"What the Mexican Congress did was send the wrong message to millions of Mexicans abroad by excluding at least 70% of them from the right to vote," said Al Rojas of Sacramento, a leader in the absentee vote movement. Rojas was born in the United States, but his parents emigrated from Michoacan state in 1933. Rojas would be eligible to vote because the first-born children of immigrants have a right to Mexican citizenship.
Alberto Szekely, a public interest attorney in Mexico City and advocate for immigrant voting rights, said he was disappointed that the law went only "half way." He said Mexico should permit overseas voter registration as well as voting at consulates and embassies.
"The requirement of the credential to get the absentee ballot will eliminate the possibility for millions of Mexicans to vote," Szekely said.
Another source of worry among immigrant voting advocates is how the estimated $130-million cost of the ballot-by-mail process will be financed. The plan has not been completed and some fear that immigrants might have to shoulder some of the expense.
Ruth Trinidad Hernandez Martinez, a National Action Party federal deputy from Tijuana, said the financing details still have to be ironed out. She said there is a possibility that Mexicans abroad might have to share some of the cost.
"This vote is just the first step in a series of tasks in ensuring that all Mexicans have the right to approve their leaders, which is the most important aspect," Hernandez Martinez said.
Leo Zuckermann, a political scientist at the Center for Economic Teaching and Research here, said he was afraid that the Mexican postal system, with a reputation for corruption and inefficiency, may not be up to the task of processing and safeguarding hundreds of thousands of ballots. "I hope to be proven wrong and that nothing happens," he said.
The legislation allows for absentee balloting only in presidential elections, starting with next year's.
The law passed just in time to make the voting legally and logistically feasible for the July 2006 contest. With time running out, the lower house of Mexico's Congress approved a Senate version that was passed earlier.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was said to be holding out for a system that would include voting booths in foreign countries, but agreed in committee Tuesday to support the Senate version.
Uncertain is which candidate or party will be favored by expatriates. Likely candidates include Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party who is mayor of Mexico City. Roberto Madrazo is the front-runner for the PRI nomination and Santiago Creel, who recently resigned as interior minister, is favored to win the nomination for Fox's National Action Party.
Fox is thought to have done extremely well in garnering votes from immigrants who traveled back to Mexico, many of them in caravans, in July 2000 to cast ballots for the reformist candidate whose victory ended a seven-decade-long PRI grip on presidential power.
The PRI was thought to oppose absentee balloting, fearing some sort of immigrant backlash against the party that ruled the country until Fox swept to power. But at this point expatriate voter preferences are a "complete unknown," said Pamela Starr, a political scientist and author in Washington who follows Mexican politics.
"That's one of the reasons that parties have been hesitant to approve it because no one knows who will vote and therefore which party gains an advantage."
Kraul reported from Mexico City, Quinones from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Eric Malnic in Los Angeles and researchers Cecilia Sanchez and Narayani Lasala in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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Of the estimated 10 million Mexican citizens residing in the United States, as many as 4 million are believed by the Mexican Congress to be registered voters in their homeland. Only those who can show proof of registration will be eligible to vote by mail in next year's presidential election.
How Mexican immigrants will file their absentee ballots
Mexicans abroad will have to download a ballot request form from the Federal Electoral Institute's website, www.ife.org.mx, or obtain one at a Mexican consulate or embassy from Oct. 1 through Jan. 15, 2006.
With their request, voters must include:
* Photocopies of their voter registration cards, which are called electoral credentials.
* A possible fee to be determined later. Some immigrant groups have been told it could be as much as $18 per voter to cover registration and certified mail costs.
Once the institute receives the request, it will send a ballot via certified mail with an addressed envelope and instructions on how to file the ballot.
* Ballots must be sent by certified mail to the address on the envelope.
* Dates for mailing the ballots have not yet been set.
* Ballots will be counted on July 2, 2006, the day of the presidential election.
Source: Times staff
Los Angeles Times