How does voter turnout change as countries transition to democracy? Using district-level data from Egypt’s 2012 presidential election, we show that turnout was higher in more educated and urban districts—a stark reversal from voting patterns under the authoritarian Mubarak regime, when less educated and poorer areas were more likely to participate. However, this pattern weakened in the second round of the 2012 election, when the choice was restricted to two candidates who reflected Egypt’s primary pre-revolution political divide. Urban and educated districts experienced a decline in turnout and a rise in protest voting during the second round relative to the first, suggesting that key political groups were alienated from the electoral process. These results indicate that who participates in elections can shift quickly as institutions change, but this is conditional on the choice of candidates available to voters.