015] election,” said Ng.

Leach said that raising turnout may take at least two or three more elections. He is hoping for financial help from Elections Alberta and Elections Canada to dig deeper into the data and reach out to nonvoters.

“I wish I could tell you I talked to a lot of non-voters,” Leach said.

“People I work with, that I’m in touch with, are people that are engaged in their community, so they’re very politically aware.”