Calgarians came out in full force to cast their ballots at advance polls for the 2021 municipal election.
According to Elections Calgary’s unofficial voter turnout, 141,329 ballots were cast in the advance polling period between Oct. 4 and 10.
The first day of early voting saw the highest turnout with 23,329 votes cast, with the fewest ballots cast on Sunday at 17,405 votes.
This cycle’s turnout is more than the 22,410 advance poll votes cast in 2013 and 74,965 early votes in 2017 combined.
“I don’t think it’s unexpected because what we’ve seen historically is increasing advanced turnout numbers, cycle over cycle. That’s happening at the municipal level, provincial and even the federal level,” University of Calgary associate political science professor Jack Lucas told Global News on Tuesday.
“It’s not surprising to see an increase, although the increase in Calgary is especially large.”
It’s believed the surge in votes was bolstered by more opportunities for Calgarians to cast their ballots.
According to Elections Calgary, there were 37 designated advance voting stations — 11 more than in the 2017 municipal election.
But political watchers believe there were several other factors behind the significant increase in this cycle’s advance votes, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 is still obviously a big problem here in Calgary,” Lucas said.
“I think people feel comfortable with the idea that if they turn up at the advance polling station at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, it’s going to be a lot quieter than it will be at 5 p.m. on election day.”
Change is also being noted as a factor by Lori Williams, an associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced he would not be seeking a fourth term as mayor, which resulted in 27 Calgarians putting their names forward to be his replacement.
There will also be a significant turnover on city council due to retirements from public life and incumbent councillors running for mayor.
This means there will be at least nine new faces elected to city council among the field of over 100 candidates.
“We definitely are going to be getting a new mayor and that mayor can be the face of Calgary to the rest of the world and the province and the country for the next four years, and I think a lot of people care about that,” Williams said.
“We’re looking at what could look like a very different council, and a lot of people weren’t very satisfied or happy. You look at the polling and people didn’t really like a lot of the dynamics, at least of the last council, and they’re looking to see things improve on that count.”
There are also 37 public and 18 Catholic school board trustee hopefuls on the ballot, along with an equalization referendum, Senate elections, a question on Daylight Saving Time and a fluoride plebiscite.
According to Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, a high turnout in advance polls isn’t expected to correlate with a surge turnout on election night.
“What this shows is that people are now getting very used to advance polling. You’ve got the most eager, the most committed voters voting when they want to as opposed to waiting until election day,” Bratt said.
“So as a result, we can’t really buy into or lead into the connection between advanced polls and voter turnout (on election day).”
Bratt said he is expecting total voter turnout to be between 50 and 60 per cent of eligible voters when all is said and done.
The question is whether a higher voter turnout will benefit one candidate over another, especially in the race for mayor.
Recent polls showed a tightening mayoral race between councillors Jyoti Gondek and Jeromy Farkas, who are both well ahead of the rest of the field.
According to Williams, older generations are historically more reliable voters, and a candidate favoured in that demographic could have an advantage if overall voter turnout is low.
“But we’re not talking about a normal election where voter turnout isn’t very high,” Williams said.
“If voter turnout does turn out to be quite high, a lot of people that normally need a special reason to come out and vote will be incentivized to do so, and as their numbers increase, then that could certainly open the door for candidates that are relying on support from a broader range of voters.”
The main message from the experts: every vote counts, especially in an election that has been deemed one of the most important in the city’s history.
“All of these open races, an open mayoral race, it means that the overall complexion of city council is going to be quite a bit different after Oct. 18,” Lucas said.
“That can shape the policy agenda of the city, the policy priorities of the city. All of those things are very much up in the air at this point in Calgary.”
The next opportunity for Calgarians to head to the polls is on election day, Oct. 18.
– With files from Global News’ Adam Toy
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