Politics

Advance polls considered crucial in close campaign

Political parties are working to lock down support by urging voters to cast early ballots this Thanksgiving weekend, a crucial point in the campaign as families gather to eat turkey and make up their minds. Electors in advance polls make up a huge number of votes, and they could sway results in a tight election race.

Thanksgiving marks final push to lock in support and frame ballot question as advance polls open

Canadians will flock to vote in four days of advance polls this weekend. More than 2.1 million voted in advance polls in the 2011 election. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Political parties are working to lock down support by urging voters to cast early ballots this Thanksgiving weekend, a crucial point in the campaign as families gather to eat turkey and make up their minds.

Electors in advance polls make up a huge number of votes, and they could sway results in a tight election race.

During the last general election in 2011, more than 2.1 million Canadians cast a ballot in an advance poll — that's about 14 per cent of the total number of voters — and another 285,034 voted by special ballot.

And as families gather to tuck in to turkey, the election campaign is bound to be a hot topic of conversation at the dinner table.

Eat turkey, talk campaign

Longtime Conservative strategist Geoff Norquay sees framing the ballot question as the most important task for the party leaders, and he says it will come into laser-sharp focus this Thanksgiving weekend.

"This is the time when decisions get firmed up. Canadians will be chewing over their perceptions, their biases, their assessments, and their intentions," he said. "The challenge for the three federal leaders is to send the people of Canada into the coming weekend with the right questions, and answers."

Knowing the critical importance of locking in votes in a campaign when every vote counts, political parties are appealing to supporters to take part in advance polls.

A plea from the Conservative Party says it will also free up supporters to get out the vote on election day.

"Last election, our closest win was by just 18 votes. And we'll have some razor-close races in this election, too. Your early vote will have a real impact on this election," reads a message emailed to supporters signed by Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper's wife, Laureen.

Brad Lavigne, senior adviser for the NDP campaign, said the ballot question for most Canadians is about defeating the Harper Conservatives. 

"The NDP will be reminding Canadians as they sit down for Thanksgiving dinner that the NDP only need 35 seats to defeat Stephen Harper, while the Liberals need 100," he said. 

The NDP sent out a note to try to lock down its own supporters:

"This election will be the closest that Canada has seen in a generation. It will come down to a handful of votes in hard-fought ridings," the note from leader Tom Mulcair reads. "Here's what you can do to help defeat Stephen Harper and bring change to Ottawa: Voting early in advance polls means our campaign can focus our resources and talk to more voters ahead of election day."

The Liberals are also encouraging supporters to vote in advance polls through various means, including outreach online and at the riding level.

Pleas for advance votes

But the timing of the advance polls in conjunction with a traditional long weekend has raised concerns among some Canadians.

"We continue to field a number of questions about why advance polls are on the Thanksgiving weekend this year — and were held over the Easter weekend in 2011," said Elections Canada spokesman James Hale. "I think it's safe to say that many people do not understand that the timing is set in law, with the final day of advance polling taking place a week before the regular polls."

Elections Canada is trying to make voting more accessible for aboriginal youth and university students by opening 39 offices on campuses and Friendship Centres across Canada.

HOW YOU CAN VOTE:

ON ELECTION DAY OCT. 19: At your polling station with appropriate identification. If you are registered, you should have received a voter information card in the mail telling you where to vote. You should have received it by Oct. 1. You can also use the online Voter Information Service to find out where to vote.

AT ADVANCE POLLS: Friday, Oct. 9, Saturday, Oct. 10, Sunday, Oct. 11 and Monday, Oct. 12, at your advance polling location.

AT ELECTIONS CANADA OFFICES: By special ballot until Tuesday, Oct. 13, at more than 400 locations across Canada

ON CAMPUS: From Oct. 5 until Thursday, Oct. 8, Elections Canada has opened 39 offices at campuses, youth centres and Friendship Centres

BY MAIL: Until Tuesday, Oct. 13, you can apply to vote by mail

No matter how you vote, Elections Canada requires proper identification, aside from your voter information card, including one piece that shows your current address.

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