Potential Impacts of Extended Advance Voting on Voter Turnout
Bill C-55 represents a significant change to Canadian electoral law. Indeed, it would make Canada unique in the world in providing for two similar polling days, one of which falling on the Sunday immediately preceding election day. We have tried to ascertain the possible effects of this legislation.
Reviewing cross-national research, we have found that the effects on advance voting and holiday voting are generally inconsistent and ambiguous. While some studies have found that these measures increase turnout, other studies have found no such effect.
We then considered the general evidence on the relationship between convenience and the decision to vote. It is clear that when voting is more convenient, it is undertaken by a greater proportion of the population. However, the effect is modest at best.
Having looked at the existing literature, we re-examined cross-national evidence on the effects of administrative institutional factors on turnout. We found that the provision of advance, postal or proxy voting and the presence of two consecutive regular days of voting were all positively associated with turnout, but that the correlations are not very robust. This suggests that all of these measures may have a positive impact on turnout, but that the effect is somewhat weak and uncertain.
Finally, we turned our attention to original analysis undertaken in Canada. We first used the Canadian Election Study to ascertain the differences between electors who voted in advance and those who chose to vote on election day or not at all. We found that age was a very important predictor of voting in advance, but so was a connection with the political system. Older citizens, those who are more interested in politics, those who identify with a party, and/or those who are contacted by a political party over the course of an election campaign are much more likely to vote in advance. This suggests that the addition of advance voting opportunities will be most likely to increase overall turnout if parties take advantage of the opportunity to mobilize more voters.
Examining rates of electoral participation in Canada's electoral districts in 2006, we found that the districts that experienced an increase in advance voting over the 2004 election also experienced an increase in overall turnout. While this effect was small, it was positive. We can say with confidence that providing greater voting opportunities is not only likely to lead to more advance voting, but also to increased overall turnout.
Taken together, the findings of previous research, as well as the new results presented in this study, suggest that the provisions of Bill C-55 are likely to slightly increase turnout, especially if parties are able to take advantage of the greater opportunities to mobilize voters.
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