News | American students at McGill navigate absentee voting

Democrats Abroad McGill offers assistance

From community discussions to Facebook memes, it’s difficult to ignore the buzz on campus about the American presidential election.

According to McGill’s website, 20 per cent of the student population comes from outside of Canada. Of that 20 per cent, Americans make up the majority.

The United States consistently has a low youth voter turnout rate, defined as voters between the ages of 18 and 29. Despite the spike in youth votes during the 2008 election, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), an American research group, found that the youth vote turnout still lags significantly compared to the turnout of voters aged 30 and older.

Ilona Dougherty, executive director of Apathy is Boring, suggested that living abroad during election time may contribute to social barriers to voting.

“You vote where you live. Not being exposed to the same information on local politics and on political candidates has effects,” she told The Daily.

McGill student Patrick Miller, ori-ginally from Portland, Oregon, can attest to Dougherty’s speculation.

“I am voting this year, but I’ve lagged behind in the process a bit. I haven’t had the same motivation to research issues and candidates the same way I would have just by socializing if I still lived in the U.S. I think I would have at least had a more well-informed understanding.”

Karl Urban, another American McGill student on exchange in Germany this year, echoed these concerns.

“I do feel distanced from the election and that its impact will mean less to me living abroad. However, I also follow the election online through various news sources and talk with my American friends too, which really helps,” he told The Daily.

However, Dougherty did point to the existence of a number of resources for voters living abroad as a cause for optimism.

“The U.S. is a bit better [than Canada] in providing resources for those living abroad,” said Dougherty. “There are partisan and non-partisan groups that can help the voting process.”

Among these groups is Democrats Abroad. The organization’s McGill chapter assists Americans living in Montreal with the voting process by offering postage, collecting ballots, and bringing them to the U.S. Consulate to be mailed.

Daniel Braden of Democrats Abroad McGill (DAM) told The Daily, “We know it can be difficult for people to take the initiative to get to the post office, buy stamps, and mail a letter. It’s those little things that add up. Our job is to make the whole thing as easy as possible.”

Marc Seltzer, also from DAM, said that through working with the group, he has been able to appreciate its impact and has witnessed the enthusiasm for this election.

“Many of the Americans I encounter in Montreal do not seem disengaged at all to me – in fact, less so than many Americans living in the U.S.,” he told The Daily. “I do think that some people leave U.S. politics behind them when they move out of the country. On the other hand, here in Canada, I meet so many Americans who are tuned in to American politics and are eager to vote. We are close and it is easy to follow the news here. Our organization has a chapter in Montreal with more than 1,000 members. That is 1,000 U.S. citizens in greater Montreal that signed up and said that they wanted to be connected to a Democratic political organization.”