Voting North of the Border

Voting North of the Border

A small sidebar to Saturday’s presidential elections in Mexico: it will be the first in which Mexican citizens residing abroad will be able to cast ballots by mail from their place of external residence. But it’s a much less significant story than had been anticipated. Of the estimated 3-5 million Mexicans eligible, only a small number bothered to register for absentee ballots (41,000 according to the report here).

Some have blamed the anemic sign-up on a complicated registration process, but the result is consistent with the experience of other non-resident communities that are allowed to vote from abroad. How to explain the low participation? It’s not that external citizen communities are disconnected from their homelands, for the links are deep and sustainable (certainly in the case of Mexicans in the United States and other “new diasporas”). It may be that external citizens are disconnected from homeland politics at the same time that they maintain social and economic ties. Or it may be that the vote isn’t perceived as an important element of political connection, next to money and other channels of influence (a sentiment, of course, within the resident electorate as well).

Still, overseas voting can make a difference. It was non-resident Italians who tipped the balance against Silvio Berlusconi (through the interesting and increasingly common mechanism of discrete parliamentary representation for non-residents). Overseas American voters may have accounted for George Bush’s Florida margin in 2000. More countries are now providing for non-resident voting, including such recent additions as the Dominican Republic, Belgium, and Japan (non-resident Iraqis took part in the first post-invasion elections there). As some move to make external balloting easier (France now allows internet voting from the US, for example), it may become an unremarkable feature of national political contests.

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