Mexican citizens in Texas prepare to vote in landmark presidential election

Selene Dominguez of the group Coalicin de Apoyo al Migrante en su Nuevo Avance, helps Esther Aguirre set up an appointment with the Consulate General of Mexico at the Austin Public Librarys Southeast Branch on May 9, 2024. Dominguez informs Mexican citizens living in Central Texas about consulate services such as applying for passports and registering to vote. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune, Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Recommended Videos

Judith Diaz is 37 and has never voted. But the longtime Austin resident says that will change this year when she casts a ballot for president — in the June 2 Mexican elections.

“In exercising my vote I am a part of a change in Mexico, even though I am not physically there,” Diaz said in Spanish.

Diaz, who is originally from Cuernavaca, Mexico, said that she moved to Austin to attend the Austin Learning Academy for a year, then stayed to work as a nanny. After spending almost two decades in Texas, Diaz said the first vote of her life will be for Claudia Sheinbaum, the candidate for Morena, the political party of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Mexican presidents are limited to one six-year term so Lopéz Obrador, known as AMLO, can’t run for reelection.

In 2020, about 9.5 million people of Mexican ethnic background lived in Texas. Those with Mexican citizenship can register to vote in the upcoming Mexican elections, when voters are poised to elect the country’s first female president and will decide whether to keep AMLO’s party in power for the next six years.

Sheinbaum’s main opponent is Xóchitl Gálvez, the candidate of the Broad Front for México, a coalition of different parties. Gálvez is known for opposing most of AMLO’s reform efforts and is a strong supporter of recruiting more foreign companies to move their business operations to Mexico, and the privatization of Pemex, the state-owned energy company that is deeply in debt.

“Hopefully, whoever is elected sets a good example for the [women] who will follow,” said Lily Flores, 28, who is from Torreón, Mexico, and moved to Austin with her husband in August as he pursues a doctoral degree at the University of Texas.

Flores says she’s most concerned about the high levels of violence against women in Mexico and thinks that Gálvez has a better approach to tackle this longstanding societal problem.

Several groups are helping Texas residents navigate Mexico’s complicated voting system.

Diaz is a member of Women Inspired by Dreams, Goals and Action organization, known by its Spanish acronym MISMA, which helps domestic workers learn about wage theft and their rights in the workplace. They also hold community meetings, and at one of the meetings Diaz met Selene Dominguez, who helped her through the voting registration process.

Selene Dominguez, of Coalición de Apoyo al Migrante en su Nuevo Avance (Camina), sets up in meeting room at Austin Public Library’s Southeast Branch on May 9, 2024. Dominguez aids Mexican citizens living in central Texas get informed of the services the consulate is able to provide such as applying for passports and registering to vote.

Dominguez sets up her meeting room every Thursday to offer her services at the Austin Public Library’s Southeast Branch. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Dominguez, 53, is originally from Mexico City and has lived in Austin for 23 years. She also supports Sheinbaum, and like Diaz, wants to see the current administration’s social programs continue. Both women say the programs help the families of Mexicans living abroad by giving monthly government payments to those who qualify. They said that support can take economic pressure off family members abroad who send money back to Mexico.

Dominguez and Diaz also said they’re voting for the candidate they believe will prioritize issues concerning the migrant community in the U.S., especially those who are undocumented or in vulnerable positions.

“We are not second or third-class citizens, however [migrants] get treated like that because we feel unimportant in Mexico and in the U.S.,” Dominguez said in Spanish.

Navigating a complicated voting system

Dominguez meets community members every Thursday at the Southeast Branch Library in Austin. Sitting at a desk in front of posters and resource flyers, she receives in person visits and phone calls from people requesting all types of help, from getting appointments at the Mexican Consulate to dealing with a lost passport. She volunteers with the nonprofit Coalition to Support Migrants in their New Advance, or CAMINA, along with her husband.

Selene Dominguez, of Coalición de Apoyo al Migrante en su Nuevo Avance (Camina), speaks with Esther Aguirre who is seeking help to set up an appointment with the Consulate General of Mexico, at the Austin Public Library’s Southeast Branch on May 9, 2024. Dominguez aids Mexican citizens living in central Texas get informed of the services the consulate is able to provide such as applying for passports and registering to vote.

