A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty

American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

There are an estimated 620,000 eligible American voters in Canada, but in 2016, only five per cent actually voted

Soon Jenny Wiebe will drive from her Fredericton home to the Maine town where she was born, to retrieve the mail-in ballot her parents are holding for her.

The 55-year-old dual Canadian-U. S. citizen said she hasn’t decided how she will exercise her franchise in the historic Nov. 3 American election. She may vote in person at the town hall in Readfield, a focal point of the community of about 2,500 where she grew up and sang in a Methodist choir, and to which she regularly returns, despite the pandemic.

If nothing else, her vote will accomplish one thing: it will break the electoral deadlock in her own family: she’s expecting her 82-year-old father to continue voting Republican, and her 80-year-old mother to vote Democrat.

“It’s a family joke,” said Wiebe. “But they’re both like, ‘Don’t worry, Jen. Your ballot is safe, right on the fridge. I’m watching it.’ “

Wiebe said she’ll support the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket, but she’s also planning to vote for Susan Collins, Maine’s incumbent Republican senator, because she finds her a welcome voice of reason in the chaos that has characterized U.S. politics.

Wiebe is part of the growing wave of eligible American voters in Canada who are participating in an election that has shaped up as a referendum from afar on a controversial president, the Republican Donald Trump.

Measuring that participation definitively is difficult but Trump’s opponents in Canada are buoyed by what they see as encouraging trends. There are an estimated 620,000 eligible American voters in Canada, but in 2016, only five per cent, or about 33,000, actually voted.

Dianna English, the Canadian spokeswoman for Democrats Abroad, points to what her organization views as positive indicators: Canadian membership in the organization has grown by 90 per cent from 2016 to about 25,000 members. And the non-partisan Votefromabroad.org is seeing triple the website traffic from inquisitive foreign voters compared with 2016, up to about one million users.

Republicans in Canada point out that many Democrat votes will be cast in states the party won in 2016 and will likely win this time around. The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California, which the Democrats usually win handily.

“There would be no centralized area where we could find out where all these ballots went,” said Mark Fiegenbaum, a Toronto tax lawyer and chair of Republicans Overseas Canada.

“Any data that we get on how people are voting from Canada, in particular, would be surveying samples of people. And I would probably suspect, when you survey a bunch of people, that they’ll say they’re voting Democrat (but) we don’t know how they actually voted.”

Democrats are mounting a special effort to target the swing state of Michigan, which Trump won by a slender 11,000 votes in 2016. They believe there are more than double that many southern Ontario residents who are eligible to vote in Michigan.

Kathy Murphy lives in Windsor, but before the pandemic she travelled daily to Detroit to work as a paralegal.

“There’s easily 10,000 of us living here, and we could have taken Michigan,” she said.

Murphy’s daughter and stepson, both in their early 20s and living in other parts of Ontario, are voting in their first presidential election. She had them mail their ballots to her in sealed envelopes so she could forward them to the U.S. in one overnight courier package this past week.

“I couldn’t take the chance that we wouldn’t get them there in time,” said Murphy. “It was nice to have two new voters this year.”

Karen Hedetniemi, 56, has called Victoria home since moving from Washington state with her family in Grade 6. But it wasn’t until this past summer that she made her first attempt to vote in the U.S., when she applied to receive a mail-in ballot. She mailed it in late last month and has tracked it online.

“I’m voting for respectful and compassionate, informed and united leadership,” she said, while declining to name the candidate she chose. “I feel that there could be leadership that can offer that to the people, and the country would probably be a lot healthier.”

Fiegenbaum said Democrats clearly have a higher profile in Canada while Republicans “tend to be more silent.”

“I think people, a long time ago, made their decision,” he said. “I can’t imagine there’s undecided people at this point.”

Wiebe’s family in Maine bears that out to a certain extent.

Wiebe said she grew up in “an environment that was informed by both ideologies” and saw her family take an active role in local politics.

“I think pretty much at least three-quarters of my relatives vote Republican,” she said, and she doesn’t expect that to change this time around.

“It doesn’t have to do with Trump’s personality. It has to do with business interests. China. Smaller government. The perception that that’s a good thing.”

Jessica Sheridan, a Toronto-based Democratic supporter, said Canadians have a stake in the U.S. election and that makes it all the more important for Americans to vote from abroad.

“Canada’s democracy can actually be undermined by a neighbour to the south that does not have those same belief systems or values,” said Sheridan.

“We can’t see any more erosion as we have seen on the global stage. Canada needs a really strong ally, and so, for Americans who have that ability to vote, you need to exercise it. It’s a responsibility.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CanadaelectionUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Angelique Houlihan gets her COVID-19 vaccine jab last week at the community-wide clinic. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
Vaccine clinic continues this week

Plenty of booking spots available

District of Houston
Council adds flexibility to spending decisions

Singles out road works as potential benefeciary

Filling potholes in Houston
Holes filled on Highway 16

Potholes aren’t restricted to District of Houston streets. Lakes District Maintenance crews… Continue reading

In the past, the pitch-in days saw the community working together to clean-up unlike this year, when they will be encouraged to stay in their own bubbles. (Shiela Pepping photo/Houston Today)
Houston to pitch-in on Apr. 22

The Houston & District Chamber of Commerce’s 60th pitch-in day

With spring here, work to complete the 9th Street rehabilitation project is about to get underway. (Houston Today photo)
June set for 9th Street project completion

Sidewalk work, finishing touches about to start

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 2, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

Empty home tax doesn’t apply to businesses, but space above them

In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been set up at local mosques. (Submitted photo: Rufaida Mohammed)
Getting the vaccine does not break your fast, says Muslim COVID-19 task force

Muslim community ‘strongly’ encouraging people to get their shot, whether or not during Ramadan

Most Read