Guest Column

One step closer, a marathon to go

By Jorge Mújica
February 28, 2005

Mexicans abroad advanced one step further in their long struggle to be able to cast their votes from outside their country. After months of delay, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, equivalent of the US House of Representatives, voted in favor of regulating such vote.
    The right to vote from abroad was approved in 1988, but the mechanism to cast such votes was never implemented, nullifying in reality the rights written in the books.
    But the vote in favor by 391 Deputies (only 5 voted against and 22 abstained,) does not represent a victory. The bill still has to be approved in the Senate, and such approval does not seem easy. The first reaction of several Senators affiliated with Vicente Fox’s National Action Party, stated that the approval, while urgent, should not be rushed. Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, PAN leader in the Senate, stated that “we can not run the risk of losing what we have being able to advance in México in terms of transparency and security in the process of voting.”
    His colleague, Senate Vice President César Jáuregui went eve further: “This issue should not become a conflict. Maybe it will be better to implement the vote from abroad in 2009.” Evidently Jáuregui does not even know the content of the bill approved by the Diputados, which only allows for Mexicans abroad to vote in presidential elections, which will not happen in 2009 but in 2012.
    Even the leader of the leftist PRD in the Senate, Jesús Ortega, said, “the issue should be examined under a magnifying glass, specially those aspects related to public financing.”
    PRI Senator Silvia Hernández expressed her doubts about financing the “infrastructure of implementing the vote from abroad. I still don’t see any good source for the money to pay for the expense.” According to the IFE, voting from abroad could cost anything from 700 million to 3 billion dollars.
    If approved by the Senate, up to 11 million Mexicans in the United States would have the right to cast their vote. That does not necessarily means they will be able to do it. The bill establishes the opening of “voting centers” for as many as 15,000 Mexican citizens, internally divided in polling places, one for each 750 voters. It leaves the decision of where to open these centers to the Federal Electoral Institute, IFE, giving only a vague idea regarding “cities where there are more than 15,000 Mexican citizens.”
    According to some activists, such centers could be opened in 30 to 35 cities across the United States, leaving millions of Mexicans citizens far away from the actual place to cast their vote. “While it would be possible to open voting centers in Chicago and Indianapolis,” they say, “up to half a million Mexicans living between the two cities or alongside the Mississippi would have to travel for up to eight hours to get to a voting center.”
    Another issue is the lack of voting cards among Mexicans abroad. The long history of electoral frauds in Mexico led to the crating of a “super secure” voting card with 11 safety features, including holograms and magnetic bands that make them difficult to forge, but also difficult to obtain. In México, after a citizen requests the card, there is a 60-day waiting period until the card is issued. Only some 3 million Mexicans in the United States have such credential.
    While the bill allows for the issuance of credentials, it has taken the 47 Mexican consulates in the United States four years to issue less than three million Matrículas, the popular Mexican ID for those living abroad. It is not likely that the IFE would be able to issue millions of voting credentials in less than a year.
    Campaigning abroad is another sticky issue. The bill only allows for campaign materials to be broadcasted in “Mexican owned companies with affiliated stations in the United States”. This eliminates Univision and Telemundo, the two Spanish language TV chains, as well as most radio stations and even most of the Spanish language newspapers.
    In places like Los Angeles it is possible to listen to several Mexican radio stations, but cities like
Chicago would be completely out of reach for any party seeking the votes of Mexicans.
    All in all, even providing that the Senate approves the voting mechanism for Mexicans abroad to participate in the 2006 presidential elections, it is likely that only a couple million would be able to cast their vote. That was exactly the difference between the winner Vicente Fox in the 2000 election against the traditional PRI candidate Francisco Labastida. Since the migrant’s vote is not likely to be a block in favor of any particular party, it is also evident that their power will be diluted. In the end, migrants would not be able to influence Mexican politics as they hoped for.

_______________________________________________

Jorge Mújica can be contacted at: JMujicaM@aol.com