Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador might have had a better showing if the polls in the Mexican cities of Saltillo and Durango were moved to the California cities of Stockton, Sacramento, and Fresno.
A symbolic vote held in California’s Northern Central Valley on July 2 saw López Obrador beat out his conservative competitor Felipe Calderón of the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN).
Organized in part by Stockton farmworker activist Luis Magaña, the vote was meant to give those feeling left out of the July 2 Mexican elections a chance to voice their opinion, Magaña said.
An overly complex registration system for Mexicans living abroad coupled with a cultural aversion to voting by mail was responsible for the low voter turnout among Mexicans in the United States, according to Magaña. About 730 people turned out to several polling stations located outside Catholic churches, soccer fields, cultural centers and private homes in the area.
López Obrador was the strong favorite with 349 votes, according to the group’s data. Coming in second was Calderón with 240, followed by PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo with 114. The rest of the votes were split among lesser-known candidates such as Patricia Mercado Castro and Roberto Campa Cifrián.
“This is the beginning of the struggle for 2012,” said Magaña, referring to the year of the next Mexican presidential elections. “There should be ballot boxes for voters here.”
Alex Garza, who helped with the symbolic vote, said he felt the same way.
“I feel really disappointed,” he said. “I couldn’t vote, just like hundred of thousands of Mexicans here.”
The vote’s organizers said they tried to present the ballots to the Mexican consulate in Sacramento, but they were refused.
Consulate spokesperson Iván Sierra said this was due to a constitutional separation between the Mexican government and the country’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE).
“In Mexico, we have a constitutional separation of the electoral authorities,” Sierra said. “Our constitution specifically forbids us to take part in any elections.”
However, because 2006 was the first time Mexicans abroad could vote, Sierra said that special considerations were made to allow consulates and embassies to offer voter registration assistance to Mexicans overseas. This included making announcements in the Spanish-language media as well as briefing consulate staff to answer any questions citizens abroad might have, he said.
As for turning consulates into polling centers for the 2012 election, Sierra said it was anyone’s guess.
“Maybe in the future, the new congress will analyze further options,” he said.
Across the United States, fewer than 57,000 Mexicans requested absentee ballots, election officials said. Many of the estimated 4 million registered Mexican voters living in this country were upset about having to return to Mexico in order to obtain a ballot. Because many are undocumented, they risked a dangerous crossing and smuggler fees of up to $2,000 in order to get back over the border.
It’s estimated that the Mexican government spent about $26 million on the absentee ballot program.
Magaña said an aversion to voting by mail also played a part in the low turnout.
“The people have a culture of putting their vote directly in the ballot box,” Magaña said. “(The absentee ballots) were something Mexico experimented with on those outside the country—with the least informed people having to go through a very complicated process.”
With this election the closest in Mexican history, Magaña said votes from abroad would have been decisive.
“Right now, with this tie, it could have been the difference,” he said.
In voting organized by Leonel Flores and the Union of Ex Braceros and Immigrants (UNEI), López Obrador captured the majority of the votes, but not by much.
After ballots from Fresno, Delano, Madera and Sanger were tallied, López Obrador had 221 votes to 221 for Calderón. In Mendota, 105 votes went for the PAN candidate, while López Obrador got only four votes.
Six years ago, Vicente Fox captured an overwhelming majority of the symbolic vote in the Fresno area, far outdistancing the PRI candidate, 1,194 votes to 553.
“We had more voting booths six years ago,” said Flores, explaining the decrease in area votes.
Stan Oklobdzija is a reporter for Vida en el Valle, a member of New American Media.