samedi 25 janvier 2014

My voting hall of shame

Voting is a topic often discussed by expats. Should residents (non-citizens) be able to vote in elections taking place in the countries they reside in? Should citizens living abroad be allowed to vote 'back home'? Should people who gain citzenship via Jus Sanguinis have the right to vote? There are no easy answers to these questions. 

The last time I voted was in the year 2000 back when I was still living in Canada. I had just turned 18 and was led into the voting booth by my father to vote in the general election. I had no idea what I was doing and didn't really have an solid understanding of Canadian politics. That was the first and last time I ever voted. 

I no longer have any voting rights in Canada. It is somewhat surprising that Canadians living abroad lose their right to vote after only 5 years out of Canada. So I lost my right to vote years ago. 

Montreal during winter. Author of photo: Den Nation.

In my case, I agree that I shouldn't have the right the vote. I am totally cut off from Canadian politics and I am barely further than where I was at 18 and voting for the first time. I have no idea what is going on there. Back in 2009 I noticed some of my Canadian friends were talking about a certain Stephen Harper on Facebook. This is shocking - I had no idea he was the prime minister of Canada and I had no idea that the Conservatives had taken the power from the Liberals. I started to think about it and I realised that it had been years that I had had no idea who the prime minister of my own country was. I couldn't believe it. 

Expats like me shouldn't be allowed to vote in elections 'back home'. I do think that maybe 5 years is too short a period, but in my case, it was all it took for my home country to fade to the background. On the other hand, there are many expats who are completely up-to-date with what is happening back in their 'home country'. I think they should be allowed to vote. The problem is, how can a country weed out the 'bad voters' like me from the 'good voters', the ones that should be voting because they are really involved with the situation 'back home' and/or probably will move back one day.

I could have voted in Canada's 2004 and 2006 elections. I didn't. I could have voted in countless local elections in the various European countries I've lived in. I haven't. I could have voted in the UK general election back in 2005 (all Commonwealth citizens legally residing in the UK have this right). I didn't. I could have voted in the Italian general elections. (Note: I actually tried to vote in the last one with the sole purpose of getting rid of Berlusconi but was unable to because the election took place right at the time I moved to Denmark.) I haven't. I could have voted in EU elections. I haven't. When my friend proposed going to the town hall to register for the next EU elections and local elections, I just waved her off. 

The Italian Alps. Author of photo: Den Nation.

A few weeks ago, I passed in front of the town hall and I thought, "Enough is enough, people have died for the right to vote and you just throw every chance you have to vote out the window." This is so true, why don't I care? I should. So I got my papers in order and went to the town hall and registered myself to vote.

My mantra has always been that if someone is not informed, than they should not be voting. People like me who have no idea really should not be voting. These are just excuses in my case, though. I have everything at my disposal to make an informed decision. I am a highly educated person who can easily access information over the internet, call embassies, talk to other people to learn more (including my friends and family back in Italy and Canada), read books, take an interest in politics, etc. After all, politics has an effect my everyday life. I should be interested. It doesn't take much work to change my status from 'not informed at all' to 'somewhat informed'.

So in a bid to get more informed, yesterday I went and looked on Wikipedia to learn more about the last elections I missed in Canada. And that's when I learned about the existance of Paul Martin, Canada's prime minister between 2004-2006. All this time, I thought that Stephen Harper had succeeded Jean Chrétien. What Canadian doesn't know this? I started watching interviews with Canadian prime ministers on YouTube. This is when I learned that Brian Mulroney (prime minister in the 80s and 90s) was actually québecquois. Say what? I had always thought that he epitomised anglophone Canadians. I never would have associated him with a québecquois (no negative undertones here). I was surprised to learn this. Actually, in this interview he says that most anglophone Canadians think he is anglophone and most French-Canadians think he is francophone. (at the 3:39 mark for those who are interested). I was so surprised when I saw this video and heard him speak French. And I had no idea that he was a personal friend and political colleague of Lucien Bouchard. It's funny how in French his voice sounds deeper than his English voice. Now that I've watched the English video a second time, I'm starting to think that he sounds more like a native French speaker than a native English speaker, but it's really hard to say.  

Anyway, now it's high time to learn more about EU and Italian politics. I am priviledged to live here thanks to my Italian passport. I feel I should step up to the plate and do something in return. I owe Europe and Italy that much.

Thanks for reading my ramblings!

