What Was the Turnout in 2013 Anyway?

Update:  Now that final voting results have been reported, we have updated the calculations described below.  Please check the end of this post for the update.

There seems to be some uncertainty as to whether or not the turnout in last night’s election was up or down over 2009.  For example, the Huffington Post reports numbers purportedly from Elections BC that show a turnout of 52% compared with 51% in 2009, and this number was reported in other stories such as this one on Global News.  However, these numbers don’t make sense to us.  The answer likely lies in widespread confusion between the turnout of REGISTERED voters and turnout of ELIGIBLE voters.  The difference can be significant. Remember that out of the total population of BC, only some people are eligible to vote (with minor exceptions, all Canadian citizens over the age of 18 who have been resident in BC for more than six months).  To actually vote, one must register.  Historically, about 5-10% of eligible voters do not register. For example, the PolicyMonitor website has posted a news release from Elections BC with an attached factsheet that reports the following numbers:

  • 2009:
    • 3,238,737 total estimated eligible voters
    • 2,995,465 registered voters
    • 1,651,567 total registered voters who voted
  • 2013:
    • 3,310,218 total estimated eligible voters (BC Stats, Oct 1, 2012)
    • 3,110,267 total registered voters (April 15, 2013)

Elections BC reported the preliminary vote totals for the 2013 election as of May 15th at noon.  From this, we learn that 1,629,422 valid votes were cast in 2013. Adding in data from Stats BC about BC’s population in 2009 and 2013, we can construct the following table:

Year Population Eligible Voters Registered Voters Valid Votes Turnout (Eligible) Turnout (Registered)
2009 4,459,900 3,238,737 2,995,465 1,651,567 51.0% 55.1%
2013 4,663,600 3,310,218 3,110,267 1,629,422 49.2% 52.4%

Leaving aside the fact that the estimate for eligible voters in 2013 is out of date by eight months and that the number of voters who ultimately registered must have increased over the past month, we see that the reporters appear to be comparing the turnout of ELIGIBLE voters in 2009 (51.0%) to the turnout of REGISTERED voters in 2013 (52.4%).  The more accurate comparison is between turnout of eligible voters;  on this basis, there is clearly a drop of at least 1.8% from 2009 to 2013 (ie, to 49.2%).  This makes perfect sense – BC’s population increased by over 200,000 people, the number of eligible voters rose by at least 70,000 (and more likely closer to 100,000, if we account for the additional eight months that have elapsed since the last estimate), and the number of votes cast dropped by over 20,000 (though some more mail-in ballots are yet to be counted – these accounted for about 2% of the ballots in BC in 2009, according to a 2012 article in the Parliamentary Review, which would represent about 33,000 votes this year).  If we account for the increase in the number of eligible voters over the past eight months and the mail-in ballots not yet counted, our final estimate of the turnout of eligible voters is still just under 50% (49.9%, to be more precise). In summary, voter turnout appears to still be dropping, despite news reports to the contrary.  If you are aware of any data to the contrary, please let us know.

Update: as of June 1, 2013

We were a little surprised, but pleased, to learn that the final vote counts were a fair bit higher than we’d originally estimated.  It appears that more voters voted in advance, by mail or at different polling stations than had happened previously.  According to Elections BC, the final count was 1,803,051, up over 9% from 1,651,567 in 2009. Extrapolating the number of eligible voters from last fall until this May, we estimate a number of 3.325 million, which means that turnout rose to approximately 54.5% (we have not yet been able to find a reliable figure for the final number of registered voters).  Also, the final popular vote results were:  Liberals 44.1%, NDP 39.7% and Greens 8.1%.

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