U.S. election may hinge on votes from Canada
Although the 2012 U.S. presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney has been the longest, most expensive, and bitterest such contest on record, there is one thing all sides can agree on: it’s going to be close.
So close, in fact, that it may come down to absentee ballots—and that means that the estimated 90,000 Americans in British Columbia are being courted by American political parties like never before.
“It’s almost a statistical dead heat if you look at the polling,” says Mark Feigenbaum, chair of Republicans Abroad Canada, over the phone from his office in Thornhill, Ontario. “Because the get-out-the-vote effort will be so strong, every vote really will count, especially in the six or seven swing states.”
And those states—Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, and a handful of others where neither candidate has a solid lead—will decide the course of the election as a result of the USA’s arcane electoral-college system.
A remnant from the nation’s beginnings, the electoral college actually provides for an indirect election of the president by allowing each state a number of “presidential electors” based on population. It’s winner-take-all, with victories in populous states, such as Ohio and Florida, necessary to secure the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Maureen Harwood, chair of Democrats Abroad Vancouver, also recognizes the value of swing-state voters. “We’ve phoned every single one of our members who vote in a swing state. Everyone’s been encouraged to cast their ballot.”
Although Republicans Abroad Canada doesn’t have the same reach as its Democratic counterpart—there are no individual civic chapters and the membership base is smaller—the Republicans have a not-so-secret weapon in Canada: a huge number of Americans working in Alberta’s booming petroleum industry, a group that traditionally leans very Republican.
In a telephone interview, Harwood explains that there are three types of Vancouver-based American voters. There are those who have come for work, love, or school and stayed on; there’s a less obvious group of locals who obtained American citizenship through their parents or grandparents; and there are Americans who were born in the U.S. to Canadian (or other nationality) parents and moved here. All three groups are potentially eligible to vote.
As a result of both the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 and the Internet, American absentee voting is now very simple, with websites like www.fvap.gov (the U.S. government’s Federal Voting Assistance Program) and www.votefromabroad.org (operated by Democrats Abroad).
But, as Harwood points out, the relative ease of absentee balloting stands in contrast to the situation back home. “It’s become easier for overseas Americans but it’s getting harder for mainland Americans to vote with all the voter ID laws.”
With the election next Tuesday, time is running out for any outstanding ballots. For local Americans who haven’t yet voted, Harwood recommends sending in a federal write-in absentee ballot (available at www.fvap.gov) by courier. “Every state operates a little differently, but generally, if a ballot is received by the end of the day on election day, it’s counted. The bottom line for people, at this late stage of the game, is to contact their local election office if they have any questions.”
Americans abroad had not traditionally been a consideration in presidential contests, but everything changed in 2000 when Florida absentee ballots helped George W. Bush wrest the election away from Al Gore by a razor-thin margin of 537 votes.
With this year’s race as close as it is, Americans in B.C.—particularly those who vote in the swing states—could play a very important role in deciding the next U.S. president.