MEXICO CITY -- In a surprise development, the country's main political parties have agreed to grant Mexican citizens living outside Mexico the right to cast ballots in presidential elections.
As a result, the Mexican congress seems nearly certain to approve a constitutional amendment giving voting rights to the seven million migrant workers and other Mexican expatriates living in the United States when it votes on a package of electoral reforms this summer.
Politicians and academics said the development could have far-reaching effects both here and in the United States, where one result could be extensive campaigning by Mexican politicians in vote-rich states like California, Texas and Illinois. In Mexico, some believe the expatriate vote could swing elections.
Estimates by academics and other experts of how many Mexicans living in the United States might cast ballots in the next presidential election, scheduled for the year 2000, ranged from 500,000 to 5 million. About 35 million Mexicans voted in the 1994 presidential elections.
Citizens of other nationalities have participated in elections in their homelands by voting in the United States; during presidential elections in Poland in November, for instance, 20,000 Poles cast ballots at Polish consulates in four American cities.
But, said Alan M. Kraut, a professor at American University in Washington who studies immigration history, the vast number and sheer size of Mexican exile communities in the United States would make voting by Mexicans unlike any previous participation by immigrants in the politics of their native countries.
Lawmakers have decided to leave unresolved in the constitutional amendment the logistical questions about how the Mexican government will organize balloting on American soil by hundreds of thousands -- perhaps millions -- of Mexicans, many of whom live in the United States illegally.
Absentee balloting by mail, even by millions of voters, could be relatively straightforward and could be the least frightening procedure for illegal residents. But Mexican opposition parties, citing Mexico's history of electoral fraud and the unreliability of the postal system, have so far refused to accept vote-by-mail proposals.
Instead, the political leaders and lawmakers who negotiated the agreement discussed ideas like electronic voting over the Internet and direct balloting under the supervision of diplomats at Mexico's 50 consulates in the United States.
Pub Date: 6/16/96