TORONTO – A long-time expat was finally able to vote in his old riding on Saturday, a day after Elections Canada officials turned him away.
A much relieved Will Gartshore, of Washington, D.C., said he received a morning call from a local official in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., confirming his right to vote.
“It feels great to have won this fight to exercise my right to have a voice in this election, particularly in a riding with a neck-and-neck race,” Gartshore told The Canadian Press 20 minutes after casting a ballot.
Like an estimated 1.4 million other Canadians, Gartshore lost his right to vote from abroad because he has been away from Canada for more than five years. The rule, enacted in 1993, has only been enforced under the Conservatives.
However, another section of the Canada Elections Act does allow those disenfranchised voters to show up in person in their old riding, show documentation that they used to live there, and vote in an advance poll or on voting day itself.
Gartshore, who was visiting his parents in Sault Ste. Marie, tried to vote on Friday. Although local elections officials were helpful, they concluded he could not vote in the advance poll, and sent him instead to the Elections Canada office. Three hours later, a frustrated Gartshore finally left after officials concluded he was not entitled to do so.
“The word ‘suppression’ entered my mind,” he said when he contacted a reporter late Friday.
“Hopefully I’ll have something more to be thankful for over turkey with the family this weekend.”
Asked to explain the situation, an Elections Canada official in Ottawa told The Canadian Press late Friday that someone appeared to have goofed.
“Looks like an error was made,” the official said. “We’re reaching out to the elector to sort it out.”
Following the call from a local official on Saturday, a happy Gartshore was able to head to the advance polling station and cast his ballot.
“I became a bit of a cause célèbre for the local poll workers, one of whom was one of my high school teachers 25 years ago,” he said.
The recent enforcement of the residency rules related to long-term expats has sparked a groundswell of opposition from many of them, who argue their constitutional right to vote is being trampled.
Two are taking their case to the Supreme Court of Canada. Others, like Gartshore, are making a point of voting in person at advance polls, while one man from near Seattle, Wash., is running as a protest candidate against Conservative Leader Stephen Harper in the riding of Calgary Heritage.