Locating The People: Non-Resident Enfranchisement and National Identity in a Globalized World

This article uses a debate on non-resident voting to expose unexpected contours in the larger divide between global and local values. The Supreme Court of Canada held in Frank v Canada (Attorney General), 2019 SCC 1 that disenfranchising certain non-residents violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I argue that the opinion is driven by a disagreement on national identity, in which the constitutional status of non-resident voters is emblematic of broader questions on how to treat borders in a globalized world. Non-resident voting offers a compelling case study in how these competing worldviews contrast, but also intermingle in unexpected ways. Thus, the majority cosmopolitan stance is surprisingly patriotic, while the dissent’s call for national sovereignty is bolstered by foreign law.  These insights highlight the nebulous nature of national identity arguments, and offer lessons in bridging the seemingly insurmountable divides in this ongoing debate.