Steve Nardi is Canada Country Chair for Democrats Abroad, a 100% volunteer, self-funded organization that encourages and helps American citizens vote in U.S. elections. To recognize the urgency of Steve’s work, consider this: The year Donald Trump won the presidency, only 5% of the 625,000+ American citizens living in Canada voted. Steve’s working 14-hour days to change that.
Q: How did you come to be living in Canada?
A: I was working for a division of American Airlines in Dallas, Texas, managing their Canadian operations. I fell in love with a Canadian, and moved to Toronto. That was 26 years ago.
Q: Almost 95% of the 625,000 Americans living in Canada did not vote in the 2016 presidential election. Why?
A: First, many don’t know they can vote. Second, many people fear that by voting the IRS will receive their information, which is a myth. What is strange to me are the people who file tax returns but don’t vote, when most Americans living abroad desire a residency-based taxation system. And finally, some say that if they are living in Canada, they don’t believe they should have a voice in who is running the U.S. Frankly, in 2020 I am not accepting that response from anyone. No one can tell me they aren’t voting because they aren’t engaged. If you’ve paid attention to even one issue, you can see how disastrous Trump has been.
Q: Are people more engaged this year?
A: Oh yes. We’re all waking up. I get emails every day from Americans asking what they can do to help. Volunteers have been popping out of nowhere, bringing skills we’ve desperately needed. We now have people working on media strategy and community engagement, which we’ve never had before. Over a 6 week period in June and July our volunteers contacted 15,000 members in our database – a first.
Q: Are Canadian citizens allowed to help?
A: On a very limited basis. Privacy regulations stipulate what we can and cannot do. Under GDPR rules phone banking is not allowed, but Canadians are allowed to reach out to Americans they know in Canada and ask – not tell – them to vote. There’s a great YouTube video doing this ask.
FEC regulations are my third rail. I have to be really careful. Someone from the business community contacted me on LinkedIn to help, then he wrote me a long email about what he could offer, which was a lot, but ultimately I decided not to take him up on it because I didn’t know who he was. Given the landscape in the U.S. this year, I have to be really careful.
Q: What are you doing then, to encourage Americans to vote?
A: We’re getting a huge boost from the 2019 NBA Champions, the Toronto Raptors. They’re helping us with voter registration, doing public service announcements, and they even wrapped their bus in an enormous Black Lives Matters banner. Their head coach, Nick Nurse is American, and many of their assistant coaches and players are American. The coach just did a great Canadian Broadcast Corporation political show to talk about the importance of voting.
Also, what’s surprised me is how effective postcards are, and lawn signs. The lawn signs have helped us get earned media – a journalist sees one, does a story on Americans living in Canada, and then voters find us.
Q: Canada is a big country – are you focusing on any specific regions?
A: Windsor, Canada is right over the Michigan border. There are 29,000 Americans living there, about 10% of the population. We’re doing a lot of targeting there. Our Windsor chapter is the only one where the majority of our members are from one state. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has done Town Halls for Democrats Abroad; she’s very interested in the Michigan vote in Canada.
Q: Do you have a Republican counterpart working as hard as you are?
A: We did have Republicans Abroad, but they closed down in 2012 after Obama was re-elected. They resurfaced as Republicans Overseas, but they are not big here. My understanding is that they’re mostly a fundraising PAC, and they do some GOTV work, but in Canada their operations are nothing like ours. They are strong in Israel.
Q: What can people who are living in the U.S. do to help you?
A: Reach out to any American they know living abroad– friends, relatives, friends who have kids or siblings living broad, anyone – and ask them to request a ballot ASAP from Votefromabroad.org. They will get the ballot via email. Most states will allow for email or FAX return, but several states require them to mail it back. They need to do this immediately, because of all the issues with the U.S. postal service.
Q: If Trump invited you to the White House, would you go?
A: No. I’ve always respected the office and tried to respect the person in the office. Trump has not earned my respect. He doesn’t carry the weight of the office, he doesn’t own being president.
Q: Are you hopeful Biden/Harris will win?
A: I’m cautiously optimistic. I tell people: Don’t trust polls, don’t trust your friends, trust only yourself. Vote.