By José A. Álvarez
A week ago, one million application forms arrived at Mexican Consulates and Foreign Embassies in the United States and other countries. The forms are to be used by Mexicans living abroad who want to register to vote by mail in the 2006 Mexican presidential election.
Claudio Quiñonez and his wife Maria, from Taxco, Guerrero, knew the forms were available at the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, but they did not pick one up. That’s because in order for Mexicans abroad to be able to vote, they must have a voter identification card. The couple does not have a card and since they cannot be obtained by mail, the Quiñonez say they will not vote.
“We would like to vote, but we’re not going to risk going to Mexico to get the (voter identification) card,” said Maria Quiñonez, while having lunch in her truck with her husband and her two children outside the Mexican Consulate in San Diego. The couple has been living in the United States for several years, but is just in the process of legalizing their immigration status.
“We’ve been living here for many years. It would be too risky for us,” added Claudio Quiñonez.
About two months ago, the Federal Election Institute (IFE, in Spanish) 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, not just in the U.S., but also in other continents such as Asia, South America, and Africa.
The IFE also announced that every 15 days, an inventory would be taken to decide whether more applications were needed. The form can also be obtained by logging to the IFE’s internet site at www.ife.org.mx.
However, it appears that Mexican officials are not anticipating a high voter turnout abroad. An estimated 11 million Mexicans live in cities throughout the world98 percent in the U.S., yet the IFE only distributed 1 million applications; perhaps an indication they are expecting that about 10 million Mexicans will not vote.
They might be right. A recent study by the Colegio de la Frontera Norte estimates that, by next year, there will be more than 4 million Mexicans living abroad who possess a voter identification card. Furthermore, studies conducted on other countries that allow their citizens to vote from abroad indicate that, on average, only about 10 percent vote. For Mexico, this could mean that about 400,000 votes would be cast in the 2006 election.
According to a survey by Votomex Solutions, a Mexican polling company, “in Southern California, 68 percent of the Mexicans surveyed have no intention of voting; 73 percent do not know of the new law that allows them to vote, and 18 percent do not know much about the parties they could vote for.”
Another reason for the expected low voter turnout, some say, is that the process for Mexicans to be able to vote by mail is so restrictive few will do it.
“Voting rights should be universal and should not be restrictive,” said Christian Ramírez, from American Friends Service Committee, an immigrants’ rights organization. “The right to vote should be given without any conditions.” Ramirez, who is a Mexican citizen, said he will go to Tijuana to get his voting identification card so that “I can experience how difficult or easy the process really is.”
In September, the Mexican Congress approved 20 restrictions that would cancel a Mexican’s right to be included in the list of voters by mail. Among them:
· The application must be sent by certified mail between October 1, 2005 and January 15, 2006 and received before February 15, 2006.
· All applications must be mailed one per envelope at a cost of about $9 per person.
· All applications must include a copy of their voter identification card, which cannot be obtained by mail.
· All applicants must provide proof of address (gas, electric, or phone bill, etc.) and it cannot be a P.O. Box.
“They want you to vote, but they block you from doing it,” said Rafael, who did not want to give his last name. The San Diego area resident said he does not have a voter identification card but that since he has dual nationality he could go to Tijuana and get one. But he will not do it.
“It’s too complicated. Besides, I would be spending hours crossing the border and waiting for it to be processed,” said Rafael, adding that he is also not willing to spend $9 to mail the application and that an easier way for people to vote would be to let them do it at the Mexican consulates or embassies.
Zeke Hernandez, President of the Santa Ana chapter of the League of United Latina American Citizens (LULAC), one of the organizations that pushed for Mexicans to be able to vote from abroad, said that voters should have been allowed to use their Matrícula Consular (Mexican identification card) to cast their vote.
“This is going to disenfranchise a lot of voters that have a stake in the election,” said Hernandez, adding that he is going to ask national representatives of LULAC to push for revisions to the law and eliminate some restrictions, especially since so many Mexicans already don’t trust the electoral process. “This just doesn’t do it. It’s not inclusive.”
Last week, representatives of the IFE also announced that a media campaign to make the voting process known would also take place. They also stated that they would begin “conducting events together with community organizations.” Through their website, the IFE is also asking community organizations willing to help with the distribution of applications to contact the IFE via email at email@example.com.
This is news to Hernandez and Ramirez who said the IFE had not gotten in touch with them.
“They have not contacted us here in Orange County and we have a good relationship with the IME,” said Hernandez, who was under the impression that the Mexican Consulates would be responsible for getting the word out. The IME or Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior (Institute for Mexicans Abroad) was established to “collect proposals and recommendations” that would help improve the quality of life of Mexican communities abroad.
A spokeswoman for the Mexican Consulate in San Diego said the “Consulate will only serve as an intermediary and distribute the forms” and that they were not responsible for getting the word out.
Both Ramirez and Hernandez said their organizations would help distribute information if and when it is made available to them.
Those Mexican voters who chose to fill out an application and go through the voting process can expect the following to take place: Beginning April 15 and until May 20, 2006, the IFE will send their ballot, together with literature on the different parties, and postage paid envelop for them to return their ballot once they cast their vote. The IFE must receive the ballots before July 1, 2006.