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Mexican Law, Distance Discourage Voters : Election: Country’s ban on absentee ballots makes many in O.C. apolitical.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Adan Tobano took off his hat, brushed the sweat from his forehead in the afternoon sun, then said he had little interest in politics in Mexico, where presidential elections will take place Sunday, or in the United States.

“What goes on in my country doesn’t really affect me any more--unless I decide to go back,” said the 30-year-old ice cream vendor from the state of Puebla. “And here, well, I don’t think I can vote, and even if I could, I don’t know enough about it, anyway.”

He can’t vote in the United States because, although he is in the county legally, he’s not a citizen. He can, however, vote in Mexico. But that would mean making a lengthy trip to Tijuana, Tecate or Mexicali, the closest border cities. And he just doesn’t think it’s worth it.

Tobano is one of thousands of Mexican immigrants who find themselves in political limbo every time an election takes place south of San Ysidro--be they from Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Queretaro or Oaxaca.

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Indeed, they have become an apolitical force. Their numbers are legion in Orange and Los Angeles counties but their electoral power is nil--on both sides of the border. That’s because to vote here they must become U.S. citizens, but many legal residents don’t want to become U.S. citizen because they don’t want to compromise their nationality.

And though they have the ability to cast ballots in Mexico, in special polling places set aside by the government for those “in transit,” even then they are only allowed to vote for presidential candidates.

So, a majority of Mexican immigrants sit the elections out and glean what they can from the local Spanish newspapers, television or long-distance phone calls to relatives.

“My father can’t stop talking about it,” said Mariana Calderon, 40, a Costa Mesa resident who was born in the state of Durango. “But I never cared much for it.”

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Maria de Los Angeles, an employee at the Mexican Consulate in Santa Ana, cares about politics. She’d like to vote, but says her hands are tied.

“I just don’t have the time or the transportation to get to Tijuana,” she said from behind the counter.

If she could, she’d cast an absentee ballot from Santa Ana, but the fact is she can’t, because it is forbidden by the Mexican Constitution, a fact that led an estimated 10,000 Mexican immigrants to hold mock elections in Orange and Los Angeles counties over the weekend in which the ruling party lost.

“We just want the right to be able to vote outside of Mexico,” said Salvador Vazquez, 56, who organized the elections on the north side of Los Angeles. “There’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be able to vote from here. A lot of us have to work and just can’t make it to la frontera (the border) on Sunday.”

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As a result, very few Mexican immigrants who live and work in Orange County, and whose numbers are growing steadily each year, will have an electoral say in defining the destiny of the “Old Country.”

Though there have been numerous attempts by Mexican immigrants in the United States to create an absentee-balloting law--letters have been written, complaints have been filed with Mexico’s federal electorate--Vazquez has his own theories as to why the Mexican government has yet to embrace such a system.

The government “says it’s too complicated a process, and it will cost a lot of money, but deep down it’s because the Mexicans who live here generally don’t agree with the system of government now in power. That’s why they left the country to begin with.”

That is the opinion of a member of the PRD, or Democratic Revolution Party, which contends that its candidate this year, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, was robbed of the presidency six years ago due to widespread fraud on the part of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

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The PRI has maintained power ever since it formed in 1929, another reason why Mexican immigrants fail to see the logic in heading south for the polls.

“Why vote when you know who’s going to win beforehand--it’s just one vote that won’t matter,” said Newport Beach resident Jorge Gonzales, 29.

Despite the distance and the disadvantages, the Mexican Consulate in Santa Ana still encourages all Mexican citizens to make a beeline for the border to cast their ballots if they have the chance because this election is considered crucial in Mexico’s political future.

And who knows, someday Mexico might include absentee voting in the Mexican Constitution, said Felipe Soria, the consul for the Mexican Consulate in Santa Ana. After all, South Africa allowed residents living in foreign countries to cast absentee ballots during its presidential election in April. About 900 South Africans in Orange County voted.

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“The simple fact is Mexico is making some very profound changes, but first it has to deal with the more immediate problems before it can even take a look at such a thing as absentee balloting,” he said.

Problems such as settling the uprising in the southern state of Chiapas among indigenous revolutionaries, rebounding from the assassination of PRI’s former presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, and effectively competing in the North American Free Trade Agreement are just a few problems Mexico’s new president will have to face.

The top contenders for the presidency include: Ernesto Zedillo of PRI; Cardenas of PRD; Alvaro Perez Trevino of PARM, the Authentic Mexican Revolution Party; Marcela Lombardo Otero of PPS, the People’s Socialist Party; and Diego Fernandez of PAN, the National Action Party.

But those names are as foreign as the country is far, at least for Jaime Mercado, a research lab technician of La Habra who was born in the United States but whose parents were born in Mexico.

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He said he pays little attention to the politics, unless it’s at a grass-roots level.

“I helped get a friend elected to the City Council in Rosemead,” he said.

* RELATED STORY: A16


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