Mexicans in US gain voting clout
President Fox is expected to sign into law this week a new bill that lets citizens living in the US vote by mail.
An estimated 10 million Mexicans in the US - dual citizens, visa holders, and undocumented workers alike - will finally have a political voice back home. This week, Mexico's Congress allowed nationals living abroad to vote in elections by absentee ballot. Previously, Mexicans overseas could vote only if they came home to cast their ballots in person - a trip many found expensive or, in the case of those residing in the US illegally, too risky to make.Skip to next paragraph
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On Tuesday, however, Congress voted 455 to 6 to set up the mechanisms and rules for absentee balloting. President Vicente Fox is expected to sign the bill into law this week, allowing it to take effect just in time for the July 2006 presidential election.
Registered voters will have until Jan. 15, 2006, to solicit ballots by sending a letter to the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE)with a copy of their voter registry card, their address abroad, and signature. Those found eligible will be sent ballots to their addresses in the US before May 15, 2006, and any ballot received back at IFE up to 48 hours before Election Day - July 2 - will be counted. The cost of the project: an estimated 1.36 billion pesos, or $126.3 million.
"Twenty years ago they called us 'gringos' and said, 'You left, so don't meddle,'" Jorge Mújica Murias, a dual citizen who grew up in Mexico City and has been living in Chicago for 17 years, told the Monitor by phone. "Now, they are finally beginning to give us what we deserve."
The bill was hailed by migrant activists in the US as a sign of a maturing democracy in Mexico, and of the growing recognition of the importance of this long-dismissed community, who send more than $15 billion back to Mexico each year in remittances.
Mr. Fox, in a statement, called the law a "historic deed," and his foreign secretary, Luís Ernesto Derbez, speaking to the press, said that the newly enfranchised voters would "make the fundamental difference" in the upcoming elections. Nearly 70 other countries, including Haiti, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, already allow absentee voting.
But, even as supporters of the bill danced and waved flags outside Congress Tuesday, others were more circumspect, applauding the general sentiment but finding fault with the fine print, such as the decision to use the postal system in a country notorious for its slow and inefficient service; the ban on campaigning overseas, where Mexican expatriates are hungry for information; and the decision that only those already registered to vote would be eligible.
"Those voters better start sending in their preferences tomorrow," says Jaime Vazquez, busy arranging a package to ship to his family in Montana via, tellingly, a private courier. Mr. Vazquez says he has no confidence in the normal Mexican mail and has "no idea" what Congress is thinking by suggesting it play such a star role in the presidential election. "I don't even send Christmas cards by regular mail anymore," he says. "Because they would get there in March."
An earlier plan to set up ballot boxes at embassies and consulates was pronounced too complicated, and scrapped.