Decked out in colourful Uncle Sam hats and waving "register to vote" banners, a group of progressive American expats rallied near the Trump International Hotel in Vancouver on Monday, urging fellow Americans in Canada to register to vote.
As members of Democrats Abroad Canada (DAC), they set up a registration table to capture as many Democratic votes as possible in hopes of a "blue wave" in the upcoming midterm elections this November.
A member of Daughters of the American Revolution thinks people don't realize how much difference a single vote can make. She hopes Americans living abroad will remember the sacrifices made by people like her father. #USpoli #cdnpoli
With over 183,000 Americans living in Canada, the country has more U.S. expats than any other country in the world, but just four per cent of them vote in U.S. elections.
A low voting rate
Cameron Mitchell Jr., a local actor and DAC member, chose the anniversary of the signing of the American Constitution on Sep. 17, 1787 for the voting rally and registration table. Mitchell dug into research a few years ago to see how many people were eligible to vote in the American elections, and was shocked to discover that Vancouver is home to the largest population of Americans living abroad.
"In the presidential election two years ago, 22,000 votes carried Trump into the White House," Mitchell told National Observer in an interview. "Every vote counts."
After Vancouver, Tel Aviv in Israel has the second largest population of Americans abroad, with Toronto coming in third and London, England in fourth place. A four per cent voter turnout in the last election worries many Democrats, who feel like the integrity of the political system in the United States is under threat, especially considering Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"This election is the most important one in the history of the United States," Mitchell said. "It's the beginning of trying to get responsible government back in Washington. The House of Representatives is at stake and there's a possibility for Democrats to take the House back."
Confusion over voting procedure
Voting in U.S. elections while living in Canada requires preparation. In order to vote, Americans first need to find out what state they're registered to vote in by calling the elections office of the last state they lived in, or remember voting in. They then have to fill out a form to request a ballot, but they have to make sure they have enough time to receive the materials before the Nov. 6 midterm election day. Some of the deadlines for registration are at the end of October, so time is of the essence.
Anita Lemonis, a Democrat living in Canada, told National Observer she's a dual citizen who cares deeply about what's happening in her home country. She said a lot of people either don't know they're eligible to vote or are confused about how to register, which is why the group gathered to offer support.
At the registration table, Lemonis helped Bob Berger start the process. Sidling up to the table in a green Utah Jazz basketball shirt and gray hat, Berger said he has been living in Canada since 1968 and remembers voting just once that entire time. He moved to Canada from Ann Arbour, Michigan, but has avoided the voter registration process because he couldn't remember his last address in Michigan.
But today, Berger said, the political situation in the U.S. is so polarized and in need of more diverse representation, that he felt compelled to sort it out.
Berger said he's concerned by the way things are being addressed in President Donald Trump's White House, from the lack of democratic representation to his policies around immigration.
"Separating children from their families as immigrants... has struck a moral chord in me that drives me to be more participatory in the democratic process as a U.S. citizen," Berger said.
Trump accused of 'paralyzing people'
"I'm afraid," she said. "We have a person in the White House making changes to the environment and trade that will have lasting consequences for the States, but for Canada as well... The decisions he's making are affecting the world."
When asked which of Trump's actions concern Lemonis the most, she couldn't decide on an answer.
"That's what's so amazing," she said, shaking her head. "He's paralyzing people. Every week, there's another major call to action and it's happening so fast and furiously, we can't even respond. By the time we're digesting the fact that there's over 500 children separated from their parents with no means to reconnect, we're taking about spending billions on a wall or deporting U.S. citizens."
All of this is happening, on top of attacks against women and people of colour, and rollbacks to emission standards meant to address climate change, among other issues.
"As a person of colour, it breaks my heart to see we have a president where we have to guess whether or not he has used the n-word," Lemonis said. She's been upset by the way Trump mocks football players protesting racial injustice, and by his claim that "both sides" were to blame for violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that ended with one social justice advocate, Heather Heyer, killed by a neo-Nazi.
"He had opportunity to say this isn't the America we want," she said, "but he didn't."
Nancy McLean joined the rally of about 20 to 30 people gathered on Monday's lunch hour, holding a photo of her father and the American flag that was draped over his coffin at his funeral. McLean's father fought his way through France to liberate the Dachau concentration camp in Germany during the Second World War.
"Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement," McLean said. "My father always told us to vote, to work. He said to vote against fascism and dictators. Trump is a dictator and a fascist."
McLean, a member of DAC, as well as a member of Daughters of the American Revolution, thinks people don't realize how much of a difference a single vote can make. She hopes Americans living abroad will remember the sacrifices made by people like her father in order to preserve democracy in the U.S..