The unofficial turnout shows nearly 70 per cent of Albertans voted in the provincial election, the highest voter turnout in decades.
Elections Alberta said about 2,615,000 people in Alberta were registered to vote.
Deputy chief electoral officer Drew Westwater said the unofficial turnout was 69.9 per cent, based on numbers crunched by mid-afternoon Wednesday.
“It’s very, very high,” he said. “We haven’t seen numbers this high since the ’80s.”
A report by Elections Alberta shows voter turnout was 66 per cent in the 1982 election. That election was called by then-premier Peter Lougheed, who was re-elected; in that same election, Grant Notley’s NDP became the official opposition with two seats.
The largest-ever voter turnout was 81.8 per cent in 1935, when William Aberhart’s Social Credit Party of Alberta won with a huge majority. The smallest voter turnout was 40.6 per cent in 2008, when Ed Stelmach’s Conservatives won 72 of 83 seats.
Melanee Thomas, an associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary, said she never thought she’d see a 70 per cent turnout in Alberta.
“I was born in the ’80s, so I became aware of Alberta politics during the (Ralph) Klein era,” she said.
Voter turnout in the Klein years — from 1992 to 2006 — ranged between 60 per cent in the 1993 election to a low of 45 per cent in 2004.
Thomas said Albertans were just going through the motions during those years.
“Low turnout like that is a really good indicator of democratic malaise related directly to not actually having competitive elections that changed parties and government,” she said.
In 2012, 2015 and 2019, the province saw more competitive elections because there was potential for a change in government.
Thomas said she expects people who previously didn’t vote, including young men facing unemployment in the oilpatch, were engaged in this year’s election.
“In order for turnout to be this high, it has got to be people who normally would not have voted — at least in Alberta historically would not have voted,” she said.
The NDP has so far received more than 536,000 votes this election, while the winning United Conservative Party got more than 919,000 votes. The Alberta Party got about 152,000 votes and the Liberals 16,000.
Some polls are still being counted.
Thomas said the fixed election date, which required the vote to be held between March 1 and May 31, could have also been a factor.
Officials with Elections Alberta said there are many reasons, including engagement, that help people decide whether to vote.
“For us, we’d hope some of the changes we made to the voting process and the options available for voters to get access to the ballot box may have influenced them and encouraged them to participate,” said Westwater.
He said the “vote anywhere” option, allowing Albertans to vote outside their constituencies at places including malls, airports, recreation centres, public buildings and an Ikea store, proved popular.
“Obviously 223,000 of them taking advantage of that,” said Westwater. “People really appreciated the fact they had more opportunities to get out and access the ballot box.”
Westwater said the official voter turnout will be confirmed once all ballots are counted, which he hoped would happen by Saturday.