U.S. election 2016

Anti-Trump activists set sights on recruiting American ex-pats

'It's a U.S. issue but it's also a global issue'

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump formally accepts the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump formally accepts the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

VANCOUVER – An activist organization’s campaign to keep Donald Trump out of the White House is spilling across the border into Canada as the group ramps up efforts to convince U.S. voters living abroad to cast ballots during next month’s presidential election.

More than a dozen people gathered in front of Trump Tower in downtown Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon waving anti-Trump placards and trying to persuade American expatriates to register to vote and to defeat the Republican candidate for president.

The event is part of a larger push by Avaaz, a U.S.-based global activist group, aimed at mobilizing American citizens living around the world. The project targets key cities with high concentrations of U.S. residents.

Joseph Huff-Hannon, a spokesman for Avaaz based in Washington, D.C., and campaigner at the rally in Vancouver, said a Trump presidency would affect Canada.

“It’s a U.S. issue but it’s also a global issue. Donald Trump, beyond being a dangerous president, would be a terrible neighbour to Canada,” Huff-Hannon said.

“We want to make sure Donald Trump sticks to the hotel business.”

A man wearing a papier-mache mask of Trump danced to 60s music on the bed of a pickup truck, prompting honks from passing vehicles.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.

The U.S. government doesn’t officially track the number of Americans abroad, but it estimates there are 5.6-million citizens living outside the country. It says 2.6 million of them are eligible to vote.

Slightly more than 660,000 of them are in Canada, with British Columbia’s Lower Mainland hosting the largest contingent: 183,000.

Americans living abroad who are interested in voting must register weeks and sometimes months in advance and meet criteria established by the state in which they last had a permanent residence.

Experts say the process can be onerous, which contributes to an especially low voter turnout.

The government’s Federal Voting Assistance Program estimates there was a five-per-cent turnout in 2012. A study from Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University pegged the turnout rate among expatriates slightly higher, around 12 per cent.

Experts agree that the impact of votes from U.S. citizens living abroad depends heavily on the state in which they’re eligible to vote.

Brian Schmidt, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said results in swing states can hinge on very few votes, in which case ballots from overseas voters could change the outcome of a tight race.

“I’m from New York and (Democratic candidate Hillary) Clinton is probably going to take New York. But if you’re from Ohio, Michigan, Florida, I would say every single vote is going to make a difference,” Schmidt said.

While studies show that Americans abroad tend to vote more often for the Democrats, it’s difficult to gauge the impact expats will have on an election until the ballots are counted, said Renan Levine, who teaches U.S. politics at the University of Toronto.

He explained that polls don’t capture military personnel or overseas citizens.

“The bottom line is that it could very well have a big impact, but it depends on where those voters are eligible to cast their votes,” he said.

As an example of the potential influence of overseas voters, Huff-Hannon pointed to the 2000 race between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The presidency hung on the swing state of Florida, which ultimately went Republican by only several hundred votes.

American expat Tom Sandborn left Alaska in 1967 in protest against the war in Vietnam. He attended Wednesday’s rally to register to vote.

“We could affect the election,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would want to live with skipping the vote and then facing the nightmare after the election of a Trump presidency.”

Cracking a smile, he leaned in and said, “We want to say to Donald Trump what he used to say to his hapless interns on his show: Donald, you’re fired. Get out.”