New U.S. Citizens Were One Of The Fastest-Growing Voting Blocs. But Not This Year.

One of the (intended) effects of Trump administration policies:

On a Wednesday morning in late February, Annie Johnson Benifield was already through the doors of the M.O. Campbell Education Center, in Houston by 5:30 a.m.

The occasion was a once-a-month naturalization ceremony, where anywhere between 1,700 to 2,600 legal permanent residents swear a 140-word oath in order to become U.S. citizens. The ceremony wouldn’t begin until later in the morning, but Benifield and the 40 or so volunteers from the League of Women Voters (LWV) had arrived early to set up.

The League is the official registration partner for many naturalization ceremonies across the country. And before the pandemic, these events happened frequently, taking place once, or sometimes twice, each month at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices as well as some federal courthouses. The League had predicted that, in 2020, it would interact with up to 200,000 new citizens and their family members in 1,000 events across the country.

The Houston chapter specifically had an 85 to 90 percent success rate in new voter registrations, for an annual average of 30,000 new voters, according to Benifield. But this year, with the widespread interest in the presidential elections, she thought registrations might crack 40,000.

“I was getting excited and feeling giddy about it,” she told FiveThirtyEight, “but COVID-19 had a different plan.”


Newly naturalized citizens are one of the fastest-growing voting groups in the United States. In February, the Pew Research Center published a report that found that 23.2 million naturalized citizens would be eligible to vote in November’s presidential elections, making up a record 10 percent of the total electorate. And according to a February analysis by the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), a coalition of immigrant advocacy organizations, 860,000 new Americans were expected to have naturalized by November before the pandemic brought things to a halt.

But not all eligible voters actually vote, and naturalized Americans have historically trailed native-born Americans at the polls.1 In 2016, for example, 54 percent of naturalized citizens voted in the general election compared with 62 percent of native-born citizens. According to studies, one explanation is an element that could be missing again this year: voter registration. It’s not a lack of desire to participate, the study finds, but rather it’s an unfamiliarity with how or where to register, registration deadlines, and language issues. Once these barriers are overcome and new Americans are registered, they tend to vote at the same rates as native-born members of their demographic group.

Take someone like Raz Ahmadi, a new U.S. citizen from Afghanistan. For the past five years, he has worked as an organizer registering voters and advocating for progressive environmental policies in Virginia. And this year, after completing the naturalization process, which had been interrupted by COVID-19, in mid-July, Ahmadi will finally be able to cast his own ballot.

Though he has already been involved in politics, Ahmadi says that being able to actually participate is a whole new feeling for him. Being “empowered to vote, mentally, it gives you a lot of power,” he says. “It just personalizes a lot of things. Now you’re more involved in the community.”

But even before COVID-19, the wait time for citizenship applications had hit new highs under the Trump administration. According to USCIS numbers, the naturalization process averaged 8.8 months in 2020, compared with 5.6 months in 2016 and a peak of 10.3 months in 2018,2 though in some cases, it could take up to three years.

COVID-19 exacerbated this delay. On March 18, USCIS temporarily shut down all public-facing activities, including interviews for visas, asylum and naturalization as well as oath ceremonies. The agency did not make plans for virtual alternatives, bringing much of U.S. immigration to a halt.

For each day that USCIS remained closed, 2,100 potential new voters would be disenfranchised, according to a frequently cited report by Boundless, an immigration-services company co-founded by an Obama administration official.

USCIS field offices reopened on June 4 and prioritized in-person oath-swearing ceremonies. Some field offices held drive-through ceremonies, while others held more frequent, but smaller, indoor or outdoor ceremonies. By the end of July, the agency says that it has cleared the backlog of 110,000 oath ceremonies delayed by its closures, as well as an additional 7,905 oath ceremonies not scheduled before the pandemic.

Still, these 7,905 new naturalizations in July represent a twelve-fold decrease than the typical 95,850 naturalizations completed each month. So even though in-person oath ceremonies are continuing, “the fact of the matter was that there was already a backlog of people waiting to be naturalized,” says Jeanette Senecal, who oversees voter-engagement programs at the League of Women Voters, “so unless USCIS is both increasing the number of people who are getting naturalized at each one and offering more ceremonies, there’s really no way they can make that up.”

From the outset of USCIS’s closure, a diverse group of bipartisan policymakers, immigration lawyers, community advocates, and third-party voter-registration organizations like the League of Women Voters have called on USCIS to follow in the footsteps of other federal government agencies in moving activities online. In June, the USCIS Ombudsman’s Office, a small, independent office in the Department of Homeland Security that appeals specific immigration cases and suggests improvements for USCIS, weighed in, calling remote oath ceremonies, held via video teleconferencing, “a legally permissible and operationally feasible solution” for the agency in the short term and a potential long-term solution to “increase efficiencies” in its annual report to Congress.

But still, the USCIS rejected a virtual option. Spokespeople told FiveThirtyEight repeatedly, both before and after the Ombudsman’s report, that “the statutory language mandated by Congress contains certain requirements that are logistically difficult for USCIS to administer naturalization oaths virtually or telephonically.”

USCIS says that they’ve taken steps to clear the backlog in oath ceremonies, but these ceremonies are not the only steps in the naturalization process that are delayed.

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, calls USCIS’s emphasis on clearing the backlog in oath ceremonies “really misleading” because it wasn’t just oath ceremonies that were paused during this time. “It was also interviews, which meant that naturalization applications weren’t being processed,” said Pierce. She added that unless USCIS was also trying to expedite processing of naturalization applications, there was “no way” the agency was going to be able to naturalize the same number of people by the election.

By the end of March, there were more than 700,000 naturalization applications waiting to be processed.

Dan Hetlage, a USCIS spokesperson, told FiveThirtyEight that the agency has also “prioritized rescheduling interviews for naturalization and adjustment of status that were postponed,” but as of early August, immigration lawyers I spoke with said that their clients had not been contacted to schedule naturalization interviews.

There are currently 315,000 naturalization applicants awaiting their interviews, which on average occur two months before an oath ceremony, according to a Boundless analysis. In two months it will be October, which is the deadline for voter registration in many states. That means an unknown but likely significant number of those 315,000 applicants will not naturalize soon enough to register by October and vote in November.

It’s not just USCIS that has changed as a result of the pandemic. A recent report from the Migration Policy Institute cataloged 63 executive actions undertaken by the Trump administration since March that have further restricted immigration.

Pierce, who co-authored the report, says that these changes represented some of the Trump administration’s “boldest actions on immigration to date” that, in some cases, they had long been pushing but had been unable to achieve. This includes a travel ban on 31 countries, the end of asylum at the southern border, and the suspension of immigration for many family- and employment-based categories as well as four temporary-worker programs.

“During an unprecedented pandemic, which includes both public health and economic crises, you would expect immigration to take a backseat,” says Pierce, “but rather, the opposite has been true.”


When USCIS offices reopened on June 4, organizations like the League of Women Voters scrambled to help with voter-registration efforts. Benifield, from LWV-Houston, recalls reaching out multiple times to the local field office. “We were prepared to go and set up in the parking lot … if they allowed us,” she said.

