Polls closed after dramatic election campaign

Voters from across the country streamed to the polls on Monday to cast their ballots after a five-week federal election campaign that saw some unexpected twists.
Information officer Adrian Loree puts up posters at the Adam Beck Community Centre election polling station as it opens in Toronto on Monday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Voters from across the country streamed to the polls on Monday to cast their ballots after a five-week federal election campaign that saw some unexpected twists.

Polls are closed and votes are being tallied in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Quebec and the Prairie provinces. They are also closed in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

Voters in B.C. and Yukon can vote until 7 p.m. PT. Under the Elections Act, results can't be published until the last polls close.

Opinion polls up to the end of the weekend continued to suggest a tight race, including a much-reported surge in support for the New Democratic Party. How real that turns out to be, however, is finally in the hands of the voters.

A low voter turnout is often thought to favour the incumbent party — in this election, the Conservatives — but the advance-poll turnout was high: more than two million ballots cast, versus 1.5 million in 2008.

Still, voter turnout has been falling generally, and the 2008 election saw a record low of 58.8 per cent, with only 37.4 per cent of people under 25 casting ballots.

Laureen Harper, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and their children Rachel and Ben prepare to cast their ballots in Calgary Monday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"We can't say if that [advance poll turnout] is going to translate into election day — we don't know," an Elections Canada spokesman said Monday. 

"We're certainly hoping that there's a good participation, but we don't have any hard data to support it."

The agency does not release turnout data until the voting is done Monday evening. Canadians who are registered to vote will have received a voter information card in the mail indicating the polling station where they are registered to vote.

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Voters who are not already registered may register at their local polling station before casting a ballot. To register, voters will be required to prove their identity and address, or have another voter from their riding swear an oath vouching for them.

There were some bumps along the way Monday, to be sure. Some voters in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia said they have been  given false information in phone calls that directed them to the wrong place to vote.

The reports of false calls prompted Elections Canada to warn voters to disregard any phone calls telling them to go to a different polling station in their area.

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In B.C., Sarah Dench said she had to re-register when she went to vote in New Westminster-Coquitlam because staff couldn’t find her on the voters’ list. Staff said a computer glitch had left several homes in her neighbourhood off the list, although her husband was still on the list. She said several other people needed to re-register as well.

"Voting is a right, a privilege, and a responsibility," she said.  "My momentary experience of being disenfranchised brought that home, hard."

Party leaders cast ballots

The federal party leaders, however, also cast their ballots earlier Monday without any such hitches. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper voted at an elementary-junior high school in his Calgary Southwest riding, with wife Laureen and their two children at his side.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff greeted commuters in his west Toronto riding Monday morning, then voted at Sir Adam Beck Junior School. 

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jack Layton voted in Toronto's Trinity-Spadina riding with his family.

"We're feeling optimistic," Layton said. "The future of our country, our wonderful country, lies in the hands of Canadians today, and I think many will choose change."

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe cast his ballot in the morning in his Montreal riding, where he's believed to be fighting for his own seat. Green Party Leader Elizabeth voted in Sidney, B.C., with her daughter, Victoria Cate May Burton, 19, who was casting her federal ballot for the first time. May said they voted Green "to make history."

Polling stations warning

Elections Canada issued a warning to voters Sunday to ignore instructions from anyone but the agency itself about where they should vote.

The warning came after reports surfaced of voters being told to go to the wrong polling stations, some up to an hour away from their homes.

NDP Leader Jack Layton and his wife Olivia Chow cast their ballots at a voting station in Toronto Monday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Elections Canada said it had received reports of voters being given false information in several ridings, most of them in Ontario, but others as well in British Columbia.

In Manitoba, special voting stations have been set up for the almost 1,900 people forced from their homes by spring flooding.

In Saint John, one polling station opened more than half an hour late when a returning officer got sick and was unable to bring in the ballot box and ballots in time. The station, at the Church of St. Andrew and St. David on Germain Street, will still close as scheduled at 8:30 p.m. AT.

Results blackout

The first results will start being broadcast nationally at 10 p.m. ET when the polls close in British Columbia. Strict rules prevent any instance of what Elections Canada calls "premature transmission of results" until the last polls have closed in every electoral district in the country.

Section 329 of the Elections Canada Act states: "No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district."

The agency has issued a warning to Facebook and Twitter users to use caution on election day when communicating and posting voting results, saying the act also applies to transmissions made over the internet.

With files from The Canadian Press