Mexican immigrants accuse government of voter suppression
Mexicans living outside country blame lack of information and unnecessary obstacles on low participation.
Ausencio Morales was excited when he found out he would be eligible to vote in July’s Mexican presidential election.
Morales, who lives and works in Brooklyn, has been unable to vote since he left Mexico for the United States in 2000.
“I’m not in the United States because I want to be, I’m here for necessity,” he told Al Jazeera by phone.
“Immigrants have been hurt by the policies of former governments, and I hope this election can help change some of the things that pushed so many of us to leave.”
Morales made an appointment at the Mexican Consulate in New York, and prepared the required documents as they were listed on the consulate website: a certified copy of his birth certificate, a photo identification, and a proof of address.
But when he went to the consulate, he was told that he would need his original birth certificate, even though the website had said a certified copy would be sufficient. When the consulate searched a database for a digital version of his birth certificate, it didn’t show up.
Morales didn’t have his original birth certificate because several years ago he had brought it to a consulate in Philadelphia to renew his passport, and it was never returned to him.
Officials at the consulate in Philadelphia did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Since he would not be able to get it back before the March 31 deadline for Mexicans living outside the country to request voter credentials, the consulate told him he would not be able to participate in the July 1st elections.
Lack of information
Roberto Valdovinos, an activist with Migrante Vota, a collective that promotes voting from abroad and helps immigrants deal with registration problems, told Al Jazeera that “thousands” of Mexicans like Morales, were unable to request elector credentials because they don’t have access to their original birth certificates.
Migrante Vota helped people registered and received complaints from those who were unable to do so.
Gerardo Izzo, a spokesperson for the New York Consulate, told Al Jazeera that some people were unable to request voter credentials because their birth certificates were not digitised in the database. He added that “a large majority” of Mexicans’ birth certificates are digitised, and that most people who requested credentials at the New York Consulate were successful.
Mexicans were first able to vote absentee in the 2006 presidential election, but a 2014 reform allows immigrants to register for a voter credential at a consulate without returning to Mexico, potentially expanding the franchise to over nine million adult Mexicans living around the world, mostly in the US.
But many Mexican immigrants, like Morales, will not be voting in this year’s presidential election. According to Mexican election authorities, nearly 670,000 Mexicans living outside the country requested and received voter cards, but only about 180,000 took the second step of “activating” the card to receive a ballot in the mail.
Many blame the low participation levels on lack of available information and what they say are unnecessary obstacles that discourage immigrants from voting.
“There’s a lack of political will on the part of the government to allow immigrants to participate in the democratic process,” Jose Luis Gutierrez, secretary of migration for the state of Michoacan, told Al Jazeera.
“They don’t understand that the requirements they put in place are hard for immigrants to fulfil.”
Others, like Valdovinos, see it as a strategy by the government to keep immigrants from voting in large numbers because he believes most of them will support opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena).
Obrador, a left-leaning nationalist who rails against corruption and inequality in his speeches, is running for president for the third time in 2018. He previously lost elections in 2006 and 2012, in contests marred by irregularities and fraud that many believe kept him from the presidency.
“Most immigrants are going to vote for Lopez Obrador, because they identify with him, because, like most immigrants, he comes from a poor rural area,” said Valdovinos.
“The other candidates come from the Mexican elite, and they’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot by giving weapons to the people they consider the enemy.”
‘They don’t want people to vote’
A recent survey by Latino Decisions shows that among Mexicans living in the US, Obrador is unrivalled by any other candidate. Almost five times more respondents said they would vote for Obrador than for his nearest rival, Ricardo Anaya.
Claudia Corona, subdirector for absentee voting at Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE), told Al Jazeera that the documentation requirements are important to prevent fraud, and that there are other reasons such a small percentage of Mexican immigrants registered to vote.
“We’ve made a great effort to make the procedures easy and flexible,” she said.
“Some people just aren’t interested in participating in the politics of a country where they don’t live any more,” she added.
But according to Daniel Lira, an organiser for Morena in Atlanta, Georgia, who has spent the last several months helping Mexican immigrants register to vote, apathy or a lack of interest is not what’s keeping immigrants from registering.
Lira said he had spoken to hundreds of Mexicans in the Atlanta area who were unable to register to vote because of problems with Mexitel, the phone service used to make appointments at the consulates.
Javier Diaz de Leon, the Mexican Consul in Atlanta, confirmed that the Mexitel lines are sometimes unable to take calls, but clarified that Mexitel is a service run by the Mexican government, not by the consulates.
“I tell people they have to insist and insist to get an appointment because that’s what I had to do,” Lira said.
“I think the problem is that they don’t want people to vote, I don’t know what else it could be,” he added.
For Morales, the immigrant in New York who wasn’t able to register, there is still hope that the 2018 election could bring positive change to the country he left a decade ago, even though he won’t be able to participate.
“There are a lot of people in my position, and we need to support a candidate who will do something for us,” he said.
“But we can’t let our leaders keep deceiving us like they have been for so long.”