Raymundo Alfaro-Aco, an immigrant from Puebla, Mexico, was excited to be able to vote in the most recent Mexican presidential election last July 1. The 21-year-old college graduate moved to the United States with his parents when he was 14 years old and studied biology on a scholarship at Swarthmore College. He was one of 40 thousand Mexican citizens living abroad who cast votes in the election, which is now being contested by the leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática.
And although Alfaro-Aco was excited to be part of his old country, the exercise left him confused.
Mexicans abroad keep their connections with their homeland. "Many of us maintain strong links, whether they are material or emotional," said Professor Alexandra Délano, an electoral expert at the New School. Those links are oiled by frequent visits, financial and family connections, investments, and ultimate dreams of returning home. "(Everything that happens in Mexico) affects us all directly or indirectly," Délano noted.
However, it wasn't until 2006 that Mexicans living out of the country could vote. The 2012 presidential elections were the second time Mexico organized citizen abroad voting exercises, but the exercise only reached 1 out of every 1000 qualified potential voters. Mexico's foreign vote project has not been able to attract the participation of the close to 25 million citizens living out of the country -- most of them in the United States.
Among the obstacles are cumbersome requirements, such as one that forces citizens to travel to Mexico to pick up their voting card. Délano said that particular restriction plays a huge role in the low participation. In contrast, the US voting abroad project allows prospective voters to do everything via the Internet.
Besides traveling to Mexico, voters have to present proof of address in Mexico, even though they do not live there anymore. The requirements almost automatically disqualify undocumented migrants.
Thus, the most likely voters abroad tend to be middle class or upper middle class, usually students or temporary migrants who live out of the country because of their jobs. And even these voters, who generally do have access to information get lost in the red tape, according to Délano. Melissa Portilla, 21, a current science student in Paris and dual French citizen, is in that group.
"If you don't go looking for the information, you don't find anything," said Portilla. In comparison, she remembers how specific instructions were handed out to her to vote in French elections when she lived in Mexico.
The #YoSoy132's use of social media and widespread media coverage managed to mobilize many Mexicans abroad. But its launching in May 2012 was too late to influence the abroad votes. #YoSoy132 demonstrations popped up in major cities, such as New York, Paris, Madrid and London. The movement was useful, said Portilla. "The mainstream media doesn't say the same things as Facebook or Twitter. But, you have to learn how to distinguish between what is real and what is fake," she added.
Furthermore, many voters are unclear about the process and the transparency of the counting of the vote from abroad. "People think, 'why vote if they're going to steal my ballot?' or 'they won't even count it," said Portilla.
Although in the general vote, Enrique Peña Nieto, from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, which ruled the country for 71 years, won by a 7 percent lead, Mexicans abroad elected Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling Partido Acción Nacional by 42 percent of the vote. López Obrador, from the PRD, obtained 39 percent of the vote from abroad, while Peña Nieto received only 16 percent.
"Residents abroad have historically been anti-PRI, more than for any particular candidate," said Professor Délano. Many migrants left their country when the PRI ruled unopposed through fraudulent practices. To many Mexicans living out of the country, the PAN, which was created as an opposition party in 1939, remains the best option, said Délano. The PRD was only created in 1989.
The PAN has been more proactive on migration policies between the United States and Mexico. The first PAN President, Vicente Fox, elected in 2000, was arguably the first to make migration a priority in foreign policy. Similarly Vázquez Mota of the PAN had more connections with foreign Mexican residents. She knows US-based migrant leaders and organizations since she worked with them when she was in the Secretariat of Social Development (SEDESOL) and the Secretariat for Public Education (SEP).
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