$18 dollar ballot: A civil responsibility?

$18. That is the amount I had to pay to send my ballot request via certified Canada Post mail back to the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) in Mexico City. For an international student living in Canada, it seemed more than worth it. Yet for the average Mexican worker harvesting tomatoes in Leamington, Ontario or for an underpaid under-the-table gardener earning $4 an hour in Venice Beach, California, $18 is simply too much money.

Elections Canada also requires its citizens abroad to pay in order to send their ballot request back to Ottawa. It seems fair to say that paying for a ballot request is simply a normal process that any citizen abroad has to go through if one wishes to take part in their country’s electoral process.
To date, the mail payment had certainly drawn much criticism from many political actors and journalists in Mexico. This is because it is a considerable expense to those living abroad.

In regards to the latest election in July 2006, the international voting process was simple enough.

I had the choice of either registering through the IFE’s website by submitting my voting card information or by asking the Mexican Consulate in Toronto for a ballot request. Once I had typed all my information, the IFE’s website created a personal file and provided me with an application form as well as a list of supporting documents that I needed to provide to receive my ballot: my student visa, a signed photocopy of my voting card and proof of a Canadian address.

A CD with the speeches of all of the candidates contending for the Mexican presidency was also included.

While their platforms featured proposals on how to improve the quality of life in Mexico, the speeches were mostly directed to Mexicans residing in the United States. Candidates detailed how comprehensive immigration reform would aid the millions of undocumented workers residing in the U.S.

Sadly though, voter turnout was a failure.

With 11 million Mexicans living abroad, Mexican government figures had said that between 17,000 and 22,000 ballots were received, most of them coming from the United States.

Along with the unnecessary ballot expense, it seems that our government did a poor job informing us about this new voting process. A lot more could have been done through Mexico’s consular network.

For instance, Mexico’s consulate in Edmonton had a preliminary public relations campaign that advised Mexicans in Alberta about the possibility of voting in the presidential elections. I wonder why such a campaign was not launched by our embassy or even by our Toronto consulate; after all, most Mexicans in Canada reside in Ontario.

It was only after a number of phone calls to our Toronto consulate that I even learned about the voting process as well as the submission deadline for the ballot request.

Mexican newspapers such as Reforma and El Universal take great pride in broadcasting information to Mexicans living abroad; yet, I do not remember any of them providing any kind of orientation on how to take part in this important process.

Indeed, the system was not perfect and much should be done to improve it for the next set of presidential elections.

However, in the end, I was happy to take part in this historical process. It is hard to explain how rewarding it can be to fulfill a civic responsibility while away from my beloved country. For this reason, I encourage all those abroad to continue to participate in their country’s politics.

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