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Americans in Simcoe County look south with mix of fear and hope

'America has totally lost its way. It’s a mess,' says American-born citizen who is now a local resident

For some, democracy itself is on the ballot during this year’s U.S. federal election.

And as the Nov. 3 election day nears, Americans living in Simcoe County are trying to ensure their voices are being heard by registering their vote early.

“It’s been a challenging four years, watching what’s gone on,” said Kevin Gangloff, a U.S. citizen and permanent Canadian resident living in Orillia. “In that proverbial cauldron, it’s all bubbled over at this point in terms of everything from the economy to race-related issues and all those issues. But when you start to look at it a bit deeper, those pieces have always been there.”

In the U.S., current tensions are often seen as being exacerbated by the sitting president, Donald Trump. That is further complicated by the pandemic. With more than 8 million cases of COVID-19 and 222,000 deaths, the U.S. claims more infections than any other country.

For Canadians and other observers around the world, the situation south of the border can seem disturbing. For some Americans living here, it can be somewhat alarming.

THE LONE STAR STATE

“My personal vote, I think, is going to be more relevant than it’s ever been in the state of Texas,” said Ray Dillard, a music producer and performer living in Springwater Township adjacent to Barrie.

The Lone Star State with its massive population carries a great deal of weight in the electoral college voting system and can serve as a swing state. So Dillard feels his vote may be the most important one he has ever cast.

Dillard has been a dual citizen since the U.S. allowed that possibility starting in 1996. Raised on the panhandle of Texas, he first started coming to Canada in 1979 for work. One year he logged 39 trips to Canada while with a percussion ensemble in Toronto.

He initially moved to Toronto with his Springwater Township-born wife, who he met in the U.S., eventually making it back up to her Simcoe County homestead nearly seven years ago.

“All through this entire period I was voting,” he said. “The sad reality for me … is that I was voting in a very, very Republican directed state.

“It’s become clear Texas is not as deeply swayed as it used to be. The percentage difference between Republicans and Democrats is far closer than it’s ever been in the history of that state.”

The significance is that it’s one of the largest “battleground states” with 38 electoral college votes.

In a tight election, he observes, whoever wins Texas, could win the election.

And he’s seeing an ever widening divide in the U.S. that threatens what he’s grown up to believe. 

“(There’s a) slight disrespect for science” and realization of human-caused problems along with “a general disregard for thinking universally” and a blatant disregard of humanity’s uniqueness,” he said.

And he feels this election is going to determine the future of the country and democracy.

The U.S., he adds, is no longer the world leader it had been when it emerged from the Second World War helping other nations rebuild.

“It was incredibly respectful” in its efforts.” but there’s been a dramatic change. “The world has noticed and is noticing.”

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Jonathon Peterson may not be in Illinois anymore, but he’s not taking his vote for granted.

As a permanent resident of Canada living in Barrie the last three years, Peterson looks southward with sadness. And although the election isn’t for another couple of weeks, Peterson has already cast his vote.

“This election is super important. With the way President Trump has been handling the last four years it’s been a complete disaster,” said the downtown resident whose wife was raised in Simcoe County. “He has no grasp on how to run a country.

“It’s upsetting, honestly.”

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the Democratic president and vice-president hopefuls, on the other hand, seem to speak to him. 

Peterson is unabashedly a Democrat, breaking ranks, along with his brother, from the staunch Republican leanings of his family. Politics is not a favoured topic of discussion during Peterson reunions.

“For as many problems the prime minister has had going on with the We scandal and everything like that, in a united country, under common sense with the physical distancing and the mask, you see a lot more unification up here to, for example, get the Coronavirus under control than Trump who has been a conspiracy theorist almost," Peterson said.

He points to Trump’s approach on the world pandemic, which was not deterred when he himself contracted COVID-19 and spread it to many others.

And that approach has bred a similar attitude with many Americans not following established safety protocols.

“Canada has less cases total than the U.S. has had deaths since the virus has started,” said Peterson. “It’s staggering to me.

“It’s maddening to think that one person can cause so much division in a country rather than trying to unite it under a common goal.”

Peterson, like so many others, was shocked when Trump won the election in 2016 but he’s hopeful that Trump won’t see success this time around.

Through news coverage, Peterson senses that the typical Red States are trending more Democratic this year.

“This president has had more scandals in a four-year period than I believe any president in modern history,” he said. “It’s turned a lot of people off and you can see that in the polls.

“I can only hope America has seen the error of its ways.”

He hopes Biden’s election will correct some of those errors and help bring the nation back on track, particularly during the critical first 100 days as president to counteract some of Trump’s measures.

“I'm really hopeful he can get a lot of stuff done. Because the States is in an absolute mess right now.”

THE RELCOUNT STATE

James Miller can only shake his head because he’s had no luck registering his vote in Florida, which the New York Times calls the Recount state. 

In a fairly straightforward procedure, the former Toronto businessman who retired in Penetanguishene and winters in Florida registered to vote and waited with anticipation for his ballot to arrive via email. But it never did and Miller isn’t confident it ever will, given reports of voting issues in Pinellas County where he votes.

In fact, voting concerns in the U.S. election have already surfaced. An investigation by USA Today and Columbia Journalism predicts that absentee ballot rejections are expected to reach historic levels during this year’s U.S. federal election.

If half of the nation votes by mail, the news organizations say at least 1.03 million absentee ballots could be tossed.

Miller was raised in Canada to American citizens as a dual citizen and regularly celebrated significant holidays in the U.S., where he also lived for a year. He came from a family of Republicans on one side and Democrats on another, and Miller did lean Republican, but he hasn’t strictly adhered to any party lines in Canada or the U.S.

“John McCain was the last Republican I voted for, the last Republican who I would really call a Republican,” he said. “There’s no Republican Party anymore, they’re not Conservative like you and I know Conservative. I guess I’m a Democrat now. I think Biden, considering what’s happened, he’s a fine choice.

“America has totally lost its way. It’s a mess.”

BACKUP PLAN

Springwater’s Dillard, in fact, feels so strongly that he’s initiated family discussions about what they might do if they’re uncomfortable with the next government that is formed. Although he and his wife live here, their three children and two great grandchildren live in the U.S. - and they're all equipped with dual citizenships. 

That means they have options that other Americans typically don’t have and can come to Canada if they’re unhappy with the political climate in the U.S. following the election.

Gangloff hopes for change but isn’t convinced it will  be sweeping. And he’s concerned that Trump mollified his base by suggesting that if he loses, it would only be as a result of a rigged vote.

“It’s an interesting time and I do hope we see some change because Trumpism isn’t the way we need to work in the world. It will be an interesting next couple of weeks.”




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