In the end, her persistence paid off. “The branch chief … agreed that we could actually bring cards” for officials administering the naturalization ceremony to give out. The League cannot be on-site to register applicants directly because of the continued threat the pandemic poses, but they can drop off folders containing voter-registration packets to the local field office to be distributed at the socially distant ceremonies. USCIS is legally mandated to provide, at a minimum, voter-registration forms at each naturalization ceremony.

Benifiled said she was glad they could distribute materials, but she remained unsure how effective this form of voter registration would be. “Clearly, it will not be 30,000 like … last year.”

This is affecting the League’s activities across the country. “Spring and summer are usually really busy seasons for voter registration, but especially in presidential years, we usually see massive increases… [in] naturalization ceremonies,” says Senecal, from the League’s national office.

Volunteers understand the public health prerogatives that prevent them from conducting registrations in person, especially since many are older and at higher risk for COVID-19, but many, like Benifield, are concerned about the effect on registration numbers and broader civic engagement.

“The opportunity cost is not just registration,” adds Senecal, “it’s also voter education.”

At a basic level, in-person voter registration provides necessary information in native languages, says Nancy Xiong, the communications director for Hmong Innovating Politics, a California-based nonprofit that aims to increase civic participation among Southeast Asian Americans.

Native language materials are essential, since many new citizens, especially in already marginalized communities, have challenges with English. Even when they are provided with translated voting materials, Xiong adds, these materials “may not always be helpful because county/state offices do a word-to-word translation, without much context.”

This can create the perception that these communities are uninterested in politics, leading to “big campaigns never or rarely contact[ing] the Southeast Asian community,” Xiong says, even though 92 percent of the 310,000 Hmong Americans are citizens, one of the highest rates among Asian Americans, and 45 percent are eligible to vote. And this perpetuates a cycle of disenfranchisement, at the very moment when immigrant voters might be especially incentivized to vote, if previous elections in which immigration was a hot topic are any indication. In 2008, presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s suggestion that immigrants should “self-deport” and hardline views on DACA, for example, have been linked to a jump in voter registrations between 2008 to 2012.

Sundrop Carter, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC), which partners with the Philadelphia USCIS field office as its official third-party registration organization for naturalization ceremonies, told me part of the problem is that: “[B]y definition new Americans have no voter history.” As a result, she said, they’re often bypassed by most get-out-the-vote efforts. “New voters … they’re just invisible.”

This is despite the fact that in many battleground states, like Pennsylvania, where Carter is based, as well as Michigan, Florida and Nevada, the number of new Americans who are eligible to vote now is larger than the margin of victory in the 2016 elections, according to the June 2020 report from the NPNA. “Newly naturalized citizens could help to sway the outcome of national elections,” says Diego Iñiguez-López, the NPNA’s policy and campaigns manager. But more importantly, he adds, “what’s at stake is the political empowerment of newly naturalized citizens … and for the democratic ideals of this country to be fully realized and exercised.”

Community organizations have always tried to fill in the gap — and this year, just as the need for their services ramp up, COVID-19 has made them more difficult to deliver.

Hmong Innovating Politics (HIP), in California, and the nonprofit Bonding Against Adversity in Houston, which works mostly with Latin American immigrants, are doing their best to adapt by moving their activities online. HIP has switched to a text-messaging platform, which uses current friends-and-family circles to encourage contacts to register to vote. Bonding Against Adversity, meanwhile, has expanded another SMS-based communications platform to provide real-time immigration application help, and plans to restart an online version of their 14-session “citizenship college” civic-education program and application workshops in August.

Meanwhile, LWV-Houston members have paid for a QR code that brings up voter-registration information, which it is sharing on signs and, for a while, in person at public libraries, community and faith-based organizations, protests and even a taco chain restaurant.

But still, many organizations are afraid that some of the most vulnerable communities, who already feel left out of the political process, will fall through the gaps. “A lot of the communities that we work with have elementary education, are not computer-savvy, and don’t speak good English,” says Mariana Sanchez, a co-founder of Bonding Against Adversity. That’s why she says in-person registration and education is essential.

But the pandemic has put these in-person services on pause, and as a result, the applicants who need the most support are unable to access it.

COVID-19 shows little evidence of slowing down. By June, hospitals in states like Texas that had avoided the early wave of infections were warning that hospital beds were close to full, and in-person voter-registration activities, which the League of Women Voters had just restarted alongside USCIS’s reopenings, were put on indefinite pause.

In the meantime, smaller oath ceremonies continue, with USCIS spokespeople emphasizing their adherence during the ceremonies to public-health guidelines, including masks and social distancing. But it is not clear if USCIS has any contingency plans in place for alternatives to in-person activities.

The potential of more stay-at-home orders at a local level is also a possibility, which would affect which activities USCIS could continue. Guam’s USCIS office, for example, was shut down for a week as the territory’s COVID-19 case count led the governor to issue orders to shelter in place. Hetlage, the USCIS representative, did not respond to a specific question on contingency plans but reiterated that virtual oath ceremonies weren’t possible.

This has many immigration advocates perplexed. “Almost every business, school district, university and government agency across the country has made adjustments to keep their organizations — and the country — moving,” says Eric Cohen, the executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, an advocacy group. “Why should USCIS be any different?”

The question represents an ongoing frustration: Yes, there is an unprecedented public-health crisis, but there is also a human-made immigration crisis stemming from the administration’s policies and USCIS’s decision-making during the pandemic.

“It’s hard to look at the actions the administration has taken that result in decreased immigration, and not think that there was some intent there, especially when you’re talking about an administration that is historic in its stance on legal immigration.” says Pierce, of MPI, on whether the immigration agency’s decision-making could be political. Beyond the 63 actions taken during the pandemic, Pierce’s report identified over 400 executive actions by the Trump administration taken in the past four years that have shifted the immigration system toward removing suspected undocumented immigrants, and away from processing applications for naturalization and legal immigration.

It stands in stark contrast with the second night of the Republican National Convention, when Trump naturalized five new citizens at the White House in a prerecorded video. The president welcomed them to “a family comprised of every race, color, religion and creed united by the bonds of love,” as he said in his concluding remarks. “We are one people sharing one home, saluting one great American flag.”

USCIS representatives did not respond to a request for comment on whether the five were given voter-registration forms, as required by law.


Since early summer, USCIS has warned that if it does not receive $1.2 billion in emergency funding, the agency would furlough 13,000 workers – 70 percent of its workforce — and slow or pause many immigration processes. On August 25, after months of back-and-forth, Congress and USCIS reached an agreement that would avoid the furlough.

That agreement would not, however, avoid further delays in processing, as Joseph Edlow, deputy director for policy at USCIS, told The Washington Post: “Averting this furlough comes at a severe operational cost that will increase backlogs and wait times across the board, with no guarantee we can avoid future furloughs.”

In an effort to increase its financial sustainability, USCIS will increase fees by an average of 20 percent across the board, and more than 80 percent for naturalization applications. For groups like Bonding Against Adversity and Hmong Innovating Politics, which were already under-resourced before the pandemic, these changes will only add to their immediate workload.

Sanchez says she’s already received more inquiries from people who want to apply for citizenship before application fees for naturalization increase. “The immigration laws are so difficult,” says Sanchez, that “the only way, for some of the people we serve to help their families is through citizenship…and voting.”

But USCIS is making the process more difficult. That’s why the NPNA sees naturalization delays as an issue of voting rights.

