A Quebec election campaign that was often described as ugly and nasty may have galvanized rather than turned off Quebec voters.
Preliminary tracking of voter turnout by Quebec's Chief Electoral Officer Monday showed a participation rate that was generally on pace with the last election in 2012 which saw a 74.6 per cent turnout.
By 5:30 p.m. Monday, voter turnout was at 52.8 per cent, equal to the 53 per cent turnout that had been recorded at the same time on voting day in September 2012.
More than 1.1 million of the more than six million Quebeckers registered to vote took advantage of advanced polls to cast their ballots. The advance voter turnout of 19.2 per cent was up from the 16.6 per cent in the 2012 vote that elected a Parti Québécois minority government.
Voter turnout has fluctuated considerably in recent Quebec elections. The final voter turnout for 2012 of 74.6 per cent was a dramatic 30 per cent increase over the 57 per cent turnout in December 2008 that elected a Liberal majority government for then-premier Jean Charest.
That low turnout may have been a sign of voter fatigue given that an election had been held the year before. That 2007 vote had a 71 per cent turnout and produced a Liberal minority government. In 1998, the average participation rate was 78 per cent, when Quebeckers elected the Lucien Bouchard-led Parti Québécois to a majority government.
Still, Guy Lachapelle, a political science professor at Concordia University who ran in 2007 for the PQ, said high early turnout numbers likely have more to do with practical, rather than political, issues. He said people prefer the option of voting on a weekend, rather than a weekday, and the weather was nice during advance polling.
"It's hard for people, especially when you have small children ... to have an election on Monday," he said. "It's much better when it's a sunny day."
The final number of people registered to vote in this election is 6,012,440, including 18,328 registered from outside Quebec and 2,751 inmates.
The controversy over the rules determining whether out-of-province students would be able to vote did not appear to translate into high on-campus turnout. A breakdown of the advance voting showed that only 14 per cent of a potential 400,000 electors attending colleges and universities took up the option of voting at advance polls on campus.
Many more youth likely voted in their ridings. A 2012 study by Université Laval that used elections data to estimate the youth participation rate found that 62 per cent of those between 18 and 24-years-old voted in 2012. That was a sharp increase from 36 per cent in 2008 and 54 per cent in 2007.
The issue of voter turnout is currently a hot topic on Parliament Hill, where the Conservative government has introduced the Fair Elections Act that critics say will hurt – rather than boost – participation.
National voter participation reached a high of 79 per cent in the early 1960s but has not been above 70 per cent since the 1992 election. Voter turnout in the 2011 federal election was 61.1 per cent, which was a slight increase from 58.8 per cent in 2008.