Mexicans Leave Voting Rights at Border Politics Stall Absentee Ballot Measure as Clock Ticks Down

Article excerpt

Byline: Sara Burnett Daily Herald Staff Writer

In 1994, more than 3,200 area Mexicans went to a polling place in Chicago to cast a ballot for Mexican president.

Six years later, the number more than tripled, topping 10,000 voters.

Just imagine how many people would turn out if their votes actually counted, local activist Jorge Mujica says.

"They came, knowing that their vote wouldn't be valid and it wouldn't count," said Mujica, one of several volunteers who organized the mock elections. "It is an opinion. Even if our vote doesn't count, our opinion counts."

Though the Mexican Constitution allows absentee voting, lawmakers have never approved a means to distribute and collect ballots from people outside the country.

In coming weeks, however, that could change.

Mexicans living in the United States - who provide more money for their homeland than any other source except oil - have been lobbying in Mexico City for several years for the right to cast an absentee ballot.

"We send $17 billion a year to that country," said Roberto Ramirez, a St. Charles business owner and member of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, which has pushed the proposal. "I think we have something to say."

But the clock is ticking.

Late last month, the Mexican Senate approved a measure that would let registered Mexican voters who request a ballot between October and January vote by mail from outside the country. The proposal - which would allow an estimated 4 million Mexicans in the United States to cast ballots - was a more restrictive version of one approved in February by Mexico's equivalent of the House of Representatives.

That plan would have let any of the roughly 10 million registered voters who live in the United States cast ballots at polling places. It also would have allowed Mexican candidates to campaign in the United States and other countries.

Senators rejected that plan, saying it would cost too much to staff polling places, would open the possibility of massive immigration sweeps by American law enforcement, and could create anti-Mexican sentiment.

Now the Senate proposal must go back to the House, where it must be approved by June 30 in order to be in effect for the July 2006 election.

Miss the deadline, and it's likely Mexicans won't have a chance at absentee voting again until 2012 - the next presidential election. But there are two problems: The measure faces opposition in the House, and the legislative session ended Friday. …