November 4, 2005

Low interest in Mexican vote by mail

Few registration forms being distributed

By José A. Álvarez

Aside from the Mexican Consulate, in San Diego, Maria Curry is the only other person distributing forms to Mexicans in the region who wish to register to vote in next year’s Mexican presidential election. However, two weeks and 550 forms later, Curry, a member of the Red México-Americana de San Diego (Mexican-American Association of San Diego) said she is giving up.

“It’s a farce,” said Curry, referring to the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute’s (IFE) efforts to register Mexicans living abroad to vote in the July 2006 presidential election. “There’s no information coming from Mexico…If the people are not informed, how are they supposed to vote?”

Curry and her Red, a newly created organization that is not yet registered yet, wanted to encourage Mexican people in the San Diego area to register to vote. Encouraged by fact that Mexicans abroad would be able to vote for the first time, Curry went to Tijuana, picked up 600 forms, and began to distribute in supermarkets, bakeries, and other locations in Logan Heights and other communities. When representatives from the IFE contacted her two weeks ago, Curry went through the certification process that would allow her to distribute 3,000 additional forms.

The forms are ready to be picked up at the Mexican Consulate in San Diego and that’s where they will stay.

“I will be sending the IFE an email letting them know I won’t be picking them up. It’s a waste of my time and energy,” said Curry, adding that the way the IFE is promoting the vote abroad is “shameful.”

Three months ago, the IFE established a special commission that would be in charge of informing Mexicans living abroad about their right to vote and the process to do it. The first step was to make the application forms available throughout Mexican consulates and embassies around the world, a process that began October 1 and will go on until January 15, 2006.

A media campaign encouraging Mexicans to register to vote followed and includes radio, television and newspaper ads. The campaign even includes the participation of popular singing artists such as Los Tigres del Norte and Ramón Ayala. However, the message appears to be falling on deaf ears.

According to figures provided by the IFE, more than 2 million forms available worldwide. As of October 28, however, the Mexican consulates had only distributed 132,513 forms. An additional 3,855 forms were obtained from the IFE’s web site at www.ife.org .mx. The Mexican Consulate in San Diego received 27,550 registration forms of which only 860 had been distributed.

The low interest is not surprising to Dr. Todd Eisenstadt, a visiting fellow at the Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies at the University of California-San Diego and a political science professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

“The media anticipated a greater response… (But) It’s not going to be a big deal even when all the votes are in,” said Eisenstadt, a Mexican politics expert. “It’s a positive thing but not as important as it’s being depicted. The effect on the election will not be great.”

The problem, Eisenstadt pointed out, is that absentee voters from countries that allow their citizens to vote from abroad tend to vote in very low numbers, usually fewer about 10 percent. It is estimated that of the more than 11 million Mexicans living abroad, only 4 million possess a voter identification card, a requirement that leaves out millions of potential Mexican voters, who reside in the U.S. illegally. For Mexico, this could mean that about 400,000 votes would be cast in the 2006 election.

According to Eisenstadt, more interest could be generated if the election was more heavily publicized and the parties were allowed to campaign in the U.S. However, he indicated, while access to the ballots is not easy, “people who really want to vote will do it.”

The IFE also said it would request the help of organizations and coalitions in the distribution of forms. So far, 47 organizations from around the world —most of them in the U.S.—have been approved by the IFE and have been provided 55,200 applications for them to distribute. Those organizations wishing to participate can contact the IFE by email at cove@ife.org.mx.

After waiting for about three weeks, Christian Ramirez from American Friends Service Committee, an immigrants’ rights organization, was finally able to set up a meeting with an IFE representative to discuss his organization’s desire to help out. A meeting was scheduled to take place last week, but the IFE representative fell ill and the meeting had to be cancelled. He is still waiting to get his hands on the registration forms.

“The information is not there…There hasn’t been a plan of action from the IFE. They just keep passing the ball,” said Ramirez, who believes the meetings with community organizations should have taken place before the distribution of forms began. “It’s the IFE’s responsibility to make sure the information is available…The parties should also be advocating for an easier process and that has not happened.”

What is happening is that organizations have already begun to hear complaints about forms that were returned by the IFE.

“We’re already hearing cases of people whose forms were returned because they were not sent by certified mail,” said Curry. “The IFE’s bureaucracy is horrible.”

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