Last year, I voted in two national elections within two months: Canada on October 21, and the U.K. on December 12. I have citizenship in both countries and am grateful to be able to vote in both countries. In 6 years, I will no longer be able to vote in the U.K. My parents and sister, who are Canadian citzens but who live in the U.K., were recently reallowed to vote in Canada. Non-resident citizen voting is a very real and important issue for me. However, some people would argue that non-resident citizens should not be allowed to vote in the country of their citizenship. Here, I argue that non-resident citizens should be allowed to vote.
The main argument against non-resident citizens voting is that people feel that non-residents would be deciding for, instead of with, the local electorate. This argument is best illustrated with the analogy of a former roommate given the right to tell their roommates how to set the thermostat . The argument follows that voting is the collective expression of how a population within a “boundary” wants to be governed. The non-resident citizen is not within the “boundary” and does not feel any of the effects of their vote. Therefore, the non-resident citizen should not be given the right to vote.
The second main argument regards voting in local constituencies. At least in Canada and the U.K., people within a smaller “boundary”, a constituency, vote for a member of parliament who represents this smaller collection of people. Presently, non-resident citizens still vote within local constituencies. Consequently, MPs not only represent local people but also the non-resident citizens registered in their constituencies. The argument continues in the same vein as above because non-resident citizens will not be affected by local issues at the constituency level .
If we focus only on local issues, I actually wholeheartedly agree with these two arguments against non-resident citizen voting. However, non-resident citizens are still affected by the governments of their country of citizenship, just not at the level of local constituencies. First, trade deals are decided between their countries of citizenship and residency, which determine not only economic outcomes but also movement of people (e.g NAFTA and the TN Visa). Second, political alliances are made and broken with the two countries, which, amid the geopolitical intrigue, can affect visas, perceptions of the citizens, and, in extreme cases, freedom of movement (e.g. the Japanese internment camps in North America during the second world war). Finally, tax treaties are decided between the two countries, which often determine how non-resident citizens are taxed. In fact, the USA requires all citizens regardless of their residency status to file income tax. Non-resident citizens would want to be represented either to prevent taxation or to decide how their taxes are spent. As can be seen, there are numerous issues determined by governments that affect non-resident citizens. The issues are just different from local residents.
Different issues suggests that non-resident citizens should have a different system of voting. In fact, several countries have instituted different systems of voting for non-resident citizens. France has an Assembly of French Citizens Abroad (Assemblée des Français de l’étranger) and non-resident French citizens also vote for 11 members of the National Assembly. Italy has 18 representatives and Portugal has 4 representatives solely for non-resident citizens . Clearly, there are options available for non-resident citizens to vote.
I believe that Canada and the U.K. should institute separate systems of voting for non-resident citizens. Non-resident citizens could vote for federal/national MPs who represent only overseas voters. These MPs could also have restricted powers (e.g. maybe they cannot vote on health service decisions but could vote on any foreign policy decisions). If these systems were implemented, both of the arguments given above against voting by non-resident citizens become moot points. With these voting systems, non-resident citizens could fairly decide the government with, instead of for, local residents.
Non-resident citizens do have legitimate reasons to be represented and should be represented. The present voting systems in Canada and the UK are problematic for non-resident citizens. Solutions include specific MPs who represent only non-resident citizens and who have restricted powers in parliament.
- Reynolds M. I don’t live in Canada anymore. I shouldn’t have the right to vote in its elections. CBC 2019.
- Lilley B. Lilley: Trudeau clears way for expats to vote in Canadian elections. Toronto Sun 2019.
- Wikipedia. Right of expatriates to vote in their country of origin. Wikipedia Accessed 2020.