What do Ikea, the airport and Telus World of Science have in common?

This year, Elections Alberta has expanded its advance polling stations across the province with 100 unconventional spaces including airports, storefronts, hospitals, hotels and even a science centre.

They’re just a few of the 'special' spots you can vote during advance polling until Saturday

Most post-secondary campuses in Alberta have polling stations for students, instructors and community members to get out and vote. (Emily Rendell-Watson/CBC)

April 16 is still days away but election fever is in full swing, with thousands of people taking advantage of this year's expanded advance vote, which has brought polling stations to where the people are.

Advance polls opened Tuesday and most will remain open through Saturday. By Wednesday evening, 276,000 Albertans had already voted — 140,000 on Tuesday and 136,000 on Wednesday.

That's about 2½ times the turnout in the first two days of advance voting in the previous election in 2015, when about 108,000 people cast ballots, according to Elections Alberta.

In fact, more people have voted in the advance polls so far than voted during the entire time the advance polls were open in 2015.

"I think it has something to do with the novelty that [Albertans] can vote anywhere now," Drew Westwater, Elections Alberta deputy chief electoral officer, said about the brisk attendance.

This year's advance polling stations have spread to 100 unconventional voting spaces across the province, including airports, storefronts, hospitals, hotels and a science centre, to name a few.

"Not everyone is at home in their own electoral division all the time. They may live in Calgary but work in Edmonton. This way you have the opportunity to go to any location in the province," Westwater said. 

New "vote anywhere" legislation was added after the 2015 election to allow for the flexibility.

"We go where the people are and try to make it as accessible as possible for them," Westwater said.

The 87 returning officers across the province suggested the location of new "special polls" based on where people in each of their communities would be most likely to gather.

Some locations will appeal to those who love shopping — malls around the province have advance polling including West Edmonton Mall and Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre in Edmonton, and Calgary's Southcentre and Westbrook malls.

On April 13, Ikea shoppers can pick up a ballot, a Billy bookcase and perhaps even some famous Swedish meatballs.

Voting on the go

Heading out of town is no excuse for not voting, with advance voting available at airports in Edmonton and Calgary. The advance poll at Calgary International Airport is on the arrivals level at Door 12; in Edmonton, the spot to go is the observation deck on the third level in the Reykjavik Room.

Most post-secondary campuses, including Mount Royal University, NAIT, SAIT, Concordia University and the University of Alberta, have advance voting stations set up for students, instructors and community members.

NAIT student Harry Park took advantage of the polling station set up in the student study lounge on Wednesday. He said he wishes Elections Alberta had put it into place "a long time ago."

"So many people don't vote without opportunities like this," Park said.

Matthew Cunningham, another student at NAIT, agreed the new polling stations are convenient.

"This is super handy for college students. It's mid-April, which is cram time," he said.

There are also advance polling booths available at golf courses, seniors centres, homeless shelters and a food bank.

While some advance polling locations are in obvious spots, others are a bit more mysterious. One on the Elections Alberta website is labelled "Across from the Post Office" in Blackfalds.

"I think the changes added to the advanced polling system are really enticing people to go out and vote. But I think beyond the changes it is quite evident that in this election, there are many people that are committed to making making their voice heard," said Chaldeans Mensah, a political scientist at MacEwan University.

While some may argue that you can't read too much into advanced polling numbers, Mensah said the feeling with this election is different.

"I think it is a very competitive election. We are moving to a de facto two-party system here. It's a very polarized electorate and there are strong forces on both sides wanting to make an impact."

On the flip side, Mount Royal University communications professor David Taras said the early surge in votes cast isn't necessarily an indication of anything.

There is still room for a change of opinion among Albertans or a major event that could sway people around election day, he said.

"What it could mean is that political parties have been very good at identifying their voters .. and getting them to the polls.

"The best insurance for political parties is to make sure that they vote early so that you don't stretch your resources on the last day," Taras said.

Four of the 266 advance voting locations are not barrier-free. Westwater said that is because many communities across Alberta don't have accessible locations to use.

"We didn't want that to be a barrier to everyone getting an opportunity to vote," he said.

Westwater noted that all regular advance polling stations are barrier-free. The four that aren't are all part of the new "special polls" Elections Alberta implemented this year. 

Sweet incentives

If you're in Calgary, you may even be able to snag a sweet treat when you visit the polls. A group dubbed Democracy Donuts raised over $2,500 to serve voters desserts this week.

You can get a doughnut along with your ballot at Vivo for Healthier Generations, 11950 Country Village Link N.E., on Thursday, SAIT's Stan Grad Centre on Friday, and the Pineridge Community Centre on Saturday.

  • VOTE COMPASS | Find out how your views on campaign issues line up with the platforms of Alberta's major parties

Voting hours vary from location to location, with most advance polling locations open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. through Saturday. Up-to-date stations and dates are available here.

If you're unable to vote at an advance poll or on election day, you can request a special ballot in person from your division's returning office. Here's a guide on how to do that.


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