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Mexico Tries to Improve Absentee Voting

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The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 26, 2006; 1:26 PM

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's first attempt at absentee voting was a flop, collecting a mere 33,111 ballots, but officials hope to make it cheaper and easier for Mexicans to vote from abroad in the next presidential election.

Millions of Mexicans living abroad were allowed to mail in presidential ballots for the first time in the July 2 election, a right migrants living in the United States spent years fighting for.

Electoral authorities counted 32,632 absentee ballots on July 2. Of those, 28,335 came from the United States _ home to some 9 million Mexican expatriates. Officials annulled 479 ballots for irregularities.

The results confirmed fears the effort, despite a $42 million budget, wasn't well publicized and was too complicated.

"It is a new right, and people aren't used to voting from abroad," Patricio Ballados, who coordinated the effort, told The Associated Press.

To get an absentee ballot, Mexicans had to be registered in Mexico, have a voting card and give a valid street address in the country where they were living. The next step was asking for a ballot by registered mail, which cost $9.

Many migrants couldn't afford registered mail. Even fewer had voting cards with them, and almost none wanted to make their addresses public.

Electoral officials plan to ask the new Congress, which will be sworn in Sept. 1, to allow voters to register from abroad and seek other ways to simplify the process.

Jose Jacques Medina, of the California-based Front of Mexicans Abroad, said the current procedure excluded many poorer Mexicans who might have voted for leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The presidential race is still undecided, with Lopez Obrador disputing an official count that gave ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon a slim lead.

Calderon won the absentee vote, receiving 58 percent of the ballots that arrived from other countries. Lopez Obrador got 34 percent of the absentee ballots and Roberto Madrazo from the Institutional Revolutionary Party received 4 percent.

Medina said poorer Mexicans, who are often undocumented, were less likely to pay the mailing fee, have their voting cards and want to give a proof of address. If participation had been higher, he speculated, the leftist party may have had enough votes to win.

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