Some may call it a flop, but others say it was a preview.
The tally is in and a total of 33,111 absentee ballots were cast in the Mexican presidential election July 2. It was the first time that the millions of Mexicans living abroad were allowed to mail in presidential ballots.
“I know that there were just a few of us,” said Cecilia Gutierrez-Arce, a 48-year-old Tucson real estate agent, “but like the fight for women’s right to vote or other historical changes for civil rights, the struggle always starts with small steps. Sometimes even the steps of a single person. I feel fortunate that I was one of the first to have the honor of voting.”
The low turn out disappointed Tucson geologist Manuel Palacios, 58, but didn’t surprise him.
Although 33,111 absentee ballots were cast, the official count was 32,632, due to electoral officials annulling 479 ballots for irregularities. Of ballots cast, 28,335 came from the United States – home to some 9 million Mexican expatriates.
“Most of the people we’re talking about are illegal immigrants,” Palacios said. “It’s not a priority. Even being legal, I wouldn’t go back to Mexico just to get the card either.”
Mexicans should be able to register through local consulates, he said.
Tucsonan Florencio Zaragoza, a 57-year-old magazine publisher, said others were put off by the $9 fee to send their ballot by registered mail. The fee effectively acted as a poll tax, Zaragoza said.
“It’s free to vote in Mexico,” he said. “Why should we have to pay to vote here?”
But Zaragoza was optimistic the challenges could be overcome.
It took years of hard work to convince the Mexican congress to pass the law giving Mexicans abroad the right to vote, he said.
“But the door is open now,” Zaragoza said. “It won’t be nearly as difficult to change the law, and make it easier to vote, than it was to pass it. I think many more people will vote in the next election. I’m very hopeful.”
The presidential race is still undecided with leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador disputing the official count that gave ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon a slim lead.
Calderon won the absentee vote, receiving 58 percent of the ballots that arrived from other countries. Lopez Obrador captured 34 percent of the absentee ballots.
Electoral officials plan to ask the new Congress, which will be sworn in Sept. 1, to allow voters to register from abroad and seek other ways to simplify the process.
The Associated Press contributed to this story,