Arizonans Cast Ballots in Mexican Elections, from Arizona

When Mexico's Congress allowed its country's citizens to vote from abroad for the first time in 2006, local immigrant-rights activist Carmen Cornejo leapt at the chance to cast her ballot for President Felipe Calderon.

With the 2012 Mexican presidential elections scheduled for Sunday, Cornejo, a naturalized United States citizen born in Mexico, already has sent in her absentee ballot for Josefina Vazquez of the incumbent party PAN.

"Participation in the Mexican elections by Mexican nationals [living abroad means] that we care about the two countries, we care about the destiny of the two countries and we want both countries to succeed," Cornejo explains.

She is one of the 2,324 Arizona residents who have registered to mail in their ballots for the Mexican presidential elections. An estimated 80 million of her countrymen will head to polling stations tomorrow to replace Calderon.

According to Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, of America's 50 states, Arizona has the sixth highest number of Mexican nationals participating in their home country's elections. California, as you might expect, is number one, with 12,908 registered Mexican voters.

Arizona's numbers are up from 2006. That year, Arizona had 1,476 registered Mexican voters. Since then, the number has increased 57 percent.

The number of actual votes sent to Mexico from Arizona for this election has not yet been tallied. But six years ago, 1,121 Mexican nationals in Arizona voted via mail-in ballots.

It's unlikely Cornejo's presidential pick will prevail, as Mexico's oldest political party known as the PRI, is favored to win. It's candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto holds a double-digit lead in most polls, against all of his three opponents, including PAN's Mota.

Still, Cornejo, who has no plans to return to Mexico, says that it's important for her to participate in the electoral process, and help her countrymen achieve a more representative government.

According to Arizona State University history professor Brian Gratton, she is what scholars call a "transnational" type, a citizen of two countries who is politically active in both.

"There's an argument that the world is becoming more transnational," explained Gratton, who teaches immigration policy at ASU. "That people are holding on to their loyalties to [their countries of origin]."

Tea Party Republicans may not like the fact that Cornejo maintains dual citizenship and a dual political voice. But it is perfectly legal for a naturalized citizen to keep their home country's passport, according to the U.S. Department of State's website.

Gratton says Mexican immigrants may want to vote from abroad in the hopes of influencing Mexican politics and creating a less corrupt government, one that can end the drug war that has plagued Mexico the past six years.

The PRI party ruled Mexico for 70 years up until the 2000 elections when PAN's Vicente Fox won. Since the PRI was accused of rigging presidential elections and turning a blind eye to drug cartels, many Mexicans grew cynical with politics and opted not to vote.

For the past few years, Cornejo has participated in local pro-immigrant rallies and become an advocate for immigrant-friendly politicians. She says her activism made her feel that her political voice was being heard, something Mexico couldn't give her.

"There was not an environment of freedom [in Mexico, like] you feel here in the U.S." Cornejo stated. "I remember going to the voting place [in Mexico] with fear, because there were these people loitering around...wanting to intimidate you."

Cornejo says these were PRI supporters, looking to suppress the vote in communities where PRI support was minimal.

From abroad, Cornejo can safely mail in her ballot. Still, Mexico didn't make the process easy.

In order for a Mexican national to vote outside the country, they must have their national voter ID card. But you have to return to Mexico to get one.

Many eligible voters don't want to go back to Mexico, or simply don't have the time or money to register for a voter ID card they use just once every six years.

Overall, there are 46,478 registered voters in the U.S. So far, for Sunday's elections, Mexican officials have received 40,737 votes from 91 countries. A large percentage of them are from the U.S.

But the expat vote is expected to have little significance this time around, and Mexicans are expecting a historic PRI return to power.

Note: Uriel Garcia is a 2012 fellow with the Village Voice Digital Media Fellowship Program at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism. He will be contributing to this blog for the next several weeks.

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