On paper, Calgary residents Alexander Marino, Celia Robertson and Roy Berg have many things in common: All three are white, all are parents, all university-educated and born in the United States. They also all agree this may be one of the most consequential and polarizing elections of their lifetime – and they will be voting by mail. But when it comes to candidates, they differ: Mr. Marino will vote for President Donald Trump, Ms. Robertson will vote for former vice-president Joe Biden and Mr. Berg is still undecided.
They’re among the approximately 620,000 U.S. citizens who live in Canada and are eligible to vote in the election. But turnout among that demographic has been historically low – only 5.3 per cent in the 2016 election. This year, though, the Canadian offices of Democrats Abroad and Republicans Overseas say they’re seeing massive increases in voter participation and requests for help to secure a ballot.
Mark Feigenbaum is a lawyer who runs the Canadian chapter of Republicans Overseas from Toronto. Normally, he says, incumbent elections don’t attract much attention from U.S. voters living in Canada. “But because of the characters involved this year, because of the pandemic, because of the media attention, it has become a big deal, whereas normally it isn’t.”
Toronto resident Dianna English, communications officer for the group Democrats Abroad Canada, agrees that interest in voting and becoming politically involved from Canada is growing. She estimates her organization’s membership is up more than 90 per cent this year, to about 21,000. The former U.S. State Department employee moved to Toronto to be with her partner and, because of the nature of this election, now volunteers full-time for the expat organization.
Ms. English says she thinks an increased turnout in Canada just might make the difference for Mr. Biden. She says Democrats Abroad believes that, globally, 48 per cent of expat voters come from swing states.
Ms. Robertson is one of those swing-state voters. She was born in Pennsylvania but now pays taxes and owns property in Georgia, a state Mr. Trump won handily in 2016. She reached out to Democrats Abroad in January for help obtaining a ballot after requests to her county clerk in Pennsylvania in the previous election went unanswered and she wasn’t able to vote.
She wasn’t going to let that happen again. Following the advice of Democrats Abroad, she received her ballot in Calgary, voted for Mr. Biden and paid a courier $35 to ensure it was delivered to Glynn County, on Georgia’s southeastern shore. She even called the county clerk several times until they were able to confirm it had been accepted.
As a nurse, she feels strongly about health care policy. She knows people in the U.S. who have set their own broken bones or cut out their own skin cancers to avoid a hospital bill. She likes Mr. Biden’s proposal to expand Obamacare.
She also expresses concerns about economic inequality and says Mr. Biden will make sure “families benefit from economic policies and decisions, not just corporations and wealthy Americans.”
Mr. Marino also emphasized the economy as one of his priorities, but unlike Ms. Robertson, he says “voting for Trump is a no-brainer.”
Mr. Marino is a tax lawyer and will be voting by mail in Pennsylvania. As a law student, he worked for former Republican senator Rick Santorum.
“The socialist left-wing agenda is economic suicide,” he said, emphasizing the low unemployment rate in the U.S. before the pandemic and the stock market’s recovery since the loosening of restrictions, which he described as “faster and greater than any other country in the world,” as evidence of Mr. Trump’s leadership.
Socially, Mr. Marino identifies as a pro-life Catholic. He likes that Mr. Trump will appoint more conservative judges to federal and lower courts.
Asked about the President’s personal behaviour, Mr. Marino said, “I’m not electing my preacher, I’m not electing someone to marry one of my daughters. I’m electing someone to do a job to put me and my fellow Americans in a safe, secure, economically advantageous place.”
He is such a fan of Mr. Trump that he flies two “Trump Pence 2020” flags outside his home. He said the flags have been received positively and that people have rung his doorbell to thank him for supporting Mr. Trump.
Although he did note: “One morning there was a baggie of dog excrement thrown on the front step.”
Mr. Berg, a neighbour of Mr. Marino, is still in the process of deciding whom he will vote for.
The child of a U.S. Navy officer, he grew up throughout the U.S. and studied in California and New York. He will mail in his ballot to Washington State, where he was born.
Mr. Berg leans left on social issues – but voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. “When I voted for him I had to hold my nose and close my eyes.”
A fan of former Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, whom Mr. Berg described as “smart” and “fresh,” he even named his French bulldog puppy Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Undecided voters such as Mr. Berg are rare in this election. Escalating polarization may account for why the percentage of undecideds is thought to be at its lowest-ever recorded level – between 3 per cent and 6 per cent of the total voting population.
When it comes to policy priorities, Mr. Berg’s professional experience as a tax lawyer figures prominently: “My big thing this election is taxes.
“I’m torn on a lot of aspects,” he said, noting that he finds Mr. Trump’s behaviour “morally reprehensible.”
“But the Democratic tax proposal is insane,” he said.
He’s particularly concerned that the proposed increase in capital-gains rates – to 39.6 per cent from 23.8 per cent – for those making more than US$1-million a year will sway Ottawa to hike tax rates in Canada.
He says he’s also worried about the Democrats' proposal to restore the threshold for estate tax to what it was prior to Mr. Trump’s presidency, taking it from US$11.58-million back down to US$5.49-million. “That’ll screw a lot of Canadians who have real estate in the States.”
Mr. Feigenbaum of Republicans Overseas acknowledges that Republicans in Canada are indeed a “small community.” He hopes that undecideds in Alberta such as Mr. Berg will back the incumbent, noting that Mr. Trump supports the Keystone XL pipeline and the construction of the Alberta-to-Alaska rail line.
Mr. Marino said that despite polling suggesting Mr. Biden may be in the lead, he thinks Mr. Trump is likely to win again.
“No disrespect to the media, but I don’t believe what the media or the polls say. I think the election is much, much, much closer.”
Like Ms. Robertson and Mr. Berg, he says the stakes are high – and he worries about postelection unity.
Whether Mr. Trump wins or not, he said, “at the end of the day, we’re all still Americans – win, lose or draw.”
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