Thousands of Expats Excited, Frustrated With Mexican Elections

From excitement to frustration, Mexican expatriates felt the gamut of emotions as they were able to cast absentee ballots in their homeland's presidential elections for the first time — though few did because of onerous requirements that included returning to Mexico to apply for a registration card.

Though the race between leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and conservative Felipe Calderon was so tight that elections officials said Monday they wouldn't have results until later in the week, few expatriates cast absentee ballots to likely have much of an affect.

Of the estimated 4.2 million eligible Mexican voters living abroad, just under 41,000 — or 1 percent — requested absentee ballots. Of the 32,632 valid absentee ballots mailed to the Federal Electoral Institute, 28,335 were from the United States.

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For many Mexicans, who emigrated to the United States illegally because they didn't feel their country offered a future, not being able to vote felt like a second dose of disillusionment.

"Why couldn't they have made it easier for us to vote here?" said Adriana Lopez, 27, a housewife and illegal immigrant in Orange County who wanted to but couldn't vote out of fear to cross the border. "The governments at home are always so corrupt."

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While some expatriates were disappointed that few voted absentee, others expressed excitement and hope that more would participate next time.

"The main thing is, the door has been opened" for expatriates to vote, said Jesus Hernandez, 47, one of only 13,500 Mexicans in California who sent in ballots. "People who wanted to vote needed a current electoral card, and that the cutoff date to apply for an absentee ballot was nearly six months before the election. Mexican electoral laws also do not allow campaigning in the United States, making it hard for expatriates to connect with candidates.

Apathy also was an issue, as many said they saw no end to corruption at home. Many pointed to the low number of voters compared to the estimated $11 million the Mexican government spent on the expatriate program as yet another example of corruption at home.

"No matter who they elect, the corruption will continue," said Amelia Juantes, a 23-year-old housewife from Los Angeles who didn't even attempt to get an absentee ballot.

Patricio Ballados, expatriate vote coordinator for Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, said the agency would consider recommending to Congress that Mexican nationals be allowed to renew their voting cards at consulates.

"This was a first step of a historic vote," said Ballados. "It planted the seeds for years to come."

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