With the U.S. presidential race headed for a photo finish, absentee ballots and voting abroad has never been more important – meaning Americans living in Canada may decide the next president of the United States.
By Elton Hobson
On Tuesday, Americans will head to the polls to decide who the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be for the next four years.
But this election has legs far beyond America’s shores. Millions of Americans across the world, including many in Canada, have already sent in absentee ballots – and their votes could very well decide the next president of the United States.
“There are more than 60 million American citizens living abroad, and their votes are extremely important,” said Alex Sirota, an IT consultant and host of one of Canada’s largest election night parties.
Sirota moved to Canada from Michigan before the 2000 election and has voted abroad ever since. He knows full well the power voters living abroad can wield.
“In fact, if you added together every absentee ballot counted in the last election, including military ballots, we’d be the 14th largest state in the union.”
That’s enough to get any politician’s attention, especially when the race is this close.
According to the latest Politico/George Washington University poll on Nov. 2, Obama and Romney are in a dead heat, with each candidate picking up 48 per cent of respondents and two per cent undecided. Other polls have the race equally as close.
“We have 120,000 registered [American] voters living in Toronto alone, and we contact every single one,” said Chris Eggers, the treasurer for Democrats Abroad, a get-out-the-vote operation for registered Democrats living outside the United States.
“If we were as organized and efficient twelve years ago as we are today, we might have reversed the outcome of the George Bush-Al Gore election,” Eggers said.
That year, Bush edged Gore by less than 600 votes to claim Florida and the election. And that’s not the only example of the potential power of absentee ballots: Al Franken won election to the senate in Minnesota by 38 votes, an effort Eggers and the Democrats Abroad were actively engaged in.
So absentee votes matter – but this being politics, absentee money matters, as well.
“Any contribution to a campaign must come from a U.S. citizen, regardless of where he lives,” Christian Hilland, spokesman for the United States Federal Election Commission, told Humber News. “The total percentage of abroad contributions likely fall into the single digits, between two and six percent.”
That might not seem like much – but when spending in this election is expected to reach $6-billion by voting day, that 2 to 6 per cent is not insignificant.
Voting abroad has never been easier, according to Sirota. With many states emailing blank ballots (votes cannot be returned electronically, however) and the process overall becoming more streamlined, there’s no reason why Americans abroad can’t make their voices heard in the upcoming election.
For his part, Sirota is expecting at least 200 people to attend the election night festivities. In the past, they’ve had to turn people away. There’s certainly no lack of interest in Canada for this year’s presidential election.
“We’ve never had a set of circumstances like this before,” Sirota said. “With Hurricane Sandy disrupting so much of the regular voting, it could place even more importance on where the absentee votes end up going.”