The Miami Herald
Nov. 03, 2003

Odds better for absentee voting in U.S.

For the first time, no political party in Mexico opposes a proposal to allow Mexicans living in the United States to cast ballots in the nation's elections.

  Knight Ridder News Service

  MEXICO CITY - A proposal that would allow as many as one million Mexicans living in the United States to cast absentee votes in Mexican elections appears to have its best chance ever of congressional passage, a step that could transform both Mexican politics and how Mexican politicians campaign.

  While the proposal, which has been pushed by Mexican expatriates in the United State for a decade, is not assured of passage in the Mexican Congress, for the first time no political party is publicly opposing it. What does stand in the way, however, is that there is no way to assure that Mexican votes cast in the United States would be free of fraud or confusion.

  ''The problem right now is the mechanism,'' said congresswoman Adriana González Carrillo, a member of the National Action Party and director of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Relations. ``We are looking at mail, Internet, telephone voting. But some of the problems are, for example, avoiding a situation in which someone in San Diego crosses the border and votes in Tijuana, and then could return to San Diego and vote by phone. These are the issues we're trying to address.''


  Voting at consular offices creates hardships not only for the overworked offices but also for people who don't live near consulates, González said. Mail in Mexico is
  unreliable, and e-mail voting is largely untested anywhere.

  Still, that Congress is willing to consider seriously setting up the absentee voting system is a big step, made possible in part by the defeat in 2000 of the long-ruling
  Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

  The PRI had long opposed having Mexicans abroad casting votes, partly because they were thought to cast votes for non-PRI candidates. Current PRI members say they are no longer opposed to the plan; they also are no longer a majority.

  ''I would support that, yes, but there are other issues that are far more urgent, such as building an immigration accord with the United States,'' said congressman Roberto Pedraza Martínez, vice coordinator for migrant issues for the PRI.

  A plan must be developed during the current congressional session, which ends in January, to affect the 2006 presidential elections.


  Mexicans are divided on which political party would benefit from the absentee balloting proposal.

  Mexicans in the United States tend to be more highly educated, which is a trait of supporters of the conservative PAN, according to a report released this year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Political Science. But the liberal Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), which polls show has the best chance for winning the presidency in 2006, has always had strong support among Mexicans in the United States, said PRD Congressman Francisco Javier Saucedo Perez.

  But even the PRD no longer is sure it would gain from absentee votes. ''Before, yes, but we don't have any proof of that any more,'' Saucedo said. ``It's a fight there for the vote, too.''

  That would probably be the most obvious change in the United States as a result of an absentee voting law -- the likelihood that Mexican candidates would campaign inside the United States for votes and campaign contributions.

  More than six million Mexicans live in California, Texas and Illinois, and hundreds of thousands more have settled in states such as Georgia, Colorado, Florida and North Carolina, so Mexican political candidates are sure to start making cross-border stops.

  Such a spectacle could have a negative impact on U.S.-Mexican relations, some fear.

  'Think about what it would look like to have major political rallies for a foreign government in every major city . . . and the candidate might say, `We're tired of the U.S. abuse of Mexico.' This would not go over well,'' said Rodolfo de la Garza, professor of political science at Columbia University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in New York City and Washington, D.C.