“It’s part of the larger anti-immigrant agenda that the Trump administration has pursued over the last few years,” says Iñiguez-López. “Keep immigrants feeling unwelcome, keep them afraid, keep them intimidated, and keep them away from knowing and asserting their rights, including their right to vote.”

In other words, while these would-be citizens are trying to follow the rules of the U.S. immigration system to naturalize and effect change through the established democratic processes, the system has itself become the barrier.

Source: New U.S. Citizens Were One Of The Fastest-Growing Voting Blocs. But Not This Year.

Discrepancy between Elections Canada, StatsCan reports likely due to social desirability bias

Of note. The limits of self-reporting and social bias:

Despite an 11-percentage-point discrepancy between self-reported and actual voter turnout, a recent Statistics Canada survey still provides valuable information on the electorate and voting trends, experts say.

The StatsCan survey, which relies on self-reporting, collected data by adding five election-related questions to the 2019 Labour Force Survey, which is distributed to approximately 56,000 households. The survey does not include Indigenous people living on reserve, full-time members of the Canadian armed forces, prisoners, and households in remote areas with very low population density.

Because the survey misses certain groups, it actually looks more like the electorate than the entire population, Richard Johnston, professor at the University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in public opinion, elections, and representation.

“The people who are missed by the survey tend to be the sort of people who are generally socially disconnected and are least likely to be subject to kinds of social pressure that get people to the polls,” Prof. Johnston said.

There was a similar gap between the reported turnout numbers after the 2015 election. Actual turnout in 2015, as reported by Elections Canada, was 68 per cent. The StatsCan post-2015 election report had self-reported turnout at 77 per cent, a difference of nine percentage points.

The data in the Elections Canada post-election survey is more accurate, said Lydia Miljan, University of Windsor political science professor, as the StatsCan survey relies on self-reporting. Prof. Miljan said the social desirability bias explains much of the discrepancy between the StatsCan survey and Elections Canada report.

“It’s not socially desirable to say, ‘I don’t vote’, so that’s why you always end up having a higher rate of self-reporting as opposed to what’s actually happening,” Prof. Miljan said.

Despite the discrepancy, Prof. Miljan said StatsCan’s report is valuable for the details it offers on demographic splits, which can “give a good trend analysis from one election to another.”

“If you’re trying to get inside the guts of social, psychological, or political differences in turnouts, these surveys are pretty good. It’s just that the baseline is too high,” Prof. Johnston said.

No interest in politics still top reason

A disinterest in politics was the top reason voters, in every age group except non-voters 75 years and older, cited for skipping out on the 2019 federal election, at 35 per cent, StatsCan’s report suggested. The same reason topped the list in the 2015 and 2011 federal elections. No data exists for prior elections, according to the agency, as the survey was inaugurated after the 2011 election. In 2019, the surveyed showed 23 per cent of Canadians did not vote.

Non-voters between 55 and 64 were the most likely to cite no interest in politics as the reason for not voting, at 38 per cent. Non-voters between 18 and 24, and 25 and 34, commonly thought of as the least-engaged age groups, were actually less likely than older voters to cite no interest.

Interest in politics appears to sharply increase between those who are 65 to 74 years old and those 75 years old and older. For voters between 65 and 74, 34 per cent said they lack sufficient interest, but that number drops to 21 per cent for voters 75 and up.

Women also appear to be generally more interested in politics than men, with 32 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men reporting a lack of interest as the prime reason for staying home.

Among the provinces, voters in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Quebec were the most likely to say they lack an interest in politics. Quebecers appear to be the most disengaged, with 41 per cent lacking an interest, compared to 40 per cent in Nova Scotia and 39 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Other voters reported they were too busy to vote, making it the second most-common reason at 22 per cent, which is also consistent across the three elections surveyed.

Younger voters were much more likely to cite being too busy than older voters. Voters between 25 and 34 years old were the most likely to be too busy, with 30 per cent reporting it as their reason. As voters get older, it drops precipitously. Just 16 per cent of voters between 55 and 64, seven per cent between 65 and 74, and four per cent older than 75 report being too busy to vote. Discrepancies in gender are virtually nonexistent, with 22 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women reporting being too busy.

The third most-common reason was suffering from an illness or disability. In 2019, 13 per cent of non-voters said an illness or disability prevented them from voting, up from 12 per cent in 2015 and nine per cent in 2011.

In a supplementary post-2015 report from Elections Canada that broke down turnout by demographics, youth voter turnout was actually 57 per cent. A similar supplementary report for the 2019 election has not yet been released.

Self-reported turnout amongst voters aged 55 and up has held steady around 80 per cent over the past three elections, but self-reported turnout amongst those 44 and younger jumped at least 10 points between 2011 and 2015, and remained high for the 2019 election.

“In 2015, there was a sort of social movement quality to the Trudeau victory, and the evidence suggests that the turnout surge in 2015 was a surge of younger people looking for a new kind of politics. And a lot of those younger people stuck around in 2019,” Prof. Johnston said.

Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest self-reported turnout in the 2011, 2015, and 2019 general elections. In 2019, provincial turnout was 68 per cent, seven points lower than Manitoba at 75 per cent, the province with the second lowest turnout rate in 2019. Manitoba faced severe storms during advance polling time, causing evacuations, power outages, road closures, flooding, and some polling stations to close. Elections Canada set up an additional polling station at the University of Winnipeg for voters from four electoral districts, and teamed up with the Canadian Red Cross to transport voters. Elections Canada reported that 270 people used this option. Emergency workers helping with disaster response were also provided with additional polling stations, and 592 voted at the additional stations.

Prince Edward Island had the highest turnout in the 2011, 2015, and 2019 elections, topping 80 per cent each time. In 2019, turnout was 82 per cent, down from 86 per cent in 2015. Prof. Miljan and Prof. Johnston said P.E.I is usually the most turnout-heavy province in both federal and provincial elections.

Despite P.E.I.’s high turnout, the rate actually decreased the most between the 2015 and 2019 elections, from 86 to 22 per cent. Quebec, from 78 to 76 per cent, and British Columbia, from 79 to 76 per cent, also had turnout drops. Turnout largely remained the same in the remaining provinces.

Prof. Johnston provided an anecdotal explanation for the Atlantic provinces turnout numbers. He said the social pressure to vote in P.E.I is potentially higher given the population density, 25.1 people per square kilometre, which is the highest in the country. Newfoundland and Labrador is the province with the lowest population density, at 1.4 people per square kilometre.

“There’s a sense in which someone from P.E.I is going to feel social pressure to turn out because they see each other more regularly and they know each other. There are social networks that reinforce participation,” Prof. Johnston said.

Turnout increased the most between 2015 and 2019 in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta turnout rose from 77 to 80 per cent, and Saskatchewan from 77 to 81 per cent. 

Prof. Miljan suggested one reason for increased turnout in Western Canada was due to frustration with the Trudeau government.

“When people don’t vote, it means they’re pretty happy with the regime and they don’t feel it [their vote] matters one way or another,” she said. This theory suggests that Western voters are “not happy with the regime and they really wanted to make sure their voices were heard.”

