10/11/2016 12:06 EDT | Updated 10/11/2016 12:10 EDT

Why Can't Canadian Expats Vote Forever (Like Americans)?

Canadian and American flags in the mountains
stockstudioX via Getty Images
Canadian and American flags in the mountains

I have lived in Canada for 30 years and have never missed a U.S. election.

Indeed, I have already voted this year, casting my ballot electronically in the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, from my home computer keyboard in Ottawa, Ontario.

Until recently the process was much more cumbersome -- your local town clerk received a letter from you expressing your desire to vote absentee; she sent you the ballot by mail with instructions; you filled it out, had it notarized, and mailed it back. Indeed, the one time my vote failed to register, in 1976, I was a news correspondent in Warsaw, Poland. My ballot arrived in the mail eight days after the election.

No one seems to know how many Americans live in Canada. Estimates vary from 900,000 to 2 million full- and part-time residents: The 2011 census says that 372,575 people claim American "ancestry".

Whatever the exact number, in a tight election they could tip the balance in key battleground states (Massachusetts is not one of them -- it has a 99.6% probability of going to the Democrats according to Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight survey.

Why do Americans outside of the U.S. get to vote forever from wherever?

Or more to the point, why isn't this true for the estimated one million Canadians living abroad?

For the Americans, it comes down to a couple of things. One is a founding principle upon which the American Revolution was fought -- "no taxation without representation." Americans are meant to file tax returns with the IRS each year, no matter how long they have been away.

The second is the Bill of Rights and the amendments to the Constitution, including the 14th amendment, with its so-called "equal protection" clause.

This means I can vote from my last legal address -- my mother's home at 15 South Village Green in Ipswich -- forever, despite the fact that my mother passed away in 2004 and the house passed out of family hands in 2005.

Under current Canadian law, the last time I could have voted was 1991. That's because if you are out of Canada for more than five years, you're barred from voting. (The tax situation for Canadians living and working abroad is less absolute than for Americans, but taxes or no taxes, it is five years.)

This five year cut-off seems to fly in the face of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states: "Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein."

However, by a split 2-1 vote, in 2015 the Ontario Court of Appeals reaffirmed the five-year limit, overturning a 2014 Ontario Supreme Court decision that would have dropped the requirement.

The Appeals Court reasoned that allowing non-residents to vote would be unfair, as it would give ex-pats the right to affect the lives of people actually living in Canada "with no practical consequences for their own daily lives."

For those that find this all a bit arbitrary - or just think Canadians should at least have the same rights as Americans (without all that messy tax stuff), there is hope.

The Ontario decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. We could have a definitive answer during the Court's current term.

And so for whom did I vote in the U.S. election? Let's just say I enjoy telling my American friends -- of whatever political persuasion -- that I wrote in the name of Justin Trudeau. After all, he has better hair than Donald, and, unlike Hillary, has never to my knowledge been paid to speak by Goldman Sachs.

(Robert Waite didn't really write in Justin Trudeau. Nor did he vote for Hillary or Donald. But he did vote.)

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