Absentee ballots allow Mexicans in Minnesota to voteby Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
Mexico will elect a new president Sunday, and for the first time ever, Mexicans living outside of the country can vote absentee. Five candidates are running for president, but the race is a dead heat between two of them; conservative Felipe Calderon and leftist Manuel Lopez Obrador. It looks as if very few Mexicans in Minnesota and the U.S. took advantage of their right to vote in their home country.
St. Paul, Minn. — It's hard to know exactly how many of Minnesota's estimated 120,000 Mexicans will vote in Sunday's presidential election. But national numbers indicate a very low participation rate.
Only about three million of the estimated 10 million Mexicans living in the U.S. are eligible to vote, and of that three million, only about 40,000 turned in valid registrations.
Mexican national Daniel Sanchez of Minneapolis says he's the only person he knows of who voted. He says he's disappointed by the low turnout.
"In order to have change in Mexico, people have to vote," Sanchez says. "And when people don't go out and vote, things are going to be the same, so I think if people want a change in our country, they need to go out and vote."
Sanchez thinks more people would have voted if the process hadn't been so complicated.
"It wasn't easy, and the process took a lot of time," Sanchez says. "I had to go to the Mexican consulate to get applications, fill them out, and then send them certified mail to Mexico. They sent me back information, including a DVD about the candidates. So, that's the application process."
Sanchez says it took a couple of months just to register.
And that's only the beginning of the problems faced by Mexicans abroad trying to have a voice in their country's election.
Before Mexican nationals could register, they had to have a government-issued "Credencial para Votar" -- an I.D. card that 92 percent of Mexicans over 18 possess, according to Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute.
But many who are living in the U.S. don't have the card, including Uriel Espinoza, 43, of Minneapolis. Espinoza left Puebla, Mexico, and moved to the U.S. more than 17 years ago. He says he never got the card before he left, and the only way to get it now is to go back to Mexico.
"So, if you are undocumented, or you have working authorization, or any type of situation that you cannot go to your country and apply for the card, that's bad," Espinoza says. "Even if you are able to, you don't have the money to make the extra trip."
Mexicans in the U.S. sent an estimated $20 billion back home in 2005. Outgoing President Vicente Fox was the first politician to take advantage of the expatriots' significant growing economic and political clout. His increased connections with Mexicans outside their country led to the absentee voting.
But it's questionable whether absentee voters will do anything to help Fox's National Action Party at the polls.
Gabriel Escobar helps direct the Pew Hispanic Center is Washington, D.C., and is the co-author of a recent study of absentee voting among Mexicans living in the U.S.
He says despite the huge amount of money sent back by Mexicans, he found Mexican voters in the U.S. are less connected to their native country's politics.
"They have a very low opinion of political parties in Mexico," says Escobar. "When you ask them, 'Of the main parties in Mexico, which do you favor?' the one that comes out winning is 'none of the above.' So there is that political disconnect that's very clear when you ask Mexicans how they feel."
The Pew Center survey also found more than half of Mexicans in the U.S. were not aware of the elections and did not know the procedures to vote absentee.
Escobar says that's partly due to the short time frame. The absentee voter law was passed less then a year ago, and information about registering only came out in late fall. Registration closed in January.
"So, maybe this time around is not when you measure whether it's successful or not, because it is a very complicated system they've put in place," Escobar says. "The potential for large number of voters is there and will remain, because there are so many Mexicans in the United States. You're talking about a huge population, 10 million people. It's hard to conceive of another country that has so many people that can vote in hometown elections living somewhere else."
Absentee ballots will be counted at 6 p.m. on Sunday.