By Kent Paterson
On Tuesday, February 5, Democrats in the US states having presidential primaries or caucuses won’t be alone in helping select their candidate for the 2008 fall face-off with the Republicans. In Mexico and other foreign nations, US citizens abroad will also have an opportunity to cast ballots for their standard-bearer. Organized by Democrats Abroad, the Mexico primary will help choose 22 foreign-based delegates who will participate in the Democrat’s 2008 nominating convention. A part of the Democratic Global Primary for US citizens abroad, the Mexico primary is scheduled to run between February 5 and 12. Other Latin American countries where the primary will take place include Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
In an e-mail interview with Frontera NorteSur, Nancy Evans, Mexico representative for Democrats Abroad, said the US immigrant community was showing an “overwhelmingly positive” response to the electoral initiative.
“The first ever Global Primary put on by Democrats Abroad-International allows each and every one of us to have an impact upon the candidates who are running for US president on the Democratic Party ticket,” Evans said.
“The global primary is not merely a ‘straw vote’ or a ‘beauty contest,’ it’s a way to express our US presidential candidate preference. The concept of one person =1 vote is truly in play here.”
Starting on Super Tuesday, the Mexican primary will allow expatriates and other US citizens abroad the opportunity to cast ballots via the Internet and fax. For the first time, polling stations, or voting centers, for US citizens are scheduled to open on February 5 in and around Puerto Vallarta, Lake Chapala, San Miguel Allende and Mexico City, all areas with high concentrations of US immigrants. Evans said any US citizen who will be 18 years of age or older on November 4, 2008, is eligible to participate in the primary.
According to primary rules, prospective voters can register on-site at one of the voting centers but must provide an acceptable picture identification. Additionally, each voter will be asked to sign a declaration foreswearing participation in any other US primary or caucus.
Evans framed Super Tuesday south of the border as a concrete way for expatriates to overcome the sense of powerlessness they feel about their ability to influence the US political system. Expatriates care deeply about developments in their native land, she said, but “don’t feel they have much impact on the political process from hundreds of miles away.”
According to the Democratic Party activist, she’s received complaints from US citizens about not receiving requested absentee ballots on time or at all during previous elections.
“It’s a really fascinating development in the nature of US politics and how they are affected by globalization,” said Dr. Sheila Croucher, professor of political science at Ohio’s Miami University. “This is a unique circumstance because the Democratic National Committee treats Democrats abroad as a 51st state.”
The author of a forthcoming book from the University of Texas Press about US immigrants in Mexico, Croucher called the Mexico primary an example of the “political transnationalism” of the times. She cited both the 2008 US Democratic primary in Mexico and the 2006 Mexican presidential election in the US as indicators of this trend.
Although widely-criticized for its costly price-tag but ultimately low degree of voter participation, the 2006 Mexican presidential election allowed Mexican immigrants residing in the United States to cast absentee ballots in a presidential election back home for the first time. On an ongoing basis, all three of Mexico’s major political parties maintain offices and representatives in the United States.
In a phone interview with Frontera NorteSur, Croucher challenged the issue of “dual allegiance” expressed by critics of expatriate voting, whether in Mexico or in the US. The Ohio professor criticized the “potential hypocrisy” of politicians critical of Mexican nationals who vote in Mexican presidential elections from the US while US citizens cast ballots in US presidential races from Mexico.
Both Croucher and Evans concurred that US-born residents of Mexico are concerned about issues including the Iraq war, impeachment, Medicare and taxes. Many expatriates want Medicare payments, a system which they have paid into all their lives, extended to Mexican doctors and hospitals.
Another hot topic is taxation. “Many people complain that the US is one of the few developed countries that levies taxes based on citizenship and not residence,” Croucher said.
Though virtually ignored by the US media, the Democratic primary in Mexico has received some nods of attention from the party’s presidential aspirants. According to Croucher, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who dropped out of the race last month, made a phone call to a Democrats Abroad regional meeting in Mexico City last October. Hillary Clinton’s campaign sent a video to the same meeting, Croucher said. Other candidates have e-mailed answers to policy questions from Democrats Abroad, she added.
It’s still a hard guess how many US-born immigrants currently reside in Mexico, but some estimates put the number at one million-strong. The US Census Bureau does not count US citizens in Mexico or other countries, and US Department of State does not make public its own calculations based on security reasons.
`Depending on the closeness of Tuesday’s election results, the Mexico primary could end up being a surprising factor in choosing the Democrats’ 2008 candidate. “We hope, in fact, that Democrats Abroad members voting as a bloc worldwide will have a major impact as “the 51st state upon the US presidential candidates and make our presence felt at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado in August 2008,” Evans affirmed.
For Croucher, the Democrats’ Global Primary is a watershed in modern politics. The event, she noted, “steps up institutionalization of (expatriate) voices and involvement in the American political system from abroad.”