It all began with a tweet. I had just filled out my ballot at home in Miami for the coming Mexican presidential election (voting is a right that all Mexicans have, no matter where they live). But when I put my ballot in its UPS envelope, I noticed that the preprinted label was addressed to an individual, Alejandro Sosa, rather than to Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (or the INE, in Spanish).
For a moment I wondered why this was the case, then I took my concern to Twitter, and wrote a tweet. A few minutes later, the INE responded.
“Jorge, good evening,” someone running the @INEMexico account wrote back. They went on to explain that 44,197 out of the 181,256 envelopes that the institute sent out to voters abroad were addressed to an official at the INE rather than the INE itself, “due to a printing error.” Twenty-four percent of the labels were printed incorrectly!
However, the INE tweet continued, “every vote sent from abroad is safe.” Given Mexico’s long history of electoral fraud, this sort of guarantee offered little comfort.
And it’s quite disappointing to learn that only a little more than 181,000 Mexican-born citizens are voting abroad this year, when more than 12 million Mexicans live in other countries. This frustration motivated me to tweet once more, in Spanish: “Why can’t the millions of Mexicans living abroad vote at embassies, consulates and voting centers, like citizens from many other countries do? Casting a vote from abroad costs the INE a lot of money. And the current system discourages and obscures voting.”
This time, @VotoExtranjero responded: “The law doesn’t provide for voting booths on Election Day at embassies or consulates. Greetings.”
Why not? I understand the need to vote by mail when a country lacks embassies or consulates, but in the case of Mexico, we should have the option of voting at pre-established locations on Election Day. The current system has been a failure. In 2012 barely 40,714 Mexicans voted from abroad.
My tweets and the responses regarding this issue gave rise to a surprising debate on social media. I had never thought the ability to vote from abroad was so resented, or how little awareness there was about some of the difficulties people experience as immigrants trying to vote.
It seems that when it comes to the issue of voting from another country, there are two Mexicos: one that encompasses the 130 million who are living there; and the other that includes those roughly 36 million people of Mexican origin who have left, along with their families.
"I won’t deny that you all send millions of dollars here,” one respondent, CCG (I’ll only use the people’s initials here), wrote on Twitter. But, “it’s been years since many of those of you who send money have set foot in Mexico. How will you be able to decide [on the best candidate] if you don’t experience our everyday reality firsthand? What if you choose badly?”
THE agreed: “If you really care that much about ‘your’ country and want to vote, you can save up and buy a round-trip ticket every six years and come to Mexico and vote.” REA was even more blunt: “It’s unfair that votes cast abroad count. You don’t live here. And you don’t have the right to choose who will rule over those who actually live here!!” And DAN was adamant: “To begin with, people like you who have turned their backs on Mexico shouldn’t even be entitled to vote.”
In response, ERI wrote: “We never stop being Mexican.”
He’s right. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been living abroad. We’ll never stop caring about what happens in Mexico. The decision to leave was a hard one to make. Violence, corruption and a lack of opportunity drove many of us away. And many more still can’t return to Mexico because they are unauthorized immigrants. But we still have a bond with Mexico, connected by planes, roads, technology and, now, by our votes.
That bond is why we also want to weigh in on who the next president will be, even though it seems that political parties have done all they can lately to reduce the number of Mexicans voting from other places. “Why is voting from abroad that complicated?” tweeted AJA. “It seems that they make it more difficult on purpose.” STR went further: “The fraud is on.”
I hope not. Even though only a few of us will cast ballots in this election, we need the certainty that our votes will count. Casting a ballot, even from far away, shouldn’t be a leap of faith.