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posted: 7/1/2012 12:01 AM

Few in suburbs cast absentee ballots for Mexican president

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  • Alberto Ulage is an Aurora business owner who voted in the Mexican presidential election via absentee ballot. He believes Mexicans abroad must make an effort to vote.

       Alberto Ulage is an Aurora business owner who voted in the Mexican presidential election via absentee ballot. He believes Mexicans abroad must make an effort to vote.
    John McGillen | Staff Photographer

 
 

When Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes died in May, Blanca Trejo watched an interview during which he talked about the Mexican presidential election, and his words sparked her interest in politics.

Trejo, 39, a student at College of DuPage, is among about 45,500 Mexicans living in the United States registered to vote from abroad. Altogether, about 59,000 people around the world registered. As of Saturday, the Federal Electoral Institute website showed that about 39,100 ballots from abroad had been received for today's vote, for a turnout of 66 percent.

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According to recent polls, presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party has a sizable lead over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party, and Josefina Vasquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party.

Mexicans abroad have been allowed to vote in the presidential election since 2006 -- presidents serve 6-year terms. But of the estimated 12 million Mexicans living in the U.S., fewer than 0.5 percent are registered online to vote absentee in Mexico.

Trejo didn't vote the first time because she wasn't that interested, she said. This time, she cast her vote for Lopez Obrador, the candidate favored by Carlos Fuentes, she said.

More people don't vote "because they don't believe in it -- they are busy working, they don't really know what is going on," she said.

But the main reason the number registered to vote is minuscule is that Mexicans can only register to vote in Mexico, and not through consulates abroad as is allowed by other countries, said Xóchitl Bada, assistant professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Those who are able to go back to Mexico to register to vote are "binational sophisticated travelers," Bada said. "University students, H-1B (visa) workers, long-term workers. They are the middle class. This is not the typical migrant, the millions and millions who live here."

That is likely to change soon, said Allert Brown-Gort, associate director for the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

"For many many years all the (Mexican) parties were making good noises about voting abroad, saying 'yes, it's important,' but because they didn't know quite how those votes would come down, they were worried," he said. "Now, they realize votes abroad are very similar to the national tendencies anyway."

Some who regularly travel back to Mexico don't take advantage of the opportunity to register to vote, said Jaime Garcia, director of Elgin's Centro de Informacion. Garcia came to the Chicago area when he was a child, and has lived in Elgin since 1970.

"Yes, I had the chance, but I just never did it. I guess it just wasn't a priority," he said.

Fifty-five-year-old Arturo Lomeli, who works at a restaurant in Arlington Heights, said he used to vote when he lived in Mexico but hasn't bothered since he moved the United States almost two decades ago. He supports Peña Nieto, he said.

"They want us to mail the votes, but who knows what they are going to do with them?" he said.

Aurora business owner Alberto Ulage, 34, of Montgomery, said Mexicans living abroad have to be determined to vote.

"Information wasn't easy to get. If you really care, you have to look for it, and you need to know how to do it," said Ulage, who supports Lopez Obrador. He also voted in 2006.

Ulage said a lot of people, like his wife, don't bother voting because they are just too disillusioned with the corruption in Mexico. "She doesn't believe that can make a difference."

Still, people should participate because it affects the lives of relatives back home, Ulage said.

"Even if we have family here, we have two kids who are American, we still want to be part of the country," he said.

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