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Mexican President Pushes for Expatriate Vote in '06 Election - 2003-07-02

The government of Mexican President Vicente Fox plans to push for legislation that would allow Mexican immigrants in foreign countries to vote in the 2006 presidential election.

The idea of allowing Mexicans living outside the country to vote in national elections is not new. A law passed in 1996 gave expatriates the right to vote, but established no procedures for voting in foreign lands.

Interior Minister Santiago Creel said the Fox government will address this issue with a formal initiative within two months.

He says the Fox government will present the initiative to the new Congress before it goes into session September 1. He says the government hopes to have the necessary legal authorization for foreign voting in place in time for the next presidential election, which will take place in July of 2006.

The fate of the proposal may be determined by the makeup of the new Congress, which will be decided by voters on Sunday, July 6. President Fox is hoping that his National Action Party will make gains in the House of Deputies, the 500 seats of which are all being contested.

Recent polls provide Mr. Fox and his party with some hope for gains, but analysts say it is unlikely that any one party will end up with a majority.

That could spell trouble for some of the major Fox proposals, such as energy reform, but the ex-patriot voting idea is likely to draw votes from opposition parties eager to project a pro-migrant image.

Debate over the proposal is likely to center on its practicality. The head of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, Jose Woldenberg, says that to carry out a credible voting operation in the United States and other nations where large numbers of Mexican citizens live, he would need more than 9,000 polling stations and an equal number of electoral officials to operate them.

There are more than 10 million Mexican citizens living outside the country, mostly in the United States. Establishing which migrants are eligible to vote and how to register them could prove tricky.

Some opposition party leaders also question the wisdom of operating election stations in the United States, because it might draw the ire of conservative critics of illegal immigration there. Some U.S. conservative groups, which already express dismay over what they see as inadequate enforcement of immigration laws, are likely to bristle at the idea of a foreign country carrying out voting on U.S. soil.

This could further complicate efforts by Mexico to forge an immigration agreement with the United States, under which undocumented workers could receive some form of legal status north of the border.