Why I Vote Twice

Today, Oct 17, on behalf of the Sunshine Coast Alliance for Seniors’ Care Co-op (SCASCC), I will host an online Q&A forum with all three of our local candidates for our provincial Legislative Assembly. SCASCC is a nonpartisan group, and I am truly still undecided how I will vote. I’ll see which candidate woos me most. But whatever I decide will probably sway my mother, partner, and daughter’s votes too.

Today I will also send 20 hand-written letters to voters in Florida, where my young nieces live, begging strangers to vote. It’s the #TheBigSend Day.  Heather Cox Richardson, the phenomenal US cultural and political historian, has inspired me to get off my tush and Get Out the Vote.

Here are the (longer versions of the) stories I told those strangers, about why I vote.

I was born in the US but my family moved to Canada when I was 5 and became Canadian. Because I was a child, I retained dual citizenship – something I didn’t know until I returned to the US to attend a very liberal arts college (unbuttoned, you might even say), in a quite conservative town and state. I remained mostly in the US for 28 years until returning with my family to Canada in 2007.

Shortly before the 1980 US presidential election I turned 18, very excited to vote for the first time. At the elections office, they told me, “You can’t register to vote here. You have to register in your home state.” “My home state is British Columbia,” I answered. “Well then you can’t vote at all.” “Yes I can, I’m a US citizen,” I insisted. Finally, they let me – and a handful of other kids from our college – register. We all showed up together on election day to vote. Mysteriously, all of our registrations had gone missing. “That’s ok,” we said, “We’ll just sit here and wait til you find them. Maybe we’ll sing…” Astonishingly, all our registrations re-appeared instantly. Gee, funny…

Two decades later, I was working as a librarian at an arts college in Seattle. “Register to vote!” I urged the students. “Nah, it doesn’t make any difference,” they replied cynically. I told them the story of my first election, and added, “That’s what the grownup status quo wants you to think – that you can’t register, and that your vote doesn’t matter. Because they don’t want to let you vote. Because they’re afraid of your vote!”  That got them. “Grownups don’t want to let me vote? Afraid of my vote? Sign me up!”

And that year, in 2004, a progressive woman governor won by only 129 votes’ lead – after two recounts. I’m proud to say that my vote was one of those 129. I hope that 129 also included some of my students’ votes, and that they continue to vote in every election.

As a US citizen living in Canada, I feel it’s my duty to vote as what the US does affects the whole world. So many people outside the US wish they could vote in it. And this is how I recruit my fellow US expats: “We have to vote, because they can’t.” Last week I helped a fellow expat friend register, by finding her last US address in the 1970 San Francisco city directory (in Ancestry, available for free online through my awesome local public library.)

The American electoral system still astonishes me: that every county, not even state, has its own elections office (and its own policies)…that each state, no matter how small or big, empty or crowded, has just two Senators – and the Senate controls impeachment and Supreme Court… that the slaveholding states counted slaves as 3/5 of a person, even though they certainly wouldn’t let them vote…that the Founders envisioned the House of Representatives growing with the country, but the House froze itself at its current number of representatives nearly a century ago –  because they were afraid of immigrants changing the status quo.  And that we still have the outdated Electoral College – which, thanks to all of the above, has three times elected a president who lost the popular vote. The last two, both Republicans.  Gee, funny… Gerrymandering, fake ballot boxes, voter suppression, 10-hour-long lines to vote… If this were a Third-World country, we’d call it corrupt. What was all that hot air from the Founders about proportional representation and democracy?

As a Canadian living in the States for over two decades, it was super easy to register to vote in Canadian federal elections: I faxed a copy of citizenship paper to Ottawa, they mailed me back a ballot. Done. But as the Arrogant Worms sang about Canada, “We won’t say that we’re better, it’s just that we’re less worse.” A Conservative Canadian government disenfranchised all Canadians who’d been out of the country for over five years, until the Supreme Court of Canada caught up with them nearly a decade later and “guaranteed voting rights.” That has a nice ring to it, eh?

If you are an American expatriate, it’s not quite too late! Go to  to print out a registration and ballot request form or Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. Many states now allowing emailing or faxing ballots. If you’re a BC voter, you can still request a mail-in ballot until 8 pm, Sat Oct 17; after that you can still vote in advance. And our lines won’t be as long as those down south.

Now go cast your ballot.

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