Arroz con Polling Place

Mexicans living in the U.S. may no longer have to go home to vote in Mexico's elections

Ricardo Monreal, gubernatorial candidate for the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in Zacatecas, a major immigrant-sending state, visited California in March. He went to raise money, but also to convince immigrants to tell their people back in Zacatecas to vote for him, his aides say.

With immigrants voting, it's likely no serious candidate could avoid the pilgrimage north to court their support, since immigrants are also the Mexicans with the most disposable income. Mexican campaign rallies from Long Beach to New York might become commonplace.

How Americans would react to this and what foreign campaigning would mean for the sovereignty of Mexican elections is anyone's guess--and that worries some observers here.

Meanwhile, the issue poses some knotty bilateral logistical problems, too, primarily because absentee balloting likely won't be allowed.

Mexicans mistrust voting authorities as well as the mail system, preferring to pay things like telephone and electric bills in person. So no one is proposing that immigrants vote by mail. "If we allow it, we'll soon find that there's actually 50 million Mexicans living in the United States," Juan Antonio Guajardo, a PRD congressman, said recently.

The question is, where do they vote?
Mexico has 43 consulates in the U.S., more than any other country. But that won't be enough, especially in places like Los Angeles or Chicago, where the turnout could reach into the hundreds of thousands.

Without absentee balloting, the Mexican government would have to negotiate with cities across America regarding the placement of hundreds, if not thousands, of ballot boxes in city parks and on street corners. If not that, then Mexican officials might have to rent community halls to serve as polling places, at great expense.

The idea of Mexican ballot boxes in downtown Phoenix or Dallas, overseen by Mexican election officials, could cause tremendous local controversy across the country.

"We will have to deal with that, and it may be an insurmountable obstacle," says Carlos Heredia, a PRD congressman. "We're still thinking in terms of [negotiating with] the State Department and Washington, D.C., not the local governments all over the place."

Proponents also worry that the U.S. Border Patrol might raid polling places, since many voters could also be undocumented immigrants.

One possibility, suggests Heredia, might be a treaty of reciprocity, with Mexico then allowing U.S. ballot boxes in Cuernavaca, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City and other gringo haunts. But whether both governments are capable of it, and whether U.S. local governments sign on, remain big questions.

The debate is just beginning, and a decision is not expected before next year. The Congress may also decide voting abroad just isn't feasible in time for the 2000 election.

Still, the larger issues will remain.
"When you talk about North America and you only talk about trade flows, financial flows, commercial integration and so forth, you're only postponing the question as to how to deal with these things," says Heredia. "Even if for 2000, this whole thing ends up not being possible, we will have to go back to this again and again because it's part of our [North American] economic integration."

Contact Sam Quinones at his online address:

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