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Mexican citizens in Washington state struggle to have their vote counted in historic election

caption: Claudia Sheimbaum celebrating during her speech in Mexico City on Sunday.
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Claudia Sheimbaum celebrating during her speech in Mexico City on Sunday.
Israel Fuguemann for NPR

Mexico's presidential election featured a lot of firsts. In addition to the first election of a female president in Mexican history, the election was also the first time Mexican citizens living outside the country were able to vote digitally in a presidential election. But long lines of people attempting to cast ballots in person Sunday at the Mexican Consulate in Seattle's Capitol Hill suggest the foreign voting process is far from perfect.

The first problem for many Mexican citizens was accessing the consulate office, especially those who live on the eastern side of the Cascades. The Seattle location is Washington's only venue for in-person voting. The next closest location is Boise, Idaho.

"We have a lot of people in Eastern Washington that need the services of the Mexican Consulate,” said Ana Laura Aceveda, who works at a notary office and was ferrying others to file documents at the Seattle consulate Monday. Aceveda said it takes months to schedule appointments at the consulate to submit notarized documents.

Mexican citizens living in Washington state had three options to take part in Sunday's presidential election:

  • Vote by mail.
  • Vote electronically online.
  • Vote in person at a designated Mexican consulate office on June 2nd.

The Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE), the governing body that manages Mexican elections were recently subject to reforms that include budget cuts and leadership staffing.

The former president cited concerns over external influences and collusion in previous elections inspiring this change. At the same time, the number of people with the ability to vote in Mexico’s elections living in the U.S. has continued to grow.

Even though the voting took place in the Mexican Consulate offices, the elections were run by the INE. Héctor Iván Godoy Priske is the head consular of the Seattle office.

“We actually handed off the keys to the building," Priske said. "In order to respect the separation of authorities, and the dignity and security of the vote, our functionaries and our staff were not actually involved in any of the organization of the event.... We were specifically asked to not participate in that manner.”

Where the consulate does participate is in voter registration.

For Mexican citizens living outside of the country, registering to vote is a multi-step verification process. That process includes a trip to the nearest consulate with an appointment, or visiting a clinic organized by the consulate. Documents need to be submitted for voter registration by Feb. 25 of the election year or voters wouldn’t get their credentials in time to vote.

Appointments with the consulate are notoriously difficult to get, because of a lack of staff. The consulate cites that they serve around 1 million in the region. On their website they are currently taking applications to fill vacant positions.

Would-be voters also can choose to vote in-person at a designated Mexican consulate office on the last day of the election, especially if they didn't get their verification in time. But they have to show up to cast their ballot with the right paperwork.

In the days leading up to the June 2 deadline to vote, INE election officials say they’ve had record turnout for the foreign vote, largely by mail.

Priske said he knows the INE will have their own takeaways, as for the consulate, they have their own lessons. He points out that people could have also learned other ways to vote.

“I think we could have done better, I think we could have, as a community, considered other forms of votes than just in-person voting,” Priske said.

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