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Mexican voting system problematicPorfirio Muñoz Ledo, former president of the PRI and founding member of the PRD, speaks at UCLA as part of the Latin American Center’s Program on Mexico speaker series, aimed at educating Mexican citizens on the issues. (Photo by Derek Liu)

Mexican voting system problematic

Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, former president of the PRI and founding member of the center-left PRD, said keeping track of eligible voters living abroad has been a major problem.

How many people do you think would go back to Mexico to get a voting card? Nobody.

This article was first published in the Daily Bruin.

By Richard Clough, Daily Bruin senior staff

Born in the Baja town of Guymas, Luisa Martínez lived in Mexico for 18 years before enrolling in a San Diego junior college.

Yet, when Martínez, now a 24-year-old UCLA student, votes for the first time in this year's Mexican presidential election, she will be participating in the political process of a country she never plans to live in again.

Martínez is part of a small minority of Mexicans living in the United States who are both eligible to vote and intend to do so. Though Mexican officials have approved absentee voting by immigrants living in the United States, the convoluted process to register to vote and obtain a ballot has discouraged many eligible voters.

But as the July 2 election will be the first in Mexico's history to extend voting privileges to Mexicans living outside Mexican borders, the expatriates who do plan on voting often have to seek out resources to learn about Mexican politics.

On campus, the Latin American Center started the Program on Mexico, a series of talks by representatives from the major Mexican political parties to address issues relevant to the election.

Martínez attended a December teleconference with presidential candidate Felipe Calderón put on as part of the Program on Mexico series. She said she regularly checks the Internet to learn about the platforms of the candidates.

This election will be the first since the National Action Party's Vicente Fox in 2000 replaced the Institutional Revolutionary Party – the PRI – which had ruled Mexico uninterrupted for 71 years. Fox is not running again because Mexican law forbids presidents from succeeding themselves.

For this election, Martínez said security issues are important in determining her vote. She listed kidnapping and robbery as significant concerns for her when she visits Mexico. And in order to vote, Martínez decided she will go to Mexico and vote in person.

With her older brother in San Diego, only Martínez's mother and father still live in Mexico, and despite her dual citizenship, Martínez has no desire to return to Mexico permanently. She cited crime as a primary factor for not returning.

But as long as her parents are there, she feels the duty to vote in Mexico's elections.

"My parents live in Mexico and what affects them affects me," she said.

For many Mexican immigrants, the link to Mexico is also strong.

In a survey released last week by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center, 58 percent of Mexicans living in the United States said they had sent money to someone in Mexico in the past year. That number jumps to 65 percent among those who are eligible to vote in Mexico.

In 2004 alone, expatriates sent nearly $17 billion home to Mexico.

But this financial link does not necessarily translate to political participation.

In the Pew poll, over half of Mexicans living in the United States said they were unaware that the presidential election will be held this year. And only 31 percent said they have the credential needed to vote in Mexico.

Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, former president of the PRI and founding member of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party – the PRD – said keeping track of eligible voters living abroad has been a major problem as Mexican officials try to give expatriates the opportunity to vote.

"It's a national disaster," said Muñoz Ledo, who spoke on campus Thursday as part of the Program on Mexico series. "The problem was the Mexicans abroad were not on any list. ... We don't know how many Mexicans have voting credentials and are living in the United States."

Alfonso Galindo, head of the UCLA office in Mexico, cited problems with voting credentials as a major impediment to voting for many Mexican immigrants. Many immigrants, he said, have either lost their credential or left it in Mexico, so Mexican citizens would have to go to Mexico to obtain a new card – which is required to vote.

"How many people do you think would go back to Mexico to get a voting card? Nobody," Galindo said. In addition to the impracticality of returning to Mexico for a card, Galindo said many immigrants may not have the required documents to easily or legally traverse the border.

When the Mexican Congress voted last June to allow absentee voting, officials predicted about 400,000 of the estimated 4 million eligible voters living in the United States would request ballots. But as the Jan. 15 deadline to apply for an absentee ballot came and went, fewer than 60,000 people requested ballots.

Eleuteria Hernández, student affairs officer for the UCLA Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, filed the paperwork to vote by absentee ballot, but she said she does not know if the ballot will actually arrive.

"(I) sent out the forms. From there I have no idea if they're going to send us a ballot," Hernández said. She moved to the United States from her home in Jalisco, Mexico when she was 17, but said she has maintained Mexican citizenship.

Mexican government officials plan to begin mailing the ballots next month.

This election looks to continue Mexico's historic shift away from the Official Party. Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD currently leads in the polls with 39 percent of the vote. Calderón of the PAN is second with 34 percent and the PRI's Roberto Madrazo trails both with 25 percent.

Next Wednesday the Program on Mexico will bring Juan Hernández, a representative of Calderón's campaign, to campus. The following day, Rosario Green, a representative of Madrazo's campaign, will appear.

Latin American Institute