Source: Discrepancy between Elections Canada, StatsCan reports likely due to social desirability bias

Americans in Canada get ready to vote in U.S. primary — and those results carry more weight than you think

Will be interesting to see if Canadian parties, following the extension of voting rights to virtually all expatriates, develop comparable approaches to engage expatriates (didn’t see many signs in the 2019 election):

As Americans prepare to vote in the “Super Tuesday” Democratic presidential primaries Tuesday, a lot of attention will be paid to the two biggest states: California and Texas. But Americans living in Toronto and across Canada could have an even bigger impact, proportionally.

Alongside the 14 states and one territory holding their primary on Tuesday, it’s also the start of voting for the Democrats Abroad primary, in which U.S. citizens who live in other countries are able to vote in a separate primary that sends 13 pledged delegates to the nominating convention. That’s only one fewer electable delegates than some states such as North Dakota and Wyoming elect. And because fewer people vote in the international contest — an estimated 9 million American eligible voters live abroad, but less than 35,000 voters participated in 2016 — each vote carries far more weight.

According to a recent message sent out to members by Democrats Abroad Canada, that means the votes of Americans in Toronto has four times the impact of a vote in California.

One campaign trying to take advantage of this is Mike Bloomberg’s, which ran ads in Canadian newspapers — as well as in other countries around the world — this weekend.

“What we’re trying to do is just raise awareness of the campaign, because, you know, we’re really running two campaigns at the same time,” says John Calvelli, who serves double duty as the campaign director for New York State and Democrats Abroad. “One obviously, is to get Mike Bloomberg elected, but the other is to kind of engage the base and identify new people that we could get into the fold so that they would then vote against Donald Trump in November.”

Calvelli says it’s not something many other campaigns devote a lot of resources to. Though, of course, not many campaigns have the financial resources available to them that the billionaire former mayor of New York does. Calvelli says it’s a challenge because there are no lists of members available, so phone banks and door knocking, as in a traditional state primary, are not options. Hence the newspaper ads, alongside a campaign visit to Toronto recently by Bloomberg, and social media and word-of-mouth campaigns.

Calvelli says in 2016 Canadian residents had among the largest vote turnouts for the primary, with 3,260 people voting, just shy of 10 per cent of the total voters in what he calls the “51st state” primary.

Americans in the GTA can register with Democrats Abroad this week if they want to vote in the primary, and then have the option of voting online between Tuesday and March 10, or voting in person at one of two GTA locations. In-person voting will take place starting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at the East of Brunswick pub in downtown Toronto and at Failte Irish Pub in Mississauga.

Source: Americans in Canada get ready to vote in U.S. primary — and those results carry more weight than you think

Reasons for not voting in the federal election, October 21, 2019

StatsCan analysis of the 2019 election. Some interesting variations between immigrant and Canadian-born voters in terms of reasons for not voting (would be interesting to see if these variations continue into the section generation):

Voter turnout among youth holds steady for the October 21, 2019, federal election

Just over three-quarters (77%) of Canadians reported voting in the 2019 federal election, unchanged from the 2015 election.

In particular, following notable increases of more than 10 percentage points between the 2011 and 2015 elections, voter turnout among younger people aged 18 to 24, and 25 to 34, remained at similar levels in 2019.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Voter turnout by age group, 2011, 2015 and 2019 federal elections
Voter turnout by age group, 2011, 2015 and 2019 federal elections

Chart 1: Voter turnout by age group, 2011, 2015 and 2019 federal elections

Voter turnout increases in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario

Compared with the 2015 federal election, the proportion of Canadians who reported voting in 2019 increased in Saskatchewan (+4 percentage points), Alberta (+3 percentage points), and Ontario (+2 percentage points). These are more modest increases than those observed in most provinces between the 2011 and 2015 elections.

While Prince Edward Island had the highest proportion (82%) of people who reported voting in the 2019 election, voter turnout in the province decreased by 4 percentage points compared with 2015. Declines were also recorded in British Columbia (-3 percentage points) and Quebec (-2 percentage points). There was little change in the remaining provinces.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Voter turnout by province, 2011, 2015 and 2019 federal elections
Voter turnout by province, 2011, 2015 and 2019 federal elections

Chart 2: Voter turnout by province, 2011, 2015 and 2019 federal elections

“Not interested in politics” remains top reason for not voting

Among the 23% of eligible Canadians who did not vote, the top reason for not voting in the federal election was “not interested in politics,” cited by 35% of non-voters in 2019. This was the most common reason for all age groups, with the exception of those aged 75 and older, who were most likely to indicate that they did not vote due to an illness or disability (49%).

Non-voters who were Canadian citizens by birth were more likely to report a lack of interest in politics as the reason for not casting a ballot (37%), compared with citizens by naturalization—both those who had been in Canada for 10 years or less (26%) and those who immigrated more than 10 years earlier (also 26%).

One in five non-voters report being too busy

Collectively, everyday life reasons were cited by nearly half of all non-voters (46%); these include being too busy (22%), having an illness or disability (13%), or being out of town (11%).

Everyday life issues were the most common reasons cited by non-voters in British Columbia, while political issues (including not interested in politics) were most prevalent in Nova Scotia.

Women more likely to report illness or disability

Female non-voters (48%) were more likely than their male counterparts (44%) to cite one of the everyday life issues as the reason for not voting, most notably having an illness or disability (16% versus 10%). This is partly related to the fact that a higher proportion of women were in the older age groups compared with men. One in ten female non-voters was aged 75 or older.

In contrast, men (37%) were more likely to report not being interested in politics compared with women (32%).

Some electors not voting for reasons related to the electoral process

Among Canadians who did not vote in the 2019 federal election, 5% identified issues with the electoral process as the reason for not voting, including not being able to prove their identity or address, a lack of information about the voting process, or issues with the voter information card.

Non-voters aged 75 and older (9%) and aged 18 to 24 (8%) were most likely to report electoral process issues as the reason for not voting. However, the proportion of youth citing this reason declined by 3 percentage points compared with the 2015 election.

Source: Reasons for not voting in the federal election , October 21, 2019 

Canadians in Hong Kong urged to vote in federal election with an eye on party policies toward territory and China

Interesting that virtually all of the advocates quoted are non-Chinese Canadians. The one Chinese Canadian quoted makes the most sensible comment that his vote won’t be this single issue.

Given the large number of Canadian expats in Hong Kong, Richmond BC was a possible example where Chinese Canadian expats could influence the election result in that riding.

We will see whether the indefinite extension of voting rights for expats results in a significant increase in expat voting (only 15,603 registered in 2015 of whom 10,707 valid votes cast):

 As Hong Kong wrestles with its worst political crisis in years, Andrew Work wants the hundreds of thousands of Canadians living there to know they have a new chance to help elect a government in Ottawa that will represent their interests.

Mr. Work, president of the Canadian Club in Hong Kong, is organizing a voter-registration drive to urge some of the estimated 300,000 Canadians who live in the city to cast their ballots in the coming federal election in Canada. Previously, Canadians who had lived outside Canada for more than five years were barred in theory from voting under legislation from the early 1990s, That law was only loosely enforced. In response to a Harper government’s attempt to enforce that law, however, the Supreme Court ruled this January that all non-residents have the right to vote, no matter how long they have lived elsewhere. The Liberal government also passed legislation last December extending voting rights to all non-resident citizens.

“I am sure for some people, they will very much have [Hong Kong’s political turmoil] on their mind as they would look carefully at Canadian policies towards China and Hong Kong as part of their voting calculation,” Mr. Work said in an interview from Hong Kong.