Dominguez talks to a client seeking information about the Mexican consulate. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

“[I do it] out of conviction and empathy and because of the interest that I have in our Mexican community, given that we can vote now, and that many still ignore that we have that right to vote from abroad,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez hopes that CAMINA can help pressure Mexican agencies to do a better job of informing Mexicans living abroad about how to vote and simplify the voting process.

The government requires citizens living abroad to have a valid voter ID, but getting one requires making an appointment at a Mexican consulate, which can be time-consuming. Then they must register to vote by mail, in person or online.

“It's really important that people exercise their citizenship, and yet the government is just making it very difficult,” said Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “Whether by inflexibility, by neglect, by maliciousness or by the fact that the system itself is overwhelmed by the need. It's an outdated voting system for those who are abroad.”

The Mexican Electoral Institute, or INE, announced recently that 39,724 people who registered to vote from abroad had their registration revoked due to discrepancies with their signatures or documents. Those people had to email the electoral institute to try to correct the errors.

When registration closed in February, about 226,000 people registered to vote from abroad, with more than 156,000 of them living in the U.S. That’s a big increase from the 2018 elections, when 181,873 Mexicans registered to vote from abroad, but it’s still only a little more than 1% of the roughly 12 million Mexican citizens living outside the country. From the different voting options, nearly 70% of people chose to vote online, a new option for this year’s election.

Some unregistered Mexican voters in Texas will still be eligible to claim one of the 1,500 blank ballots available in person at both the Houston and Dallas consulates, but only if they have a valid voting ID.

Eduardo Velasco is one of the founders of Todos Votamos, a nonprofit focused on improving voter turnout and fighting voting misinformation among Mexicans living abroad. The group formed during a protest in front of the Austin Mexican Consulate against AMLO’s electoral reform efforts, which many Mexicans saw as an attempt to weaken the electoral system by slashing the electoral institute budget and reducing its personnel.

Despite being a voting rights advocate, he said he could not convince his two adult children, who grew up in the U.S. and are also dual citizens, to register to vote in this year’s Mexican elections.

“The new generations are not interested [in the Mexican elections] because they were born [in the U.S.]. This is also a generational challenge, because they grew up comfortably with U.S. democracy, they don’t care about what’s happening in Mexico,” said Velasco, who moved to Austin in 2006 for a UT-Austin program with the Austin Technology Incubator and decided to stay with his family because of safety concerns in Mexico.

Voting in both countries 

Eva Noyola, 48, a dual citizen originally from Mexico City, says she cares deeply about both countries and is adamant about voting in all Mexican and local U.S. elections.

“Every time there is an election, even if it's for a pair of local propositions where just 1,000 people vote, I’m going to vote, because I think it is a privilege to be able to in life,” Noyola said in Spanish. Noyola, a member of Todos Votamos who settled in Austin in 2013, works at the Texas Comptroller's Office.

Eva Noyola, a member of Todos Votamos, at the Texas Capitol Complex in Austin on May 10, 2024. Noyola is a Mexican and American citizen and is adamant about voting on elections, even small ones, from both countries.

Eva Noyola, a member of Todos Votamos, has dual citizenship in Mexico and the U.S. and is adamant about voting in elections in both countries. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Noyola said she plans to vote in both Mexico and U.S. presidential elections this year — an opportunity that dual citizens won’t have again until 2036. She said that the issue she is the most concerned about in Mexico’s election is the overall well-being of her family on the other side of the border, and the continuation of democracy in the country.

When it comes to elections in Texas, Noyola said she cares more about how taxpayer money is being used to improve public services, public education and infrastructure development.

Rodrigo Cruz, 52, who also moved to Austin from Mexico City, works in digital engineering and said Mexico needs to invest more in education to help new generations keep up with technology advancements in the U.S. and Canada. He said that he will vote for the candidate who he believes has the best plan to cultivate Mexican leadership and talent, to motivate Mexicans to stay and work in their home country.

“I want [a Mexico] where we all have opportunities that only depend on how much effort you put in to get ahead,” Cruz said in Spanish. “As long as you put in the work, nothing should be there to stop you.”

Disclosure: Rice University and Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

We’ve got big things in store for you at The Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 5–7 in downtown Austin. Join us for three days of big, bold conversations about politics, public policy and the day’s news.

Correction, : A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of people with Mexican heritage living in Texas. There were 9.5 million people of Mexican heritage living in Texas in 2020.

Recommended Videos