New Brunswick

Americans living in Atlantic Canada expect higher voter turnout

Organizers in the Maritimes expect a high concentration of residents with citizenship to vote by mail and online for the first time — which they say could make a difference in highly contested battleground states.

'We have heard from people who haven’t voted in years,' says party organizer

Some U.S. citizens abroad can vote online, while others must send their ballots by mail. (Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images)

When U.S. election results tick in, Atlantic Canada could have an impact.

Both Democrats and Republicans are pushing Americans and dual U.S. citizens living abroad to cast ballots in the presidential contest on Nov. 3.

Organizers in the Maritimes expect a high concentration of residents with citizenship to vote by mail and online for the first time, which they say could make a difference in highly contested battleground states.

Democrats Abroad has been making calls and mailing postcards to potential U.S. voters in Atlantic Canada. It has an estimated 1,100 registered members in the region.

Riley Nielson started the Atlantic chapter after moving to Halifax about a year and a half ago from Florida — a battleground state this year.

"There is such interest in this election, I think we're definitely going to see a huge influx of voters in Canada alone," they said.

Nielson is a dual citizen born in Halifax who uses the pronouns they and them. They said a large concentration of American citizens in the Maritimes are casting ballots in swing states that could make a difference.

"We have heard from people who haven't voted in years and one person who never voted before in his life and registered to vote for the first time," Nielsen said.

'This election is absolutely critical'

Rebecca Burns is originally from Charlotte, N.C., and moved to British Columbia with her Canadian husband seven years ago.

Burns voted from Fredericton, where she now lives and works as a nurse. She said she's met many Canadians who obtained dual citizenship through a parent and are less inclined to vote.

"I think that people recognize that this election is absolutely critical and I'm hoping that number will really increase this year," she said. 

Rebecca Burns, a U.S. citizen, voted abroad for Democratic candidate Joe Biden. She currently lives in Fredericton where she works as a nurse. (Submitted by Rebecca Burns)

Michelle Sinville is a landed immigrant originally from New Hampshire, but now lives in Dartmouth, N.S. 

Sinville, who works as a pharmaceutical industry consultant, voted by email in Rhode Island, her last state of residence. She has helped other U.S. citizens who decided to vote from abroad for the first time after feeling "it was important to engage."

"I think that sentiment is going to be really common throughout other overseas voters," she said.

Michelle Sinville voted in Rhode Island by email from Dartmouth, N.S. (Submitted by Michelle Sinville)

Republican presence smaller

Mark Feigenbaum, a dual citizen who grew up in California, has been the chair of Republicans Overseas Canada since 2000.

"I would expect that it'll be a high turnout as it is across the entire United States," he said.

The organization does not have a local presence in the Atlantic provinces, but it has been working to inform people about their right to vote and help them navigate the process.

Feigenbaum, a Toronto cross-border tax lawyer, thinks the Maritimes might have a large concentration of U.S. citizens. 

Mark Feigenbaum is a Toronto lawyer and the chair of the Canadian chapter of ‘Republicans Overseas.’ He votes in California. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

But he said it's impossible to know just how many people vote from Canada since ballots are cast in individual states.

"There's a whole bunch of different requirements in different counties and different states, and I think some of that has to relate to why the number might be lower than you think," he said.

Low turnout abroad

There's about 620,000 Americans living in Canada that are eligible to vote in the presidential election.

But it's difficult to pinpoint just how many are located in the Atlantic Provinces. While Statistics Canada found more than 17,700 residents in the region were born in the U.S., that figure leaves out many Canadian-born dual citizens.

New Brunswick is home to the most American-born residents in the region, with about 7,600 reported in the most recent census.

Turnout for voters abroad in Canada is traditionally low. A survey by the U.S. Federal Voting Assistance Program found only about five per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2016.

Members of the Atlantic Provinces chapter of Democrats Abroad watch the results of the party's global presidential primary. (Submitted by Riley Nielson)

Democrats Abroad attributes that to lack of awareness among dual citizens, especially those who moved across the border at a young age. Voters abroad might also be worried about taxes, said Nielson.

"A lot of people are concerned because they haven't paid their taxes, though there's no case of the IRS ever going after an expat for voting," they said.

In most states, citizens who were born abroad and never lived in the U.S. are still eligible to vote by absentee at the address where a parent lived. 

U.S. expats remain eligible to vote in elections regardless of how long they have lived in Canada or elsewhere abroad.

About the Author

Alexandre Silberman is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. He can be reached at alexandre.silberman@cbc.ca

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