Monday, 4 June 2012

Expatriate Elections

Yesterday, I was fascinated by a BBC story about elections being held for a French député (Member of Parliament) to represent French citizens who live in Northern Europe but outside of France. All of the candidates live in London, as it has the largest French population outside France. The article calls London "the sixth largest French city."

Wow, this is an idea that had never occurred to me: People voting for a parliament so that it could make laws on taxes, hospitals, immigration, and other issues that do not affect those voters. They, instead, would live under the laws of another nation which, most likely, they could not influence by voting. Then there are those people who have dual citizenship, and would be able to vote for both a député in France and an MP in Britain. Their influence through their ballots would be twice as great as their neighbours'.

I thought about the contrast between the French accommodation of its citizens in London and the American disenfranchisement of its citizens in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is not part of the United States, but American federal laws apply to it. People born there are American citizens, but residents of Puerto Rico (wherever they were born) cannot vote in federal elections. Although Puerto Rico has no Congressman or Senator, it does have a "Resident Commissioner" in the House of Representatives. He cannot vote on the floor of the House but can vote on procedural matters and in House Committees. If that were not confusing enough, residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote for the President but could become the President. The constitution requires, though, that a President must have lived in the United States for fourteen years, and time residing in Puerto Rico does not count towards that.

Putting this electoral puzzle to one side, I wondered what it would be like if Canada had a few electoral ridings outside Canada's boundaries. One would need to be in Los Angeles, and probably another in New York. (According to this Wikipedia article, "In the 1980s, Los Angeles had the fourth largest Canadian population of any city in the [sic] North America, with New York close behind."

Still, I cannot imagine a Member of Parliament for Los Angeles standing up to speak in the House of Commons. Even less can I imagine a Prime Minister who represents a seat outside Canada. If he was considered "a non-resident of Canada" for tax purposes, he would not even pay Canadian taxes until he took up his new job in Ottawa! Perhaps the French experiment causes too many border cases and too much confusion for other countries to copy.

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