“Ten years ago, that wasn’t the case. Now that Hong Kong is on the front page of newspapers everyday around the world, including Canada, Canadians of all types will have Canada’s policy on their mind.”

Ghislain Desjardins, a spokesman for Elections Canada, Asia, said earlier this week that there are 628 voters registered on the International Register of Electors in 198 different electoral districts. The agency doesn’t have country-specific numbers.

Hong Kong has been racked by months of protests by demonstrators angry at what they see as the Chinese government’s increasing incursion into the semi-autonomous territory’s affairs.

Barrett Bingley, originally from Victoria, now works as the North Asia sales director for The Economist in Hong Kong. He said the protests are having a devastating effect on the people who work for him.

“I have many staff who I worry about now,” he said. “I had staff who had been tear gassed; staff who were not protesting who were tear gassed … We have staff who are experiencing psychological issues. We have to make sure they’re well taken care of.”

When casting his vote in the Canadian election, he said he’ll be considering which political leader is willing to take a strong stand to protect the “one country, two systems” philosophy that China promised when it took possession of the territory from Britain in 1997. The arrangement allows Hong Kong its own laws for 50 years.

The recent weeks’ increasing violence in Hong Kong have made him concerned about his and his family’s safety. He said both Australia and British consulates sent representatives to Hong Kong’s airport, where some of the latest demonstrations took place. He said the Canadian consulate should be doing more to safeguard its citizens.

Instead, Mr. Bingley said he has been watching the Canadian government “say virtually nothing” on the issue except for a “soft statement” made by the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week.

On Monday, Mr. Trudeau told the media that the government is “extremely concerned” about the situation in Hong Kong and called on Beijing to be “careful and respectful” in its handling in this crisis.

“We need to see the local authorities listening to the very serious concerns brought forward by Chinese citizens and their concerns around the decisions that the local authorities in Beijing have taken,” he said.

Mr. Bingley said he prefers the statement issued by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who wrote on Twitter: “As Beijing amasses troops at the Hong Kong border, now is the time for everyone committed to democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law to stand with the people of Hong Kong, including the 300,000 ex-pat Canadians. Now, and in the coming days, we are all Hong Kongers.”

Montreal-born Jean-Christophe Clement has been living in the city for a decade and has participated in the protests. The employee of a finance software vendor, 49, recently registered to vote and said a federal party’s position on what’s happening in the region would “almost entirely set the tone” for his voting decision.

He said he would cast his vote for a politician who is “in support of the protection of rule of law and democracy in Hong Kong.”

Although escalating tensions in the city haven’t affected his daily life much, he said the China’s People’s Armed Police exercising in Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong, worries him.

“My concern would be PLA comes in and there’s martial law.”

Paul Evans, professor in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, said Mr. Scheer’s invocation of Cold War imagery of Berlin and the rallying cry of democracy, human rights and the rule of law will likely appeal to some.

But from his own experience in Hong Kong, he said people in the region are more realistic about the limited options that the territory has operating in its Chinese context, and the ability for other countries to have an impact.

For some other Canadians in Hong Kong, candidates’ domestic policies will weigh more in their votes.

Nathaniel Chan, who grew up in Toronto, said politicians’ positions on the Hong Kong issue have “no bearing” in his ballot.

“I think when we vote in a national election, it should be mostly about the standard of living for people in Canada or policies that affect all Canadians.”

Mr. Desjardins of Elections Canada said they sent 857 ballot kits to international electors in Asia during the last election, but the agency does not provide data on the number of ballots returned, for security reasons.

The agency conducts outreach through a small digital ad campaign targeting electors abroad, according to Mr. Desjardins, and also places posters at embassies and consulates with information on voting.

It’s not enough, Mr. Bingley said.

“What hasn’t been in Hong Kong so far though is there hasn’t been a campaign by the federal government, by the consulate to get Canadians registered and to explain how to do it,” Mr. Bingley said.

“There needs to be concerted information campaign of how to do this.”

How to inject youth into Newfoundland and Labrador’s broken, greying democracy

Providing provincial voting rights to expatriates makes little sense. Provincial services are largely residency-based, unlike federal voting rights which are citizenship-based (even there I have serious reservations as noted in earlier posts):

And not convinced in any case that this will make much difference in overall voting trends and turn-out:

What does it mean to be a voter in a Canadian federation increasingly defined by wealth inequality and economic migration?

As public policy scholars, we argue that politicians, policy-makers and citizens alike need to start rethinking how to ensure everyone’s voice is heard in a regionally diverse federation. More specifically, we think that provinces have good grounds for extending voting rights to expatriate citizens. In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador, extending the vote is particularly warranted.

That’s because of two issues plaguing Newfoundland and Labrador: People are leaving the province, and those who remain are growing older.

As two expatriate Newfoundland and Labradorians — one of us in Australia — we watched from the sidelines during this spring’s provincial election. It was so defined by negativity and an absence of social vision that it inspired a playful CBC podcast with the question: “Does anyone actually want to win the election?”

That things played out this way came as little surprise. The province is trapped between a need to get its financial affairs in order and politicians who look to spending increases instead of long-term solutions as a means of winning elections. The ruling Liberals, for example, opened their campaign with an extra $152 million for the budget, including a cut to the deficit reduction levy which had only come into effect in 2016.

Not sustainable

Every citizen of the province knows this approach is unsustainable. To put the fiscal situation in perspective, Newfoundland and Labrador’s provincial debt is a whopping $21,221 per capita, the highest in Canada, and its debt servicing costs as a per cent of provincial revenues stands at 13.8 per cent compared to the next highest province, Quebec, at eight per cent.

The graph below shows that Newfoundland and Labradorians face a tricky demographic challenge.

The graph vividly portrays how rapidly Newfoundland is growing older. Author provided

The share of the population under 50 years of age has been shrinking for the past 45 years. Since 2000, the population in age quintiles (five-year intervals) has declined in every age group below 50, while increasing in every age quintile above 50. While the population, post-2000, has remained relatively stable, the composition of the province’s population is vastly different.

As the population ages, so too does the median voter.

Citizens who are older are understandably less likely to support long-term reforms that will cut into their more immediate interests. This means that proposing tough solutions to current fiscal problems can make it hard to win elections, especially if there is a rural/urban divide separating younger and older voters.

Unlike Newfoundland’s fiscally tough solutions of the past, we propose a solution that more greatly strengthens attachment to home: Allowing Newfoundlanders and Labradorians living outside the province to vote.

Youth injection

To cast ballots in Newfoundland and Labrador elections, voters must be provincial residents the day before polling day. We propose to extend the vote in a simple, transparent and inclusive manner to anyone 18 or older who has ever attended school in the province.

Why former students? First, many children of Newfoundland and Labrador have been lured or forced abroad to scratch out a living or seek their fortune. All have been victims of the lack of opportunity at home. Many of these people wish to return, and many do return, in their more senior years. Why should their voices not be heard at the provincial ballot box?

A recent study published in the Journal of Labor Economics suggests that the mobility of these workers has boosted pay in their province of origin. Wages rise because employers at home must hike pay to prevent more workers from leaving. This is a real economic gain, on top of any money that workers who leave their home province send back home.

Second, there is precedent — national voter eligibility is not determined by location, but rather by citizenship. The electoral district you vote in federally is determined by your current residential address, but your eligibility to vote is preserved by the government of Canada even when you are living abroad.

