Elections BC workers in Metro Vancouver await the arrival of voters on Tuesday. ((CBC))

Voter turnout in B.C.'s provincial election hit a record low on Tuesday, with only 50 per cent of eligible voters bothering to vote, a full eight percentage points less than the 58 per cent that voted in 2005.

The sharp drop in voter participation came as a surprise to B.C.'s chief electoral officer, Harry Neufeld, who was predicting the highest turnout in 20 years after a record high of 297,000 people voted in advance polls in the days leading up to the May 12 election.

B.C. Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell won his third straight mandate and his party received 46.1 per cent of the 1,545,716 ballots cast, taking 49 of 85 seats. About 44,000 fewer people than voted in the general election cast ballots in the referendum on electoral reform, for a total of 1,501,765.

Neufeld told CBC News he'll be looking to find out why only half of eligible voters showed up at the polls.

"We're going to be doing a survey," he said Wednesday. "We did a survey after the 2005 election, and a significant number of people, about 44 per cent, the last time we surveyed them, were simply disengaged with the political process and just didn't have an interest in following politics, being involved and being part of the voting process."

Voter turnout has been dropping for years in B.C. In the 1983 provincial election, 70 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Did politics lose to hockey playoffs?

There has been much speculation that the Canucks short-lived Stanley Cup playoff run diverted many peoples' attention away from the campaign.

Many candidates did what they could to compete for voter attention, including wearing hockey jerseys, but at least one poll showed the public was still more interested in hockey than politics.

The Canucks eventually lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the playoffs on Monday night, potentially leaving many voters in a deep funk on Tuesday morning when the polls opened.

But if hockey is the problem, it's not likely to go away. B.C.'s election dates have been fixed by Premier Gordon Campbell to come up every four years in May, right at the start of playoff season, and on Wednesday, Campbell dismissed the idea of moving the date.

"I think people are quite capable of dealing with hockey and an election," said Campbell.

UBC political science professor Fred Cutler said there were other factors at play, including the two main party leaders' lack of charisma and a lack of clear divisions in their platforms.

"We didn't have people able to separate the two parties easily or separate their leaders," said Cutler.

For instance, the NDP was criticized by many of its traditional environmentalist supporters for wanting to axe the B.C. Liberals' carbon tax, sending a mixed message to voters about where the party stood in the traditional political landscape.

"For a voter who is having that kind of pressure on both sides and can't quite make up his or her mind, it's going to be that little bit harder to get up and make the walk and tick the ballot," said Cutler.