An estimated 85.5 per cent of the electorate voted in Saturday's general election, which once confirmed will be the lowest in six decades.
Polls had predicted lower turnout but not at this scale, with the figure representing a marked reduction from the 92.1 per cent who voted in the 2017 poll.
The projected turnout was released by the Electoral Commission at 12.40am on Sunday morning and is based on samples provided by assistant electoral commissioners at the close of the poll.
Once confirmed, it will mark the lowest turnout in Malta’s post-independence general election history, even if it remains extremely high by western democratic standards.
Voter turnout last dipped below 90% in 1966, when it stood at 89.7%.
In a statement, the electoral commission said that 303,575 votes were cast by the time voting ended at 10pm. There were 355,075 registered voters in this general election.
Estimated turnout by district
The commission also provided a breakdown of projected turnout by electoral district.
The highest projected turnouts were in the seventh district (88.02%), third district (87.85%) and sixth district (87.35%), with the fifth district – a district in which both Robert Abela and Bernard Grech appeared on the ballot sheet – also projected to register a relatively high turnout of 87.19%.
District 12 is, as has happened in previous elections, projected to have the country’s lowest turnout, at 78.38%. Projections also suggest turnout lower than the national average in districts 10 (81.59%), nine (84.35%) and 11 (84.79%).
Voting proceeded smoothly all across Malta and Gozo without any incidents being reported, in an election in which the incumbent Labour Party, led by Robert Abela, is widely expected to march to a commanding victory and complete a hat-trick of general electoral successes.
Discussion about the eventual margin between Labour and Bernard Grech’s Nationalist Party is more contentious, with polls predicting gaps ranging from 28,000 to 39,000 votes.
Voting stations opened at 7am and closed at 10pm.
Partial turnout by 2pm
Until 2pm, just over two out of every five registered voters had cast their vote, according to figures provided by the electoral commission.
The commission originally said that 40.45% of votes had been cast by 2pm, only for it to later revise that figure up to 44.75% after the Nationalist Party noted that just over 15,000 votes cast earlier in the week had not been included in the initial calculation.
Understanding the electoral process
Once voting ended at 10pm, the process to reconcile the votes began. Electoral agents at the 116 voting centres across Malta worked to carry out that initial reconciliation, with ballot boxes then taken to the Naxxar counting hall for a second reconciliation process.
The official turnout figure was issued by the commission once that second check was completed.
Electoral officials continued to work through the night to sort votes. Once that process is completed, the electoral process will pause for a few hours before resuming on Sunday morning at around 9am.
For the first time in a general election, vote counting will be done electronically.
An official result is not expected until the early hours of Monday morning, but an unofficial winner is likely to be declared as early as 10am on Sunday morning, especially if the gap between the two main parties is wide.
Casual election process
After the official result is announced by the commission, the casual elections process officially begins.
At this point, candidates elected from two districts will decide which one they want to represent and drop the other district. Another candidate from the dropped district must be selected.
Robert Abela was the first leader to vote on Saturday but gave no comments to the press.
Grech urged the public who wanted change to go out and vote, saying it was useless to protest and complain over having no voice and then failing to go out to vote.
He followed that message up with a day-long blitz across towns and villages in Malta and Gozo, greeting party supporters and encouraging them to get out and vote.
A calm campaign
It proved to be a relatively smooth election campaign, overshadowed by a war in Ukraine.
Abela campaigned on the back of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his party's economic record during nine years in power. Grech pressed the issue that he was leading a renewed party, amid warnings that Malta’s democracy is at stake.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which began just days into the electoral campaign, muted matters somewhat, as did COVID-19 restrictions. A spike in COVID-19 in the last month, in fact, sparked the electoral commission to set up seven special voting centres for those who currently have the virus.
Voters included 16- and 17-year-olds for the first time in a general election, adding roughly 8,500 votes to the eligible population.
A total of 14,473 voting documents remained uncollected by the electoral commission’s Thursday night deadline.