16 commentaires:

  1. I always think that if you don't vote, you have no right to moan, and I like to moan, so ...

    Seriously though, I like to follow the news and I'm interested in the issues, so voting is important to me. I do agree with you though, that expat or not, if you're not informed about the candidates and the issues, you're not doing much good.

    I'm pretty good on UK news and politics but I do feel bad that I don't know so much about France, so like you, I'm on a mission to educate myself!

    1. I know more about France's politics than any other country. That doesn't mean I'm an expert though! Just that I've spent too many nights sitting around listening to my husband debating France's politics with his intellectual/fonctionnaire friends.

      There's always more to learn though! I don't want to go through my life ignorant of politics so I'm really going to make an effort to learn more.

  2. I have not voted in several elections as a specific political statement. In the States that is a huge taboo. "It's your duty. You have to vote." If I don't like any of the candidates I don't have to vote. And yes even if I didn't vote I can still be political active and petition the government for change.

    I find so many uninformed or misinformed people I just wish wouldn't vote. I'm gonna leave it at that.

    1. I always told myself that I didn't vote because there was nobody good to vote for as my excuse for not voting. In my case, though, I haven't been voting because I'm not informed. I think if you're informed you're perfectly entitled to not vote for anybody. Here in France a lot of people that 'votent blanc', I don't know how to say this in English - empty ballots? France keeps statistics on the empty ballots.

      Do you 'vote blanc'? I think that's a good way of letting your country know what you think of the candidates. If you've looked at the facts and you are not convinced of anyone's potential, you can't just pick one for the sake of picking one, right?

    2. Aouch! I didn't know that Canadians living abroad are no longer allow to vote after 5 years away. I really wanted to vote because I want Harper out, but I don't know how I would vote, unless if I lived in Paris. It about time the Conservative leave. I left Canada when Harper took power, and I'm sad that the environment and bilingualism had suffered major cutbacks.

      As for the vote blanc, they passed a law to recognize the "vote blanc", after the municipal elections. Even if they recognize such vote, I'm afraid those votes will be lost, in favour of FN votes.

    3. There is not word that I know of in US voting for "vote blanc" but it's what I do. You don't have to vote for everything or anything. I've been a registered voter since I was old enough. I go in and usually sign a blank ballot. Though I have voted on a few things like referendums.

      I actually don't know what they do with blank votes. Are they even counted?

    4. They are counted in France. I don't know about other countries.

      Thanks for your comments!

    5. Vad: Yes, I'm afraid that past the 5 year mark you lose the right to vote. Actually, Canada used to be quite lax about this rule, but they have become quite strict about it in recent years. There are even websites written by Canadians abroad who are trying to fight this law in court. I'm sorry to have been the bearer of bad news. If it's any consolation, I know either until about 2 years ago.

      Can you tell me what Harper has done/hasn't done (like with bilingualism)?

    6. An article about bilingualism cuts

    7. Vad: I meant to say that "I didn't know either until about 2 years ago." I wish blogger has an edit button.

      Thanks for the article about bilingualism. I had heard about unilingual judges being hired and what an uproad that caused.

      What a lot of angophones in Canada think is that it's about them, that they are being taken over by French. What they don't realise is that it's not about them, that it's in fact the French language that is dying in Canada. (I went and looked in Statistics Canada's stats - was I ever surprised!). The threat of English taking over is real - you only have to look at Denmark to realise that. English isn't even one of their official languages and it's taking over - some Danes even envisage English becoming their official language one day.

      I digress. So has Harper, in your opinion, done something good during his time in power?

  3. I make it a point to vote in any presidential elections back in the States even if I'm not residing there. I don't always manage to motivate myself to go through the hassle of voting abroad for all the smaller elections though. I've only done it a few times.

    The way I see it, what happens back home does affect me, even if I'm abroad, and as long as I have US citizenship I will continue to at least vote in the presidential elections. Some people would argue it doesn't affect me as directly as it affects someone living in the US, but in some ways I disagree. I was attacked in a phone booth in the streets of France because a passerby overheard me speaking English and guessed that I was American and didn't like our president at the time (Bush) and our policies (i.e. the Iraq war). I have noticed on several occasions that how I am treated as an American abroad depends, to some extent and with some people, on who is president in the US (and it was to the point that sometimes I would just tell people I was Canadian to avoid unpleasant situations). I definitely noticed a difference in the way I was treated after Obama was elected. Also, as the US tax system is based on citizenship based taxation rather than residency based taxation, any reforms to the tax code can and will directly affect me and so I feel that I should have every right to continue voting in the US even if I never live there again. After all, the colonies fought against taxation without representation so I definitely intend to do my part to make sure my interests are represented as long as I continue to be taxed.

