On a recent Sunday at White Rock Farmers’ Market, Bruce Stern stood in his booth with his clipboard and pen wearing an “Obama for president” hat and “Obama-Biden” button.
Stern, a 76-year-old former New Yorker who now lives in South Surrey, was hunting for other former Americans like himself, residents of Canada who still have the right to vote in U.S. elections.
He said he found a few such attendees among the dozens of curious visitors who approached him.
It was his second visit to the White Rock market and he planned to return at least once more.
Stern is one of about 60 volunteers with Democrats Abroad currently active in the Lower Mainland.
The group is trying to get out the vote in Canada for what is expected to be a close contest that pits incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden against Republican challenger Mitt Romney and running-mate Paul Ryan.
Because there is no Republican equivalent to Democrats Abroad operating in B.C., Stern says he will register Republicans if they ask, even though he considers them at best misguided.
“This is a non-partisan initiative,” the lifetime Democrat says.
Stern and his wife recently moved to South Surrey from the North Shore to be closer to their grandchildren.
He is hoping to eventually set up a White Rock-South Surrey chapter of Democrats Abroad.
Stern wasn’t always this involved in the politics of his former homeland.
He originally moved to Canada from Queens, New York, in 1969.
Unlike some of his countrymen who made the same trip around the time of the Vietnam War, Stern was not fleeing the draft. In fact, he had served a two-year tour of duty with the U.S. infantry.
Canada was a familiar place for Stern, whose father had moved them across the border more than once to pursue work.
Some of his formative years were spent in Toronto.
For several decades after coming to Canada, Stern didn’t devote much attention to politics in his former homeland.
He had the right, like most expatriate Americans, to vote in the state he last lived in, but he rarely bothered.
“What difference does one vote make?” he recalls thinking.
That changed after the U.S. election in 2000, which saw Republican George W. Bush eke out a extremely narrow victory over Al Gore.
It was, quite literally, a matter of a few hundred votes in Florida.
According to some historians, had the Gore campaign asked for a full, statewide recount, he probably would have won by about 100 votes, giving him Florida’s electoral votes and victory in the presidential election.
In the last two elections in the U.S., six congressional seats and one senatorial seat were decided by fewer than 500 votes, according to statistics provided by Democrats Abroad.
Former Saturday Night Live performer Al Franken won election as a senator in Minnesota by just 312 votes, most of them from absentee voters.
The members of Democrats Abroad are determined to keep history from repeating itself in this November’s U.S. election.
Under a new U.S. law passed in 2010, Americans abroad must now re-register for each election.
Democrats Abroad is concentrating on signing up former Americans from the so-called swing states, the ones where either Obama or Romney could eke out a narrow victory.
For the last two weeks in August, the group has been conducting a cross-Canada drive to reach out to the estimated one million former Americans living in Canada – 92,000 of them in B.C.