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Mock Elections in L.A. Send a Message to Mexico : Politics: Emigres participating in balloting hope their votes will force the country's leadership to take notice of Mexicans living in the Southland.


Since Mexicans living abroad are effectively cut off from voting in their country's monumental elections today, they have had to find other ways to participate in the heated debates surrounding the election of their nation's next leader.

Through a barrage of word-of-mouth proxy campaigns and mock elections, Southern California-based representatives from Mexico's leading political parties last week attempted to shore up support and send a powerful message across the border: Mexicans living in Los Angeles are increasing in power and numbers, and the next time their country chooses a president, the candidates may have to trek north in search of votes as well as money.

"The government doesn't want us to vote because the government doesn't want to lose," Francisco Adame said as he cast his vote last week at a ballot box on Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park. Adame was one of 4,000 Mexicans who voted in mock elections.

Adame, 57, who was born in the state of Zacatecas, said he was dismayed by the lack of attention the current administration pays to the millions of Mexicans living in the United States.

Mexicans living outside their country are technically allowed to vote, but Mexican electoral law makes it difficult for most emigres to exercise that right. Mexico has no system for voting by absentee ballot, as Americans do. Those living abroad must be registered at a permanent address within the country, and must return to Mexico to vote.

Organizers of the mock vote say a goal of their protest is to institute absentee-balloting for the next elections in 2000. Marisela Espinosa, 35, an organizer of the mock election, said a trip across the border to vote is costly and difficult for the many Mexicans who are struggling to make ends meet in the United States. And for those lacking documents, the added risk of re-crossing the border makes the trip out of the question.

According to figures compiled by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the number of potentially eligible Mexican voters residing in the United States is more than 2.5 million. As many as 45.7 million Mexican voters are eligible to head to the polls today to elect a new president and National Congress, under the watchful eyes of about 35,000 independent Mexican poll watchers and, for the first time, several hundred foreign "visitors." The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has ruled Mexico for 65 years and was widely accused of vote fraud in elections six years ago.

The mock balloting last week at more than 20 locations in Los Angeles and Orange counties was organized by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), one of Mexico's leading opposition parties, and the State Human Rights Commission.

At a gathering Monday in front of the Mexican Consulate, amid the jingle of ice cream bells and the blare of norteno music, representatives from the PRD advertised the results to the long lines of people waiting to enter the building.

Of the 4,000 votes cast in Southern California, the center-left PRD received 65%, the center-right National Action Party (PAN) received 20% and the ruling PRI received 11%. Other parties received 4% of the votes cast.

These results are in contrast to most of the recent polls in Mexico, which show the ruling PRI enjoying a comfortable lead. Most polls showed Ernesto Zedillo, the PRI candidate, with more than 40% support, to 20% for the PAN's Diego Fernandez de Cevallos and 10% going to the PRD's Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. About 25% of those polled were still undecided.

"We send billions of dollars back to our families in Mexico every year," said Melesio Mejia, a PRD member and one of the organizers of the mock vote. "For that reason alone, we should be allowed to vote. We're the backbone of our country."

In reaction to criticism during the last presidential election, the Mexican government has set up polling places called casillas especiales-- literally, "special booths"--in large cities along the border.

Miguel Escobar, a spokesman for the Mexican Consulate, said 18 such polling places have been placed in Baja California. Going into the election, Escobar said it was unknown how many would cross the border to vote.

"There has been a rise in interest among Mexicans all over the world concerning these elections," said Escobar, who is prohibited from expressing sympathies to any party.

Huntington Park resident Antonio Moreno, however, expresses his sympathies loudly to all who will listen. He is head of a pro-PRI committee that receives that party's candidates when they visit Los Angeles.

"Those elections held by the PRD last week don't count, and even if they did it wouldn't matter--the PRI has more militantes than any other party in Los Angeles," said Moreno.

Moreno, 48, said he planned to drive to Tijuana to vote for Zedillo, his party's candidate. And if Zedillo doesn't win? "The people will decide who wins on Sunday and we will respect that decision."

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