Low U.S. Registrations for Absentee Voting in Mexico

For the first time, Mexicans living in the United States and other countries will be able to vote in Mexico's presidential election next year. But with the deadline fast approaching, only a few Mexicans living abroad are actually signing up to vote.

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For the first time, Mexicans living in the United States and other countries will be able to vote in Mexico's presidential election. They've been fighting for that right for more than a decade. Now with the deadline fast approaching for next year's election, only a few Mexicans living abroad are actually signing up to vote. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

(Soundbite of doorbell)

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

At Marcia's Hair Salon(ph) in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, owner Marcia Soto(ph) squeezes in a civics lesson in between haircuts.

Ms. MARCIA SOTO (Marcia's Hair Salon): Do you know about the Mexican vote and the experience...

KAHN: But Soto says the response from here Mexican customers has been less than enthusiastic. At the door sits a stack of untouched Mexican voter registration forms.

Ms. SOTO: I have about a thousand.

KAHN: And how many have you given out?

Ms. SOTO: Three, just three. It's ridiculous.

KAHN: In all, Mexican officials say they've received only 4,000 registration forms from countrymen living abroad. That's dismal, considering there may be as many as four million Mexicans living in the US eligible to cast votes. But for many immigrants, like Sergio Navaret(ph), who's getting a quick buzz cut, Mexican politics is not a priority.

(Soundbite of electric clippers)

Mr. SERGIO NAVARET (Mexican Immigrant): I'm really--I don't get involved myself to know about what's going on out in Mexico. Living here and having a family here, you know, I'd rather vote here.

KAHN: Then there's Maria Theresa Dominguez(ph), another customer. She holds dual citizenship and is excited to be able to vote in Mexico.

Ms. MARIA THERESA DOMINGUEZ (Mexican Immigrant): And I think it's a huge thing for people here to be able to vote over there. So I think that if I can be involved in both political systems, that's something that I want to take advantage of.

KAHN: But critics say the registration process for immigrant voters is complicated and costly. In addition, registrants must possess an official Mexican voter ID card, something millions of Mexicans in the US don't have, and going home to get one is impossible for many who are here illegally.

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: For those who can travel legally, bus caravans are being organized to take prospective voters to Mexico to get the ID card.

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: On a recent Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, 80 Mexicans boarded a bus to Tijuana. The caravan was organized and paid for by a group of immigrants from the central Mexican state of Zacatecas.

(Soundbite of voices)

KAHN: Maria del Rosario Aguayo(ph) says she's proud to live in the US.

Ms. MARIA DEL ROSARIO AGUAYO (Mexican Immigrant): (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: But she says much of her family is still in Mexico, including her mother. That's why Aguayo wants a say in how Mexico will be run.

Election officials estimate that only 1 percent of all Mexicans in the US will actually turn out. That means each vote cast abroad will cost Mexico nearly $600, far more than the country has budgeted for domestic voting.

Mr. GASPAR RIVERA (Immigration Expert): Democracy is priceless, especially for a country such as Mexico.

KAHN: Gaspar Rivera, an immigration expert, says while turnout may be disappointing, immigrant groups have scored a victory just by being able to vote this time around.

Mr. RIVERA: I think that being the first time, people are, you know, trying to find out how to do it, but this is a first event.

KAHN: For now, Mexican immigrant groups in the US say they will push hard to maximize turnout right up to the January 15th deadline.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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