Absentee Mexican Voters Rise by Nearly Half Since Last Election

PHOENIX — Luis Avila, a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Mexico to Arizona, plans to visit his home country on July 1 to cast his vote for the Mexican presidential election.

“Mexicans who live in the exterior also get impacted by Mexican politics,” said Avila, who added that he has friends that have been kidnapped in the midst of drug-related violence, which has plagued the country in the past 6 years.

But even though Mexican voting laws were reformed in 2005 to allow an estimated 4 million potential Mexican adults to vote from abroad, Avila still had to travel to Mexico to apply for a mandatory voter-registration card, which can only be obtained within the country, according to election rules.

That has been the main point of critique for Mexican expatriates who wish to vote in the presidential election. Because of the inconvenient process of getting his card, which is issued by Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute — or IFE as it’s known for its Spanish acronym — Avila missed the January deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot so he could vote from his current residence in Phoenix, he said.

“That’s typical Mexican bureaucracy,” said Jaime Aguila, a professor of U.S.-Mexico relations at Arizona State University. “The democratic process is purposely slow and tedious.”

Aguila, an expert in Mexican politics, said that many expats want Mexico’s government to reform the law again to allow citizens to go through the process of obtaining the voter ID outside the country. Doing so could raise the number of eligible voters, he added.

In comparison, for the 2010 Colombian presidential elections the country’s nationals living abroad could not only vote in their elections at polls located in the U.S., but they could also apply for their national identification cards from abroad, enabling them to become eligible voters.

Dalia Moreno, the coordinator for the Mexicans voting abroad program, said there isn’t much election officials can do to help citizens living abroad without voter IDs until there is enough political will in Mexico’s Congress to reform the law.

“The political forces in Mexico’s Congress will need to find a solution to solve the problem so Mexicans living abroad can obtain that certain credential,” she said. “But a lot of aspects need to be changed in the (electoral) law… so that could happen.”

Even so, IFE’s figures show the number of Mexican expatriates registered to vote in this year’s election increased by nearly half from 2006 – from 40,876 to 59,044 — the first year citizens were allowed to vote from outside the country.

Most of those who are voting from abroad applied for voter IDs when they lived in Mexico, but for those who didn’t, probably millions in the U.S. alone, current regulations close off the opportunity to vote, Aguila suggested.

“It’s not like we go to Mexico once a week,” said Avila, who lives about a three-hour drive from the border.

Still, mail-in ballots are expected from 112 countries, some as far-flung as Italy. The U.S. has the majority of Mexican registered voters with 45,478, according to IFE figures.

In 2006, 32,632 Mexicans voted from abroad, but election officials predict that number will go up this year considering the rise in inquiries from 2006.

Aguila, the Arizona State professor, said that with millions of Mexican citizens living outside of Mexico compared to those who are actually registered to vote, which is only in the thousands, the number is way too small to make a significant impact in the elections.

But he added that the international voter outreach initiative is “without a doubt” part of a bigger picture of bettering both U.S. and Mexico’s government relations.

Aguila explained that if both countries already have economical ties, the Mexican expat voter program could only strengthen the relationship between both governments by giving a duo-political voice to Mexican migrants who are also eligible Mexican voters.

There are approximately 80 million registered voters within Mexico. Currently, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, Mexico’s right-of-center party, leads in polls over Josefina Vázquez Mota of the incumbent PAN, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD, and Gabriel Quadri de la Torre of the PNA, one of Mexico’s newest political parties.

The date for IFE cardholders to register for an absentee ballot has passed, and election officials started mailing election materials to voters abroad in April. Ballots must be mailed back to Mexico by June 30 to be counted in the election.

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