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Will Migrants Matter in the Mexican Election?

Posted: Jan 04, 2012

The clock is ticking as the registration deadline fast approaches for Mexican expatriates to vote in their country of origin’s presidential election this year. Although Mexican election officials are confident a late rush of applications will mean greater absentee participation than in the 2006 election, preliminary reports of the number of applications received indicate few expatriates will vote in the 2012 race.

According to Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), 14, 776 voter registration applications had been received as of December 20. That’s out of a potential voter pool of an estimated four million migrants. Opened in October, the registration window for Mexicans living abroad closes on January 15-more than four months before the July election.

The vast majority of the applications processed have been from the United States, while others have trickled in from Canada, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom and other countries. In the 2006 election, 33,000 Mexicans abroad voted by mail. Typically, election authorities also install special precincts in border cities, tourist towns and bus stations for out-of-district voters.

In a final push to rack up migrant registrations, IFE officials used Mexican embassies and consulates abroad and media spots in the United States to convince more of their countrymen to register in time.

In comments made before just before the Christmas break, IFE President Leonardo Valdes called on Mexicans who have relatives abroad to talk to their respective family members about the election. “The consolidation of democracy in the country and its institutions counts on the participation of the Mexicans who left in search of better living conditions,” Valdes said in Mexico City.

In order to vote in this year’s presidential election, U.S.-based migrants must complete paperwork and return it to an IFE post office box in Laredo, Texas. If the packet is sent by United States Postal Service priority mail, the Mexican government will pick up the tab.

Once a registration is approved, the successful applicant will receive a paper ballot in the mail sometime between April 16 and May 20. The deadline for mailing back the ballot is next June 30. Federal election officials insist the vote will be secret and confidential. Migrants who choose this method of voting will be able to vote only for president and not congressional representatives, who are also up for election in 2012.

Nonetheless, the migrant vote won’t be completely confined to the presidential contest. For the first time, migrants having a Mexico City address on their federal voter identification card, which also bears a photo, will be permitted to vote for the city’s next mayor. In view of the capital city’s population and economic clout, some analysts consider the Mexico City mayor the second most powerful political position in the country,

Under the slogan “Your Election has no Borders-Vote Chilango,” the Federal District Electoral Institute has embarked on a promotional campaign of its own.

However, controversy has accompanied the process. In November three political parties-the PRI, Mexican Green Party and PAN-filed two separate challenges, mainly over earlier plans to allow electronic voting by means of the Internet. According to the official website dedicated to the Mexico City election, voting will be conducted by mail, with the same registration deadline as the federal election. Migrants voting for Mexico City mayor will be required to vote for president by the same method, as their names will be temporarily withdrawn from the in-country voter list.

Like the federal registration process, the one underway in Mexico City is drawing the most response from migrants in the United States, though the Mexican media reports applications also arriving from Canada, Europe, Brazil, Argentina, China, and Australia.

In recent years, Mexico’s different political actors have accorded greater recognition to the potential importance of the Other Mexico in fashioning the country’s future. Since 2007, migrants from the southwestern state of Michoacan have been allowed to cast ballots from abroad in state elections.

But like the 2006 presidential election, participation in last November’s controversial state election was disappointing. Merely 341 votes from Michoacan residents abroad were tallied, compared with 2007’s slightly higher but still paltry total of 349. The majority of last year’s migrant votes went to losing PAN gubernatorial candidate Maria “Cocoa” Calderon, the sister of President Felipe Calderon.

Some press stories noted that each vote cost about $4,000 in total government expenditures, but one local election official justified the public expense by citing the importance of migrant remittances to the local economy, which represented a cash infusion of $1.1 billion in 2010 alone.

“The people from Michoacan who live across the border, who now reside in the United States but maintain ties with their family members and because of this send money every year, are interested in political life and want to participate and be taken into account,” argued Rodolfo Farias Rodriguez, council member of the Michoacan State Electoral Institute. “But the conditions do not exist for them to do it in a massive way.”

According to Farias, the little participation from across the border has been largely confined to migrants who have their U.S. residency papers in order. He suggested that the high cost of migrant mail-in voting could be curbed by instituting electronic voting.

Historically, demands that Mexican expatriates have a say in their home country’s affairs have periodically resounded on the political scene. But various analysts have offered a smorgasboard of explanations why few migrants have participated in the electoral processes in which they have had the opportunity to do so since 2006. Different factors including red tape, lack of information, short registration periods, apathy, general distrust of politicians and political parties, and a growing disconnection to events in the home country have all been identified as dampening broader political participation.

Additional sources: La Opinion (Los Angeles), December 27, 2011. Article by Gardenia Mendoza. El Universal, November 20, 2011. La Jornada, November 6 and 8, 2011. Articles by Angel Bolanos Sanchez and Alonso Urrutia.

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