Voter turnout spikes after long, unpredictable campaign

A wild race, long campaign and some deeply divisive debate contributed to a high number of Canadians flocking to cast ballots at the polls.

Turnout 7 percentage points higher nationally than in 2011

Canadians flocked to polling stations across the country to cast their ballots after a 78-day campaign. (CBC)

A wild race, a long campaign and some deeply divisive debate sent more Canadians to the polls this election.

According to preliminary figures from Elections Canada, more than 68 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, or about 17,546,697 registered electors. That's a big jump from the last federal election, when just more than 61 per cent of Canadians voted.

The figures, which do not include Canadians who registered on election day, show that Prince Edward Island had the highest voter turnout at 77.4 per cent, with Yukon (76 per cent) and New Brunswick (74.6 per cent) close behind. In Newfoundland and Labrador, only 61.5 per cent cast ballots, with Nunavut (62 per cent) and Northwest Territories (64.4 per cent) also drawing fewer voters to the polls.

Elections Canada was bracing for high turnout after people flocked to advance polls over the Thanksgiving weekend. More than 3.6 million ballots were cast over four days of advance polls, an increase of 71 per cent in the 2011 election, when only three days of advance polls were held.

Campaign dynamics likely compelled more Canadians to exercise their democratic right this election, but Elections Canada also launched initiatives to increase accessibility for target  groups that are usually under-represented, including youth and aboriginal Canadians.

One pilot project to put advance polling stations on some campuses attracted 70,000 students to cast a ballot, and one student representative believes that even though the student and youth vote has been traditionally low, they are plugged in to politics.

Student pilot 'incredibly successful'

"The huge number of early student voters dispels this myth that we are apathetic or uninterested in politics," said Rajean Hoilett, chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario. 

Hoillett said the pilot project with Elections Canada was "incredibly successful", and he hopes it will be expanded to every campus to break down barriers for students casting ballots.

"Often times students have are living away from their home riding, juggling course loads and working multiple jobs have found it really difficult to find the time to make it back to their riding to cast their ballot," he said.