Third, consider the civic education that has been instilled in these individuals through the province’s school system. They have a respect for the people and the land, the traditions and the ambitions of their home province.

Generally speaking, we extend the vote to people because they are either directly affected by the collective decisions of government or because they are subject to the laws of that government. Expatriates easily satisfy the first of these two conditions. Provincial policies affect both their ability to return home and their loved ones who remain behind.

To be sure, extending the franchise is not a magic bullet that will immediately solve the province’s problems. And there are no doubt further questions about the voting mechanisms needed to make this proposal a reality.

But we think extending the vote to expatriates strongly aligns with the province’s values. It could also help nudge its politics closer to long-term solutions that respect the roots and rights of all Newfoundland and Labradorians past, present and future.

Source: How to inject youth into Newfoundland and Labrador’s broken, greying democracy

Elections Canada braces for a surge in international voters

Have written extensively against this extension and will be interesting to see what the take up will actually be and whether it is really an important issue for Canadian expatriates or not. The numbers below mentioned suggest it was not:

It was a short letter from Elections Canada — but for Gillian Frank, getting it felt like “an old wound had finally started to heal.”

“I was overjoyed,” said Frank, a Canadian living in the United States who received the letter earlier this month confirming his right to cast a ballot in the upcoming federal election.

For seven years, Frank and other Canadians living abroad fought for the right to vote in general elections and national referendums.

In December 2018, the Trudeau government passed Bill 76 — just a month before the Supreme Court of Canada shot down the 1993 law that prohibited Canadians who had lived outside Canada for more than five years from voting in Canadian elections, calling it a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Frank and fellow ex-pat Jamie Duong filed that charter challenge after being denied ballots in 2011. Bill 76 restored voting rights to all Canadians living abroad; the Supreme Court ruling prevents future governments from restoring the ban.

Number of international voters could triple

Since January, Elections Canada has been mailing out letters to Canadians abroad reminding them that they’re back on the international electors list.

“It felt like a moment of closure, a moment of real victory,” Frank said.

Elections Canada expects to see a surge in the number of mail-in or ‘special’ ballots. It estimates the number of Canadians voting from abroad could almost triple — from 11,000 voters in 2015 to 30,000 in 2019.

To cope with the demand, Elections Canada issued a tender in March for a new system to automate the way ballots are distributed.

“We are reducing the number of processes carried out by hand related to special ballots,” Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier said in an email. “In automating these processes, we will reduce the number of staff required to handle the volume of ballots we receive.

“These optimizations will not include automated counting of ballots — all ballots will still be marked and counted by hand.”

‘We’re all Canadian citizens’

Duong said Canadians should not fret about the prospect of votes by Canadians living in the U.S. or Hong Kong swinging individual ridings. If it happens, it happens, he said.

“You can say that about any group. What if votes of people 65 and over change the outcome? What if votes [from voters aged] 18 to 25 change the outcome?” Duoug said.

“We’re all Canadian citizens. We all have a right to vote. So, yes our votes should matter. And they should possibly change the outcome of the elections.”

Former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley argues we’ll never know for sure whether the re-appearance of ex-pat voting in 2019 had any real effect on the outcome, since voting is secret. And while “it just takes one vote to swing a riding,” he said, the ex-pat vote likely isn’t going to have that kind of influence because Canadians abroad have to jump through a lot of hoops before casting ballots.

International voters, he said, have to register themselves on the international voter list, find which ridings they belong to, figure out who’s running, fill out their ballots correctly and then mail them in on time. They also have to pay the international postage themselves.

“These are all difficulties we do not have to overcome when we’re voting from Canada,” Kingsley said.

Source: Elections Canada braces for a surge in international voters

Supreme Court rules voting restrictions on expatriate citizens are unconstitutional

Well, that settles it, even if I disagree with the decision (Opinion: What should the voting rights of Canadian expatriates be).

We will find out just how many of these previously disenfranchised citizens vote in the 2015 election (the chart above covers previous elections):

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled voting restrictions on expatriate citizens are unconstitutional.

Two Canadians working in the United States, Gillian Frank and Jamie Duong, challenged federal voting restrictions after being unable to vote in the federal election of 2011. At the time, the law said non-resident citizens could not vote if they had lived more than five years abroad.

In December, a Liberal bill extending voting rights to long-term expatriates received royal assent. But at stake in the Supreme Court ruling was whether those voting rights could be taken away by a future government.

Dr. Frank, who was born in Toronto and was a Canadian Forces member, and now teaches American Studies at the University of Virginia, explained in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Thursday what it felt like not to be able to vote: “To watch democracy from the outside, it’s sort of like an injury, that acts up every once in a while.”

The court ruled 5-2 that the now-repealed law was unconstitutional. “The disenfranchisement of these citizens not only denies them a fundamental democratic right, but also comes at the expense of their sense of self-worth and their dignity,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote for four of the judges in the majority. (A fifth judge wrote concurring reasons.) “These deleterious effects far outweigh any speculative benefits that the measure might bring about.”​

Mr. Duong, who left Canada in 2001 and works at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., told The Globe on Thursday that he has a strong attachment to his native land. “I was born and raised in Canada; my parents still live in Canada. I’m a Canadian, and it’s my obligation to vote and participate in our democratic process.”

A lower-court judge had found the voting prohibition unconstitutional. But the Ontario Court of Appeal then ruled 2-1 that the law could stand, saying that non-residents do not live with the consequences of their votes on a daily basis. The dissenting judge said the restrictions had the effect of making non-resident Canadians second-class citizens. Dr. Frank and Mr. Duong appealed to the Supreme Court.

They are among 1.4 million Canadians who – as of 2009 – had been living abroad for more than five years.

The 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms says without qualification that every Canadian citizen has the right to vote.

Canada has always had residency restrictions on voting. During the First World War, the restrictions were eased to allow soldiers to vote. Advance voting was established in 1920 for salespeople and sailors. In 1945, proxy voting was allowed for prisoners of war. In 1970, diplomats and other public servants living abroad, and their dependents, were allowed to vote remotely. And in 1993, the vote was extended to citizens who had lived abroad for fewer than five years.

The federal Attorney-General’s office, in its Supreme Court filing, said the limit on expats’ right to vote is fair. “The legal responsibilities of long-term non-resident citizens under Canadian domestic law are much less than the responsibilities of resident Canadians,” it said. It added that similar limits on voting rights are common in other parliamentary systems derived from the British tradition.

Lawyers for Dr. Frank and Mr. Duong, in their written argument filed with the Supreme Court, said that Canadians who leave the country tend to do so for work-related reasons, but maintain their connection to Canada. “The inability to vote leaves them with no voice in the direction or well-being of the country, even though many of them have strong connections, including family in Canada, and wish to return.” Many of them have no right to vote anywhere, they said. They added that the voting restrictions harm the dignity and sense of belonging of expatriates.

The last major case on voting rights was in 2002, and it was one of the Supreme Court’s most controversial in the Charter era. The court ruled 5-4 that federal prisoners could not be denied the right to vote. “Denying citizen law-breakers the right to vote sends the message that those who commit serious breaches are no longer valued as members of the community, but instead are temporary outcasts from our system of rights and democracy,” then-Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote for the majority.

