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Turning Rights into Ballots: Mexican External Voting from the US

Latin America
Migration
Representation
USA
Voting
Electoral Behaviour
Andrés Besserer Rayas
The City University of New York
Victoria Finn
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Andrés Besserer Rayas
The City University of New York
Victoria Finn
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden

Abstract

While some countries lag in enacting or implementing voting rights for nationals abroad, others grant them but lag in turning rights into ballots. Not just granting, but exercising rights is essential, as voting remains a pillar of democracy. Mexico has consistently applied external voting in federal presidential elections since 2006 to its diaspora, of which 97.2% live in the United States (US). Yet 15 years after implementing external voting to a potential pool of 12 million external voters, only about 200,000 vote. What explains the stagnation between offering democratic voice on paper to realizing active external voting in practice? Our evidence comes from turnout data, electoral laws, academic literature, and interviews within Mexico’s electoral management body (EMB). Low participation was previously linked to fears and political party legacies, banned campaigning abroad, and cumbersome registration and voting procedures. Since then, Mexico allows dual nationality, political parties have engaged the diaspora, and the EMB has eased registration and in 2018 offered electronic voting alongside postal voting. The literature shows Mexicans’ transnational ties since many follow homeland politics, send remittances, and join hometown associations—yet few vote for national elections. We suggest key institutional barriers still limit meaningful participation, exacerbated by irregular legal status in the US, deterring registration. This case contributes to debates on the implementation gap of overseas political participation by including legal and social dynamics in the residence country, which can leave a large group of citizens on the sidelines of democracy.