HALIFAX -- Voter turnout in Nova Scotia slumped to an all-time low in Tuesday's provincial election, with just over half of eligible voters casting ballots.

Fewer than 54 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots, a drop from the 2013 voter turnout of slightly more than 58 per cent.

Premier Stephen McNeil called it "alarming," and vowed to take a "hard look" at the issue.

"The trend is going in the wrong direction and last night's drop was substantial in my view," he told reporters in Halifax Wednesday. "There needs to be a hard look at what can we do to try to help improve participation."

Of the 748,633 registered electors in the province, only 400,898 cast a ballot in a race that saw McNeil win a second consecutive majority government.

The urban riding of Halifax Citadel-Sable Island recorded one of the lowest voter turnouts on record, with just over 40 per cent of electors registering a vote.

Cape Breton-Richmond had the biggest turnout -- nearly 70 per cent.

Elections Nova Scotia spokesman Andy LeBlanc says the low turnout was a disappointing departure from the strong early voting trend, in which 112,900 voters cast their ballots at advanced polls.

"We had a very strong showing, probably the highest turnout, when it comes to early voting," he said. "But once we finished all the counting after yesterday we see that it was 53.55 per cent."

LeBlanc said it's the lowest voter turnout since at least 1960, and likely since 1867.

Yet the problem is not a lack of opportunity, he said.

"Without question in the last 30 or so days we've had more voting opportunities available than ever before," LeBlanc said. "We had people voting as early as May 1, less than 24 hours after the writ was issued."

Voter turnout has steadily declined in Nova Scotia over the last several decades. In 1960, for example, 82 per cent of electors voted, while nearly 70 per cent voted in 1998.

While the 2017 election, at 53.55 per cent, is the lowest on record, it's difficult to say whether it's a reflection of slumping civic engagement, an inability for political parties to galvanize the public, or a deeper reaction to the first-past-the-post voting system.

"We're seeing a decline in traditional or customary practices in some communities," political science professor Tom Urbaniak of Cape Breton University said in an interview. "In some rural communities, we still see higher turnout as it's part of the custom and accepted social responsibility."

In other areas, he said candidates or parties have to make clear there are real and consequential alternatives and the election represents a fork in the road. Failure to galvanize the electorate, or convey a sense that one's vote matters, can lead to a lacklustre voter turnout, Urbaniak said.

"Disillusionment is a factor," he said. "I would strongly recommend as a society we do some serious soul searching."