Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexicans in US Could Get New Election Clout ; Mexico's Congress Is Weighing Several Initiatives That Would Allow Absentee Voting for Emigrants

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexicans in US Could Get New Election Clout ; Mexico's Congress Is Weighing Several Initiatives That Would Allow Absentee Voting for Emigrants

Article excerpt

In a testament to the economic and political muscle of Mexicans north of the border, their government has put on the front burner an initiative to allow them to send votes home. The measure, expected to be in place by Mexico's 2006 presidential election, would give Mexicans abroad, most of them living in the United States, a powerful lever for influencing who runs their country - and could change the shape of future elections here.

Unlike the US, Mexico lacks a provision for absentee voting. Mexican law requires that votes be cast within the country's borders. This keeps many emigres from voting: Their lack of documentation make the border crossing too risky.

The fuse for the absentee-ballot system was lighted in 1996, when the idea was approved by the Mexican Congress. But nothing has happened since. Mexican politicians, namely those from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which lorded over politics for seven decades, were cool to the remote vote. They buried the issue largely because they saw the migrant vote benefiting opposition parties, especially the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), says Leticia Calderon, a researcher at Mexico City's Mora Institute who has studied the initiative.

This dawdling left most emigres unable to cast ballots in the historic 2000 presidential election, when Vicente Fox won the presidency and ousted the PRI.

Now, the idea of granting Mexicans abroad a political voice is tough to ignore. Last year, Mexicans in the US sent $13.3 billion to their families back home, making remittances the country's largest source of foreign investment. A chunk of the remittances, what some Mexicans in the US dub their "poverty tax," supports hometown projects that local governments aren't funding.

"We may live in the US, but we own houses in Mexico, have family there, send money home," says Jose Jacques Medina, a Mexican community organizer based in Los Angeles. "We need to work as one country and build the binational concept."

Mexico's Congress will weigh several proposals, but the version pushed by the Fox government is favored to pass. It requires immigrants in the US to show an election card to a Mexican official, at a consulate for example, or prove dual nationality. Critics of the setup say it would exclude about 7 million of the estimated 10 million Mexicans who live in the US but lack the proper paperwork.

"People will be left out because of bureaucracy," says Mr. Medina. "We need to push all the way so that every Mexican can vote, not just a percentage." He says that the 45 Mexican consulates in the US could help Mexicans register.

Medina, along with some major Mexican organizations like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in California, says that Mexicans should be able to vote for Congress as well, not just for the president. …

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