5 things to watch on election day in Alberta

Albertans go the polls today following an election campaign that quickly became a battle between the governing Progressive Conservatives and the upstart Wildrose Party.

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Albertans go the polls today following an election campaign that quickly became a battle between the governing Progressive Conservatives and the upstart Wildrose Party.

Many are watching to see if the Wildrose, led by Danielle Smith, can end the Tories' 40-year hold on power — or if PC leader Alison Redford can hold off a Wildrose onslaught by attracting Albertans who would usually vote for the Liberals or the NDP.

The close race has also raised the possibility that Albertans could elect their first minority government in the province's history.

The 28-day campaign has been challenging for Smith and Redford, as well as NDP Leader Brian Mason, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman and Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor.

Redford was forced to do damage control on controversies that erupted in the weeks before the campaign began. They included allegations that her government intimidated school officials and a municipal councillor, the suspension and reinstatement of leadership rival Gary Mar from his position as Alberta's trade envoy to Asia, and the issue that seemed to have the most traction with voters — the infamous do-nothing committee, where MLAs were paid $1,000 per month even though they hadn't met in over three years.

After Redford dismissed the decision by Wildrose and Liberal MLAs to pay the cash back as a "stunt," she surprised political observers in the first week of the campaign by ordering Tory committee members to pay everything back.

Smith also faced her share of controversies. She refused to criticize two Wildrose candidates after they made racist and anti-gay comments, and attracted more criticism in the last week of the campaign for stating that the scientific debate over climate change still hadn't been settled. 

Sherman, Mason and Taylor fought to get attention in a race that has largely played out as a battle between Smith and Redford.

Sherman is trying to keep the Liberal party from losing seats following the Liberals' disappointing result in the 2008 election. Mason is hoping to win more than the two seats the NDP currently holds by benefitting from vote-splitting and the success of the federal New Democrats.

Five other things to watch on election day:

1. Voter turnout:

Turnout was 40.6 per cent in the 2008 provincial election — a historic low. 

When former Premier Ralph Klein won his first majority government in 1993, 60.2 per cent of eligible electors turned out to vote. Turnout has declined steadily ever since.

But that trend could see a reversal in 2012 — longer than average lineups at advance polls suggest the turnout could be much higher this time.

2. Strategic voting:

People who would normally vote for the Liberals or the NDP have said they may cast a ballot for the Tories, to keep the Wildrose from winning power. The Tories, particularly under Redford's leadership, are seen by some as the more progressive of the two right-wing parties.

NDP Leader Brian Mason, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman and Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor have urged people not to use that tactic, but to vote according their values.

3. Possible split between urban and rural voters:

Rural Alberta has been a stronghold for the Progressive Conservative Party ever since it first came to power in 1971. The Wildrose is hoping to make gains in these ridings by capitalizing on rural discontent over land rights and a perception that Redford's Tories are leaning too far to the left on fiscal and social issues.

The Wildrose is perceived as being weaker in Edmonton where the Liberals and NDP have a better chance of picking up or keeping seats. In some ridings like Edmonton-Rutherford and Edmonton-Glenora, the race could be particularly close. 

As for Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said the party that wins the most seats in his city will likely win power.

4. Will the Alberta Party be able to win its first seat?

The Alberta Party, led by former Hinton Mayor Glenn Taylor, has one seat in the legislature which it obtained after Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor left the Liberals and crossed the floor.

The party has positioned itself in the centre of the political spectrum and hopes to attract voters who may be disenchanted with the Liberals and the NDP. 

Alberta Party candidates are running high-profile campaigns in two of Edmonton's most competitive ridings: Sue Huff in Edmonton-Glenora and Michael Walters in Edmonton-Rutherford.

5. The effect of social media:

Social media has been an influential factor in the campaign. Leaders, candidates and voters have taken to Twitter to make announcements, discuss issues and circulate information especially using the #abvote hashtag.

They have also used the social media site to make personal attacks, much to the dismay of those who have decried the negative tone of the campaign.

No doubt there will be more passionate exchanges on Twitter as people watch the results roll out on Monday night.