Source: Supreme Court rules voting restrictions on expatriate citizens are unconstitutional
Ironically, the same day as this decision, the Globe published yet another op-ed (think it is the fourth) arguing against limiting voting rights for longer-term expatriates without the author, Yasmin Rafiei, or the Globe, acknowledging that the government had already changed the legislation.
Hardly a demonstration of being connected to Canadian political discourse and developments:

One of Justin Trudeau’s 2015 federal-election campaign lines was, “A Canadian is a Canadian, is a Canadian.”

Unless you live outside of Canada, it seems.

This Friday, the Supreme Court will decide if the democratic franchise of Canadians living overseas should be subject to a five-year limit. A voting ban – which denies Canadians the right to vote in elections after five years living overseas – was legislated in 1993 under Jean Chrétien, enforced under Stephen Harper, and has not yet been overturned under Mr. Trudeau. His government sought to repeal the five-year limit in 2016 via Bill C-33, but in the two years since its introduction, the bill has only achieved a first reading. Its tepid progress in Parliament has ushered the case into the hands of the Supreme Court, where it rests today.

The voting ban raises a fundamental question: What makes a Canadian a Canadian?

It’s a question I contend with in my daily life outside my homeland. I was born and raised in Canada and had only ever studied and worked in Canada until last year. If I have a personal geography, it is tied to my parents, whose immigration to Edmonton from Iran involved embracing every aspect of their new country. My dad had me on skis as soon as I could walk; we hosted neighbourhood street hockey on our driveway; Edmonton’s river valley was, to my mother’s consternation, my second home.

I was raised in our city’s public schools, graduated from the University of Alberta and delivered the faculty address at graduation. However, it was in leaving Canada that I fully came to terms with my national identity.

In 2017, I received a scholarship to study at University of Oxford, where I regularly encounter my identity, as it is perceived outside our national borders. Abroad, my primary identifier is no longer the province I grew up in or where my parents come from, but my nationality as a Canadian. Limiting my right to vote indicates I’ve lost touch with this national identity when, in fact, I renegotiate it every day against its reflection, mirrored to me in my international colleagues’ perceptions of Canada.

I’m hardly alone. A 2010 report by the Asia Pacific Foundation estimated that 2.8 million Canadians live abroad. Comprising about 9 per cent of our national population, our expat community is proportionately larger than that of Australia, the United States, China or India. This group, both substantial in size and highly skilled, should not be treated as a demographic anomaly.

The court’s coming decision demands our collective attention. Our citizenship is enshrined in our constitutional right to vote – in our ability to decide, at election time, what we would like the future of our country to be. By stripping this right away after five years, our government makes a resounding judgment that expatriates are less Canadian because we live abroad.

Limiting voting rights also discourages valuable expatriates from returning to Canada. My departure was incited by educational opportunity: After two years studying politics at Oxford, I’ll spend four years studying medicine at Stanford University. Despite my time away, my right to vote enables me to decide the state of the home I plan on returning to. Under the current legislation, I will have effectively exchanged my graduate and doctoral degrees for that right.

The critique frequently levelled against extending voting rights is that expats have broken the social contract: We do not pay taxes (although most do). But at the heart of this critique rests a dangerous assumption: that constitutional rights ought only to be afforded to those who can pay for them. By this logic, should the impoverished not vote? Do we give the rich more votes? This thinking could set an odious precedent for further excisions of voting rights.

And it would be to Canada’s benefit to expand voting rights beyond geographic boundaries. My status abroad, for instance, facilitates my work on the Ebola virus and antimicrobial resistance, biosecurity threats that don’t know borders. I study and work alongside Canadian expats driven to resolve climate change, cyberattacks, and mass migration – issues demanding global co-operation. A postnational Canada that enables citizens to vote outside of its borders provides international depth to civic engagement – but also supports citizens living overseas and confronting global challenges.

Beliefs that Canada is a nation-state bounded by its geography do more harm than good. Being Canadian is not about where you live: It’s about contributing to, improving, and stewarding a community forward through challenges, domestic and abroad. Whatever Canada is in the future, it is ours together – and our voting rights need to reflect that.

Source: Why should Canadian expats suffer for suffrage?

Expatriate Voting: National and Municipal

Rob Vineberg and I did a further refinement of our arguments against unlimited voting rights for Canadian expatriates in the Vancouver Sun:

With the Supreme Court of Canada hearing the challenge to the current five-year limit on expatriate voting rights, advocates for expansion continue to date their case.

One common feature to such advocacy: a reliance on anecdotes and assertions, completely bereft of any serious effort to assess available data on the strength of connection to Canada.

Common arguments emphasize connections to Canada, a recent example being that of Frédéric Mégret of McGill University. Long-term expatriates “may decide to come back” but is this for family reasons or to access Canadian medicare? They “are, in fact, affected by the laws and policies of Canada” but this is largely limited given that they don’t access or are affected by government services and policies that apply to residents. “Many expatriates, even though they do not reside in Canada, do a considerable amount for Canada, directly or indirectly” but is silent that equally “many” do not. And in a theoretical sense, citizenship can be defined by “how committed one is to its ideals, how ready to give back and to invest in its political life?,” in a practical sense governments can only use crude proxy measures to assess the degree of connection to Canada.

So what do these proxy measures tell us? If we take the Asia Pacific Foundation’s estimate of the number of expatriates, and adjust by voting age and citizenship, we arrive at a baseline of just under two million. Looking at government data, we know that the number of expatriates holding valid Canadian passports is approximately 630,000 adult Canadians who have lived abroad for five years or more. We also know that the number of non-resident Canadian tax returns, a deeper measure of connection, was about 112,000 in 2015 (the last year for which information is available). And while hard to assess the potential interest of long-term Canadian expatriates in voting, the data for those who qualify under the current rules suggest there is not widespread demand (about 16,000 in the 2015 election) although this number may be depressed by the difficulty in meeting current registration requirements. These more formal indicators, albeit imperfect, suggest a smaller number of connected expatriates than some of the arguments would suggest.

An argument for unlimited voting rights means that any citizen who left Canada as a baby or small child would have unlimited voting rights. As such, the proposal disconnects voting from any experience of living in Canada, being subject to Canadian laws, accessing Canadian public services or paying Canadian taxes and thus devalues the votes of Canadians who do reside in Canada and are subject to these day-to-day realities of Canadian life.

Moreover, first generation Canadians born abroad, entitled to citizenship, would similarly be able to vote, irrespective of whether they had ever set foot in Canada.

The government has understandably chosen to await the Supreme Court decision on whether the current five-year limit is constitutional. However, it signalled its intent in Bill C-33, tabled more than a year ago, to support unlimited voting rights for expatriates. This is more generous than the practices of the UK, the USA, Australia and New Zealand, all of which impose significant conditions in order to qualify to vote abroad. While France, Italy and Portugal all allow expatriates to vote, they have established overseas constituencies in their legislatures. This prevents the will of the domestic electorate being changed by expatriate voting. In our view, residency matters.

While one can argue for a minimum of three years (as required to obtain citizenship), five years as in the current electoral rules, or some other number, citizenship is not just a theoretical construct of connection and commitment: it needs to include some measure of physical presence. The longer one has lived in Canada, the longer one should have the right to vote if living abroad. For example, if one has lived in Canada for 25 years or more, the right to vote abroad could be permanent while shorter periods of residence in Canada could entitle people to a shorter period of voting as an expatriate.

