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Potential Impacts of Extended Advance Voting on Voter Turnout

Note to the Reader

This study has been commissioned by Elections Canada to look at the potential impacts of extended voting opportunities proposed by Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act (39th Parliament, 1st Session). The observations and conclusions are those of the authors.

Executive Summary

The purpose of this study is to identify the likely impact of Bill C-55 (Extended Voting Opportunities; 39th Parliament, 1st Session) on voter turnout. Our analysis considers existing literature on the effects of non-election day voting opportunities on turnout. It then presents new cross-national evidence on the relationship between such voting opportunities and voter turnout. Using data from the Canadian Election Study, it next considers the profile of advance voters in Canada. Finally, we examine whether the increased advance voting in the last federal election was related to increased turnout.

The study shows the following:

  1. There is relatively clear evidence that when voting is more convenient, a greater proportion of the population turns out to vote. However, the effect is modest at best.
  2. Cross-national research on the effects of advance voting, holiday voting, and a two-day voting period has yielded inconsistent and ambiguous results.
  3. Our own re-examination of cross-national evidence shows that the provision of advance, postal or proxy voting and the presence of two consecutive regular days of voting are all positively associated with turnout, but the correlations are not very robust.
  4. Research on the consequences of postal or advance voting in the United States usually indicates positive effects, but these effects tend to be limited and restricted to certain subgroups of the electorate.
  5. Advance voters in Canada are typically older than those who vote on election day or choose to abstain. The decision to vote in advance appears to be motivated by an engagement in politics and by contact with political parties.
  6. Overall voter turnout in Canada is increased by advance voting. The provision of more advance vote opportunities should thus increase overall turnout.

We conclude that Bill C-55 is likely to increase voter turnout in Canada, but the magnitude of this effect is likely to be small.

Introduction

Bill C-55 (Extended Voting Opportunities), which was introduced in May 2007, would increase the number of advance polling days from three to five. However, because the fifth day is the Sunday immediately preceding election day, and because the same polling stations would be used on that day, this effectively establishes two days of regular voting. The implication of this measure would be that one of the voting days would be a day of rest.

This study explores the potential impacts on voter turnout of extended advance voting,Footnote 1 of having two similar consecutive voting days instead of one, and of giving voters the option of voting on a Sunday.

We first present an overview of the measures that exist in Canada and abroad with respect to advance voting and election days. We then review extant research on the topic. We look at cross- national studies that examine whether administrative measures designed to facilitate voting, especially advance voting and/or extension of regular voting over more than one day, have a significant impact on turnout, and whether it makes a difference if voting day occurs on a holiday or a day of rest. We then review a number of studies done in the United States about the effects of measures aimed at facilitating the vote. Because the objective of Bill C-55 is to make it easier to vote, we also review studies that ascertain whether "convenience" increases turnout.

Finally, we present some new empirical evidence. We revisit previous cross-national work that we conducted for Elections Canada in 2003 to ascertain more precisely the consequences of advance voting, holiday voting, and number of voting days.

Subsequently, using the 2006 Canadian Election Study, we examine the profile of advance voters and compare it with that of election-day voters and abstainers. And looking at the official results in the electoral districts, we test the hypothesis that increased advance voting contributes to a higher turnout.


Footnote 1 The term "advance voting" as used in this report refers to the possibility for electors to vote in advance in specially designed polling places (before the election day). It does not refer to other possible voting methods (such as proxy or postal voting).