- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

REYNOSA, Mexico — A small army of electoral workers carrying absentee ballot registration forms was deployed yesterday in airports, land crossings and customs checkpoints along Mexico’s border with the United States.

Their mission is to get the thousands of migrants returning home for the holidays to register for the nation’s first absentee balloting. Votes from millions of Mexicans living abroad, mostly in the United States, could swing July’s presidential election.

Some Mexican migrants in the United States, however, complain that a lack of information has made registration confusing and difficult. Many also lack a voter identification card, which is required to register and can be obtained only in Mexico.

As of Nov. 1, only 773 eligible voters had returned their absentee voter forms, electoral officials said.

The border registration drive, which will last two months, is aimed at making the process easier and getting more people to participate.

“This is a completely new program, and it takes time for citizens to learn about their rights,” said Alberto Alonso y Coria, voter registry director for Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute. “We are expecting a spike [in registrations] in the coming weeks, as we get closer to the deadline.”

In Reynosa, the program got off to a slow start as workers unloaded a desk and set up an information booth yesterday in a room next door to a customs office. No one was there seeking information.

Mexican citizens living abroad previously had to return home to vote, and many were unable to make the trip. In June, Congress voted to allow mail-in ballots from outside Mexico, something migrant groups had demanded for years.

Under the new law, voters can register for an absentee ballot by filling out forms available on the electoral institute’s Web site and at Mexican consulates abroad.

Absentee ballot request forms must be sent by registered mail and postmarked by Jan. 15.

The border effort includes information booths in the cities of Mexicali, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Tijuana, Nogales, Agua Prieta, Ciudad Juarez, Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuna. Information centers are also open in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.

Migrants will be able to apply for a voter-registration card at the electoral institute’s offices in border cities. Before, migrants had to return to their home states to apply for a card.

Electoral officials said the cards will be processed in about two weeks — rather than the usual monthlong wait — so they will be ready before migrants return to the United States.

Electoral officials also have used professional athletes to promote registration. The Chivas USA soccer team visited the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles to publicize the program, and race car driver Adrian Fernandez made a similar visit in Dallas.

Government officials estimate that 11 million Mexicans live abroad, 98 percent of them in the United States. About 4 million of those are thought to be registered voters. Absentee ballots will be used for presidential elections only.

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