ReQuest 2018 says:

For Andycyca: The most important bit of Mexican politics than Americans don’t know about.

I received this request almost 2 years ago and I still don’t know exactly how to answer, for various reasons. In approximate order of importance:

  • I know very little about politics in general
  • I know very little about Mexican politics in general
  • I don’t know how to determine whether something “should be known” by others (even more when considering a large group of people like, say, inhabitants of the United States of America)
  • It gets very boring very quickly when considering the other drafts and writing projects in my mind

However, during the past 2 years I’ve given some thought to it and, while the above points are still valid, I feel the need to share with the rest of the class at least the few things that have come to mind since.

Bear in mind that this has been collected from several drafts scattered here and there.

Voting procedures, our differences in

The very first thing that I thought upon reading the request was this. Why is it that we vote in such different ways? Now, I’m not interested in the history of such systems: although the reasons for choosing one procedure over another may be illuminating but not immediate to my inquiry of why things are right now.

Tuesday vs Sunday

For instance (and the most salient point in my mind) is the actual date for voting. Why is it that major elections in the USA happen in the middle of the week? I’ve read numerous accounts of difficulties of breaking up the working day to go and vote appropriately.

Now, I know well that it’s impossible to completely halt all economic activity for one day in order to vote; and no day of the week has 100% voter availability. But having our elections in Sundays ensures that large portions of voters1 are “free” to go and vote throughout the day.

Does this solve the problem? Well… it’s hard to say for sure. Absenteeism has been a large problem here for quite a while. Between 1991–2015 the lowest absenteeism for federal elections was 22.84%, in the 1994 presidential election.2

But participation in general has increased with the years. In the 1990–2015 period, the (voting) population grew approximately 47%34 while the list of registered voters gre by over 200% in the same period,5 which could be an argument that civic participation is growing even if the larger problem of absenteeism is still there.

Voter registration

This is the one that really confuses me. According to a few (Mexican) friends living in the USA, this confusion is by design.

Now I wish to reiterate both my ignorance of politics as a whole and the history of how it came to be this way.6 This is also why it all seems so weird to me.

As mentioned, when discussing this with friends, the most common reply seems to be that the voting registration procedure in the USA is an enormous barrier to participation, whether it’s by malicious design or incompetent negligence.

Seriously, I’m looking at the article on Wikipedia7 and I’m having trouble making heads tails of it. Granted, I’m not an expert, but there are things like having to register for each and every election seems like a hurdle to me. Not that we have a perfect system, but it makes more sense to me to have an almost-permanent registration procedure that gets updated when needed.8

Then there’s the whole identification process, which…

National ID

Signing up for at the INE has two major effects on your life, linked to one another:

  1. Registers you as a citizen able to vote in all relevant elections for a certain period of time, and
  2. Creates a National identity document, valid (and sometimes necessary) for most important procedures, including but not limited to opening a bank account and generally dealing with the financial world (loans, mortgages, etc), updating and creating official documents (marriage and birth certificates, passport, etc), verifying your age when purchasing alcohol…

The subject of a national identity document is, apparently, a thorny one for USA citizens. I’ve tried to follow it but my attention span tends to decrease for topics like these, so it makes sense that it makes no sense to me.

Why is there no nationally accepted, single ID for USA citizens? I get that there’s other ways of proving one’s identity, but many of them have some sort of important barrier. This only serves to confirm my subjective view that these systems are designed to prevent civic participation, rather than encouraging it.

In here, money is a barrier to getting a drivers license and/or a passport, the actual fulfillment of military service is needed for a «cédula», getting a proper bachelor’s degree is needed to get a professional registry card. But getting our national ID is only a matter of showing up with appropriate documentation that you should have anyways9 and taking a picture.

The ID is good enough, generally speaking, for 10 years and during that time one is able to participate in local and federal elections with no other steps required except, of course, showing up at the booths on election day. Even if one moves to a new state or if the ID gets stolen the replacement procedure is easy and all the necessary updates for subsequent elections are handled behind the scenes.

Why isn’t this the case with our neighbors in the north?

Assorted questions without easy answers

Why is education—generally speaking—so expensive up there? Of course, there’s posh private universities here, some of which even gloat about being expensive, but those are in no way the only way to get an undergraduate degree. With enough determination and effort, it’s possible to have a graduate degree without having to pay an arm and a leg. Look at yours truly, who not only didn’t pay for his Masters degree, but was paid for it.

Same goes for healthcare. Isn’t it obviously better to have free—or affordable—health services for everyone? I get that this cuts straight to the ever popular topics of personal freedom and taxes; but paying for services that I don’t use seems better and better with every passing year. I’d rather pay for medical services, professionals and infrastructure that I will never use, than to find myself in need and not be able to ever afford them. My taxes pay for god knows how many peoples’ medicines and surgeries; I’d like for someone else to pay them for me if I ever need them.

In general the whole ideas of personal freedom and independence that seem inflated from a distance. What’s about that? Again, I know that this has a lot to do with history and how the US came to be a single nation, E pluribus unum and lots of other nuances that run from the political to the cultural. Why is it so important?

It’s not so much that I have important politics to share with my friends in the north, mostly because I don’t know about them. But it’s all about these differences that should be recognized and studied. We’ve been uneasy neighbors for quite some time and will be for the foreseeable future. Let’s spend some time getting to know each other, a task that—while impossible to complete—will only lead to a better understanding of one another, hopefully for the betterment of all of us.

A reQuested node

  1. Just exactly how large I don’t know. I admit that this is not a data-based argument but rather what intuitively feels right for urban areas, which in 2010 accounted for ~78% of the population ↩︎

  2. Source: Instituto Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Institute); «Atlas of results in Federal Elections 1991–2015 / Participation»ágina=1

  3. Source: Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística (National Institute of Geography and Statistics); «Population»; The precise data given is:

    • Population in 1990: 81,249,645
    • Population in 2015: 119,938,473

    The growth is then given by the ratio of these two numbers, which gives 1.47617…

  4. Some might take issue with calculating the voting population based only on the total population. Calculating the actual voting population (i. e. population aged 18+) is trickier, mostly because official censuses (is that the right word?) split the population in 5-year ranges, so a more accurate data could be drawn from the population aged 20+. However, a quick look at the available statistics tells me the real number can’t deviate that much from this estimate, since virtually all the relevant age groups in this period grow, reflecting the overall population growth.

    For those who might wish to take a closer look at these data, refer to:

    Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografía, «Total population by Federal Entity [State], age group and gender».

    I already spent more time writing this footnote than actually checking the data closely.

  5. Source: Instituto Nacional Electoral, loc. cit.

  6. Even though I admit that knowing this history intuitively seems necessary to understand the present. However, this draft has been sitting on the shelf for far too long and this historical analysis is beyond my knowledge, expertise and available time for researching.


  8. In general throughout Mexico, you can register on the padrón electoral (voters’ registry) at any time, except for some critical time before local or federal elections. There are, of course, provisions in place for those who turn 18 very close to the actual election and other ID related troubles, more on that later.

  9. Which, granted, is another barrier in and of itself. But given the importance of those documents (namely, a birth certificate and proof of residence), their absence is an even greater problem than not having an ID.

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