However the Supreme Court may rule on expatriate voting, the government will have to decide whether it continues to favour unlimited voting rights for expatriates or take a more measured approach to providing expanded voting rights for expatriates without the unintended consequence of diminishing the value the votes cast by Canadians resident in Canada.

Source: Andrew Griffith and Robert Vineberg: What should the voting rights of Canadian expatriates be? 

The related but distinct issue of municipal voting rights for Permanent Residents was subject to this cautionary editorial in the Vancouver Sun. In my opinion, enthusiasm for municipal voting rights is misplaced given that Canadian citizenship, which provides the full panoply of national, provincial and municipal voting rights, is to be preferred than partial rights.

Moreover, the arguments in favour of municipal voting rights are more valid in European countries with long residency period requirements compared to Canada’s three years:

About 250 years ago, colonists in New England rebelled against the Stamp Tax that Britain had imposed to recover the cost of defending the colonies during the Seven Years War. Their complaint was that the tax was illegal because they had no say in the matter. “No taxation without representation” not only became a popular bumper sticker, but ultimately led to the American Revolution.

Perhaps it was in the spirit of that principle that Vancouver city council this week unanimously passed a motion to ask the province to “make the necessary changes” to allow permanent residents to vote at the local level.

Vancouver has an estimated 60,000 permanent residents (based on 2011 statistics) — those who have gone through the immigration process but are not Canadian citizens. Permanent residents must live in Canada for two out five years to maintain their status. Although they work, own homes, pay taxes and are entitled to social benefits, including health care coverage and protection under Canadian law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they do not have the right to vote. The authors of that restriction had their reasons.

Coun. Andrea Reimer said extending the right to vote to permanent residents would advance Vancouver’s ability “to be a welcoming and inclusive city.” Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson added that “a local government … keen to do more engagement in our democracy is a good thing overall.” A few other municipalities, including Halifax and Toronto, have also asked their provincial governments to change the rules.

The argument that people who pay taxes should have the right to determine who is managing the money and implementing policies that affect them is compelling. Besides paying income, property and sales taxes, permanent residents are part of their communities, send their children to nearby schools, shop in local stores and put their garbage out for collection like everyone else. But if permanent residents are granted the right to vote in civic elections, why wouldn’t the same principles apply to federal and provincial elections? And if they do, what then is the value of citizenship? Is it nothing more than a passport and a guarantee against deportation?

Besides, the notion that permanent residents would rush out to exercise their newly acquired right to vote in civic elections might be wishful thinking. It seems more likely their voting patterns would mirror those of the population at large. Turnout for the last civic election in 2014 was 44 per cent, up from 34 per cent in the 2011 election. Engagement is not top of mind for a majority of Vancouver’s citizens.

Advocating for the vote for permanent residents is a feel-good initiative for city council, but the provincial government must consider the serious implications of such a move. Although many permanent residents have lived in Canada for a long time and know the ropes, many are newcomers, some from countries where social norms are quite different from Canada’s, particularly on matters of gender equality and free speech. Some may not appreciate the sanctity of the secret ballot or freedom from duress in casting a vote.

The provincial government should respond to the city’s request cautiously. Its deliberations will require all-party committee work and extensive debate, which probably cannot be completed on time to take effect before the October 20 civic election. Fortunately, Minister Robinson has not committed to having legislation in place before then. She should not rush the changes council has requested.

Source: Editorial: Take time to consider extending right to vote 

Why expatriates should be able to vote

Frédéric Mégret, an associate professor of law at McGill University, trots out the usual assertions in making the case for unlimited voting rights for Canadian expatriates, no matter how tenuous or distant the connection. Completely bereft of any data or serious evidence to support his arguments.

Moreover, he appears to favour a citizenship with no connection to residency, no matter how short. Or even no residency in the case of the first generation born abroad (for my previous arguments, see What should expatriates’ voting rights be? – Policy Options):

Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the barring of expatriates who have resided away from Canada more than five years from voting in Canadian elections. The Ontario Court of Appeal had earlier found the restrictions democratically justifiable because they preserved the “social contract” between voters and lawmakers. Whether it is the case that the social contract depends on denying voting rights to non-resident citizens is highly dubious. More importantly, often overlooked in the debate is the broader issue of how Canada – and other countries – should relate to their diasporas in an age when significant numbers chose to live abroad while retaining deep emotional and political bonds to their country of citizenship.

The argument against long-term expatriate voting often portrays non-residents as essentially free riders, voting on laws that will not affect them. The reality is considerably more complex. First, long-term expatriates may decide to come back and so arguably continue to have a vested interest in their country of citizenship. To the extent that they do not have voting rights in their country of residency, they are deprived of their only opportunity to exercise political rights. Second, long-term expatriates are, in fact, affected by the laws and policies of Canada, especially to the extent they have international ramifications. They are often the only point of contact that foreigners will have with Canadians. All expatriates share the experience of having been called upon to account, informally at least, for the policies of their home country. They may be targeted as Canadians. Third, many expatriates, even though they do not reside in Canada, do a considerable amount for Canada, directly or indirectly. It goes without saying that Canada is very well represented by its expatriates, many of whom do great honour to our country.

The prioritizing of residency over citizenship, in this context, is problematic in several respects. Although the nation state may be a primarily territorial concept, citizenship is not. Citizenship is measured not by how long one spends on the territory of one’s state, but how committed one is to its ideals, how ready to give back and to invest in its political life. The idea that long-term expatriates are distant and disconnected citizens is belied by their voting record and the intensity by which some of them have, precisely, been willing to protest, including before the courts, against the denial of their rights, invoking their “deep and abiding” connection to Canada. Moreover, citizenship is what you make of it: Treating the diaspora as if it had no connection to Canada is surely to contribute to severing that link. One is also a citizen because one is provided with meaningful opportunities to exercise one’s rights as such. Finally, one should be wary of attempts at fragmenting citizenship, part of a worrying trend that includes fighting less hard for dual citizens abroad or threatening to withdraw citizenship from those convicted of certain offences. Attacks on the indivisibility of citizenship suggest that some Canadian citizens are less citizens than others, and are therefore attacks on the citizenship of all.

The debate deserves to be put in its global context, where it clearly transcends the particulars of any theoretical social contract. How to deal with expatriate populations has become a defining issue of our globalized age, whether it comes to voting rights or how aggressively countries protect their nationals abroad when they are, for example, threatened or prosecuted. Canada has not always made the right choices. Today, however, many countries positively court their diasporas, and for good reason, not only as a source of remittance, but as a source of soft power, and as part of a deep commitment to the free flow of people and ideas. Many countries not only allow, but positively encourage, their diasporas to vote back at home. Although the Harper government once objected to this, Canada is actually part of a variety of French, Italian or Tunisian electoral constituencies.

It may not come as a surprise that Canada, a country that traditionally conceived itself as a place of immigration rather than emigration, has given relatively less thought to this question than other countries. The absence of specific constitutional arrangements for the representation of its diaspora, for example, sets it apart from others that have thought more creatively about this issue. In an age where people are increasingly on the move, making residency a condition of citizenship may not only be unfair to those affected; it may fail to do justice to Canada’s diversity.

via Why expatriates should be able to vote – The Globe and Mail