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Provincial election sees highest voter turnout in 22 years

An Elections Alberta polling station on May 5, 2015. Emily Mertz, Global News

EDMONTON — This year’s stunning provincial election saw the highest voter turnout since 1993, with over half of eligible Albertans making their voices heard.

According to Elections Alberta, there were 2,543,127 possible voters. The unofficial poll results account for 1,481,477  votes cast, or 58.25 per cent.

That’s up nearly four per cent from 2012, when only 54.4 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.

While that may not seem like much, it marked a massive improvement from 2008, when only 40.6 per cent of people voted to re-elect then-premier Ed Stelmach.

The anticipation of a close election between the NDP, Wildrose and PCs may have been the motivation for many Albertans, who headed to the advance polls in record numbers.

During the four days of advance polls 235,410 Albertans voted, according to Elections Alberta. That was up 30 per cent over the previous election, when 179,820 Albertans cast a ballot in the advance polls. This year an additional day was added to the advance polls, which ran Wednesday through Saturday.

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Alberta typically has a low voter turnout, but some experts believe a slew of political controversies over the last 18-months lead to a turnaround.

The 43-year-old PC dynasty had an uphill battle from the get-go. Jim Prentice first won his seat in a byelection in October, after he was elected Tory leader to replace Alison Redford.

Redford resigned as premier in March 2014 amid revelations she had used tax dollars to spend lavishly on trips and office perks, including a pricey penthouse suite on top of a government building. She remained as an MLA until September, when she left public life.

The party had also failed to build promised schools and was criticized for severance payouts to political staff and government executives.

Prentice, 58, came to the provincial scene with a wealth of experience in federal politics, and was tasked with resurrecting the scandal-plagued party.

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Prentice used his first budget to announce he would not fund growth in classrooms, would cut health spending and would not pay public sector workers a penny more until the books were balanced.

On April 7, Prentice dropped the writ a year earlier than necessary, saying tough budget choices were necessary, and he needed a mandate from Albertans in order to carry them through.

During the beginning of the campaign pundits believed the PCs would easily win another majority. They held 70 of 87 seats at dissolution. The NDP had never won more than 16 seats in an election. Instead, the month-long campaign saw support for the NDP grow leaps and bounds.

The televised leaders’ debate on April 23 was a clear two-way battle between Prentice and Notley, and in the final weeks of the campaign she became the main PC target.

Following the party’s resounding defeat on Tuesday night, Prentice resigned.

READ MORE: Alberta PC Leader Jim Prentice resigns after winning seat in Calgary-Foothills

In all, he led the Alberta PCs for 233 days.

With files from The Canadian Press

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