Calgary Votes 2021: Daily turnouts double from 2017 municipal election advance polls

Thanksgiving weeked conversations could change voters minds or encourage others to vote

The Northern Hills Community Association executive director Yana Soldatenko live streamed the mayoral candidate stump speeches at their all mayoral candidate event at Notre Dame School in Calgary on Saturday, September 25, 2021. The event had candidates set up booths for the public to interact with the campaigns, and gave time for each candidate to give a short stump speech. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Calgarians have taken to the polls in record numbers this week.

From Monday, preliminary advance poll numbers have surpassed 82 per cent of the turnout from the 2017 election.

After day two in the 2017 election, the total of two days of voting stood at 19,073. A handful of votes more than the 18,988 votes that were cast on Tuesday. It was also less than the 19,127 votes that were cast on Wednesday.

So far it has proved to be one of the most interesting municipal elections in recent memory for both Calgarians and political scientists.

“Oh boy, this municipal election is like a bag of your very favourite candy for the political science community,” said Dr. Jack Lucas, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary.

Advance polls are open until 7 p.m. until Saturday, and 3 p.m. on Sunday.

All of the advance vote counts are preliminary.

The City of Calgary says they have to manually count the electors via the number of voter statements filled out. The tabulator count hasn’t been used because some voters may have refused a municipal or provincial ballot.

Voters increasingly using advance polls

The increased numbers of voters was part of a broader trend that has seen advance voter turnouts increase.

“Advanced turnout has been increasing over time at all levels of government, as governments provide more opportunities for people to participate in advanced voting,” said Lucas.

He said that awareness of being able to use advance polls, along with the Covid-19 pandemic have been factors in increased advanced polling in elections this year.

“And we saw in the federal election that advanced voting was was up very strongly because people feel comfortable going in when things are quiet at an advanced voting station,” said Lucas.

Voters have also been more likely to turn out to the polls when there was an competitive open mayoral race.

“In general, when a race is more competitive, people are motivated to turn out to vote,” he said.

“That’s been a finding that’s held true across levels of government, across countries and across time. And if anything, this election is competitive.”

Challenge in interpreting advance poll numbers

It's less clear that increased advance voting this year will mean overall increased voter turnout after the election is done.

"So the the question is 'are these people who would have voted otherwise, who are just taking the opportunity to participate in advanced voting rather than voting on election day,'" said Lucas.

He said the high advance turnout is promising, but cautions interpreting any trends or results from what he called "noisy data."

"You know, many a pundit has crashed and on the shore of over interpreting advanced turnouts," said Lucas.

Stephen Carter, campaign manager for mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek, is somewhat pessimistic on whether advance turnout will result in overall increased turnout.

"I'd like to believe that that [vote count] is indicative of higher turnout, but I wonder it's not just COVID related and more people just trying to get it over with and avoid longer lineups and bigger crowded spaces," said Carter.

"I know that Brian Singh has predicted 60 per cent voter turnout. I'm more pessimistic and thinking it'll be closer to 45 to 50," he said.

Federal election not impacting turnout numbers

The federal election ended just two weeks ago, but it's now firmly in the rear-view mirror for voters.

"The federal election feels like it was yesterday, but also three years ago," said Lucas.

"I think that we have had time since the federal election ended for people to turn their attention to the municipal race," he said.

He also said it was unlikely that given the difference between Sept. 20 and election day on Oct. 18 people would refrain from voting.

"If we had a federal election two days before the municipal election, it might be a different story."

On the first day of advance voting in Calgary on Monday, 23,517 voters turned out to the polls to cast their ballots. This was nearly two and a half times as the start of advance voting in 2017.

Thanksgiving to play a factor in the election

With many Calgarians gathering for the Thanksgiving long weekend, the conversation is likely to at least be in part about the election.

Political scientists have researched how people change their minds during an election, dubbing it campaign effects. This affects voting intention and voter preferences for candidates.

"Conversations with trusted friends and family and neighbours can have an effect on how people intend to vote," said Lucas.

"Will those conversations on Thanksgiving shape people's voting preferences? It's plausible to me."

He also said that many undecided voters will likely stay home and not vote. Conversations with people that undecided voters trust can turn them into election day voters.

"Thanksgiving is everything in a municipal election," said Carter.

Correction: a previous version of this story said the city was counting ballots cast. This has been updated to reflect the city is counting electors using voting statements.

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