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

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that the province was ready to move forward with Phase 2A and B in the coming weeks. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
COVID restrictions for retail, sports and performers further eased

Occupancy in stores and malls boosted to 25 per cent from 15 per cent

Advocate file image
Red Deer COVID cases continue to decline

249 cases in Red Deer, down from 565 peak on Feb. 22

(Photo from Highway 11 Functional Planning Study)
Public input wanted for Highway 11 improvement plan

Round 2 of public online engagement continues until March 10

File photo
Gov’t of Alberta identifies estimated 300 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Online COVID-19 dashboard unavailable as upgrades being completed

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

A SAGA member (left) poses as Jessi Hanks (right) with Castle Restaurant puts up a safe space sticker to display on the restaurant’s front door. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
SAGA Wetaskiwin works with local businesses to display they are a safe space

The safe space stickers show that its a safe and inclusive space.

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during their appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta Appeal Court orders 3rd trial for parents in toddler’s meningitis death

Stephans were accused of not seeking medical attention sooner for Ezekiel, who had meningitis when he died

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Vaccine hesitancy decreases in B.C. as mass immunizations set to begin: poll

Two-thirds of British Columbians, and Canadians, would get the vaccine as soon as possible

A woman walks through Toronto’s financial district on Monday, July 30, 2018. A new poll suggests most Canadians believe there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in this country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Canadians, especially women, say gender equality not achieved in Canada: Poll

Poll results themselves underscore the challenge, with more men believing equality had been achieved

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP)
Race, title and anguish: Meghan and Harry explain royal rift

Meghan said she struggled with concerns within the royal family about her son’s skin colour

Kiara Robillard is seen in an undated handout photo. When the pandemic began, Robillard had to rush back home to Alberta from California, where she had been living for five years, after she was struck by a truck that broke her spine in two places. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kiara Robillard, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘It kind of clicks:’ Text4Hope program helps with depression, anxiety during pandemic

Participants receive one text message every morning for three months

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

Most Read