    I, of course, currently only have US citizenship, so I don't have the choice to vote anywhere else at the moment. But once I do get French citizenship I intend to vote here too. And at that time I will certainly take more of an interest in French politics than just simple dinner conversation, as I currently do with US politics. But for the moment, since I can't vote, I find that I don't really want to be too informed on French politics. Just enough to be able to follow a conversation with friends, but not so much that I get frustrated over the fact that French political decisions are directly affecting my life and I don't have any say in it whatsoever.

    Anyway, all of that to say that I do think it is important to vote and of course I prefer that people be informed before voting, but I don't think it is necessarily appropriate to say that just because a person doesn't live there, they shouldn't be able to vote. Sometimes the politics "back home" can still greatly affect a person even if they live in another country. And if they can obtain the right to vote in their "new home" they should become informed and exercise that right as well.

    1. Wow, what a response!

      The main difference between you and I is that you are involved in what is happening back in the United States. What I mean by this, and I hate to admit this, you care. I have a confession to make: all these years I didn't really care what was going on 'back home'. I know, I know, it's awful of me and I really feel guilty about it. Sometimes years would pass between my visits back and I was really cut off from everything back in Canada (no fault but my own). So no, as an expat that didn't even know who the leader of my government was, I didn't deserve to vote.

      It has taken me a lot to confess that I have not always been a stellar representation of my country. For years I was overly blasé about being Canada and it has only been in recent years that I have come to feel such pride for being Canadian. My last years living in Canada were not particularly happy ones so I wrongly blamed Canada for my troubles.

      I didn't know you got attacked because someone heard you speaking English! That's awful. It's times like this that makes me thankful that I come from Canada and that most French people really like Canada and Canadians (mostly thanks to Québec).

      So I definitely think that people like you should have the right to vote (and after all, you still pay taxes). My only hope is just that other people like me realise that the are not informed and that they need to do something about it or else not vote. Only in my case, the decision is not even up to me to make because Canadians abroad for more than 5 years can't vote anyways.

  4. I'm in the same boat as Michelle. Didn't know Canadians lost the right to vote. I do still go through the motions of paying taxes back home (though my income is way to loooow to ever have to pay) and I've tried to vote in the presidential élections but sometimes been too late. I can see where Den Nation is coming from because I do feel rather disconnected from the issues there. But my family still lives there and when I visit I think I could be affected by policies. So I don't think it's "wrong" for expats to vote.

    1. These are such great comments! I'm glad to see that people are so involved in this topic.

      I don't think I explained myself very well in my post. I think expats should be able to vote in their 'home' country. I do think the the threat of people like me is real, but there are so many other people like you and Michele that, while they may feel disconnected from the issues, they are still aware of what is going on back 'home'. So a country shouldn't cut off these 'good' voters because there might be 'bad' voters voting like me. Besides, most of the 'bad' voters wouldn't be voting anyway because their level of unawareness has reached such a point that they don't care (like me with the first elections in the years proceeding my departure from Canada). If a person is going to take the time and effort to vote from abroad (which involves some level of paperwork), obviously they care a great deal about what is going on in their home country.

      As we saw with Vad, she is disappointed with not being able to vote, and it is clear that she is keeping up with what is going on back home (as she sent me that article about bilingualism). I really feel sorry for her.

  5. I can't vote anywhere either, you lose the right in NZ after 3 years (but to be fair, I think it's three years not visiting the country, not not living there). I feel like I should probably have some rights in France, and especially if the UK ever has a referendum on leaving the EU I want to vote in it! (I'm also a UK citizen, but don't mind not voting in national elections there since I've never really lived there.) I've enrolled for the EU elections too (thanks to Canedolia) so we'll see who takes my fancy.

    1. 3 years! And I thought 5 years was a bit short. But yes, I think even if you visit Canada every year you still can't vote.

      So basically you don't have the right to vote anywhere. It's kind of like being in a no-man's land. I feel sorry for you.

      Well, at least you'll be voting in the EU elections! Did Canedolia's post about voting inspire you to go and register to vote?