Election Escapades: From San Francisco to Mexico to Key West & Back
Posted by Tony & Cheri on October 30, 2008
With the US presidential election racing to a finish soon, we thought people might enjoy hearing about how we are taking part in the election from down here and how it compares with politics here in Mexico. And of course we will offer what has been labeled as our “misguided” opinions on who should be President…but don’t worry, we won’t get too preachy and you can even skip that part if you want. We won’t be offended.
Unlike the US elections, open democratic elections in Mexico have only existed for a few years. From 1929 until 2000, Mexico was ruled by one party which controlled the outcome of elections. Democratic reform swept the country in 2000, and Vicente Fox became the first opposition party candidate to ever win the Presidency.
That fragile democracy was tested in last year’s presidential election when Felipe Calderón ran against López Obrador. The race was very close and very nasty, splitting the country into two camps. Most educated professionals and people in large cities went for Calderón. Poor people living in the rural areas went for Obrador. The result was very close with Calderón winning but with many Obrador supporters claiming that the election had been fraudulent like so many in the past.
When we tried to talk about the election with Mexican friends or even our employees we were met with silence and downcast eyes. Unlike America where everybody has an opinion and is more than willing to share it, most Mexicans don’t speak easily about their political views. Whether a matter of etiquette or fear we don’t know. The few who did speak about the election were unshakable in the belief that no one could stop the rich and powerful from always being in control. It appears to us that a large part of this country views the entire political system with a mixture of distrust and fatalism.
With that atmosphere here in Mexico, we sometimes have to chuckle at the partisan squabbles back home over who is too left or too right. And the complaints about an unfair media or fears of a fraudulent voter turnout seem pretty overblown to us when compared with the real problems in establishing a democracy south of the border. Americans should never forget how really special, and strong, their democracy is.
If anything, seeing how people reacted to elections in Mexico made us want to participate in our own elections even more. The question was how to do that from 4,000 miles away. Our original thought was that we would take some time off and go back to the US as volunteers for whatever candidate appealed to us. It was a nice idea, but the more we discussed it, the more reality set in. Who was going to do our reservations, supervise our hotel, watch our bar and most important babysit all our animals? We realized pretty quickly that wasn’t going to happen. So, we did the next best thing. We sent money. By the time we were ready to give money, the race had narrowed down to Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama. Lifelong Democrats that we are, we sent our money to Mr. Obama.
Of course, in our world of international living, writing a check and sticking it in the mail is not possible. If we had mailed a check to the Obama campaign from Mexico, it might arrive in time for the election in 2012. So we went online and gave what we could. And then we gave a little more. Okay, we maxed out our contributions. We decided this election was that important.
We got a nice thank you email from the Obama campaign. And suddenly we had new best friends. Actually it was kind of nice. Even though we couldn’t give any more money, we still got almost daily updates from the campaign. They also gave us the opportunity to volunteer without ever leaving Playa del Carmen. As part of their internet volunteer program, they provided phone numbers of undecided voters in swing states for us to call. Our swing state was Nevada.
Of course it wasn’t an international call as we have an internet phone line that basically operates as a San Francisco number. That was the good news. The bad news is we have been getting constant phone calls from state, local and national campaigns who don’t realize they’re contacting us in Mexico. Boy will we be glad when the election is over. We even got a phone call tonight from the Obama campaign asking us if we’d come down to the San Francisco office tomorrow and make phone calls to get out the vote. We’d love to, but it’s a bit of a commute. 🙂
Having done what we could to help our candidate win, the next step was of course to vote for him. That was easier said than done. It ended up involving several weeks, multiple emails, two trips to the United States, a mule from Iowa, and a ballot that eventually passed through three states, four time zones and an international border. We take our voting seriously!
We got the ball rolling on a trip to San Francisco in early September. We still maintain a home in San Francisco, so that’s where we are registered to vote. After a couple of phone calls and emails, the Department of Elections in our home town informed us that we needed to print out an application for a mail-in ballot and bring it to City Hall. As we had a laptop but no printer, we asked the nice folks at the front desk of the Chancellor Hotel (where we always stay when traveling through San Francisco) for help, and they graciously printed out our forms. We then headed over to City Hall. We couldn’t pick up the ballots that day as they had to be mailed to us. Since nothing mailed to Mexico ever arrives on time if at all, we arranged for our ballots to be mailed to our friend & semi-adopted daughter Sarah in Iowa, where she lives with her now husband Adam.
Sarah & Adam were heading down in October to get married on the beach here in Mexico. Along with her dress, party favors, decorations and assorted wedding accessories, they “muled” our ballots to us. We set them aside knowing we would be returning to the US before the election, so we could mail them ourselves. There they sat relatively undisturbed (except for one unfortunate incident involving the overflowing bladder of our very old cat) until we took our vacation to Key West last week. There, amidst the insanity and raucous fun of Fantasy Fest, we managed to find time to fill out the ballots and prepare to mail them back to San Francisco. Except that somehow in the process we lost one of the return envelopes. Panic. Calls and emails back to San Francisco’s Department of Elections, who calmly informed us that we could send it in another envelope as long as it was properly addressed and specifically marked according to their directions.
So off we went on our bikes through Key West, weaving among painted nymphs and tipsy pirates searching for a store to buy the proper size envelopes. We finally found one and purchased what we needed. We stuffed and addressed the envelopes, and asked the store clerk how much it costs to mail a letter these days. He said, “Hell, I don’t know.” Key West is very laid back. So we stuck on four or five 37 cent stamps just to be sure, made our way back through the partying crowd and deposited our ballots in a US mailbox. From San Francisco to Iowa to Mexico to Key West and finally back to San Francisco. We sure hope your trip to the polls is easier. 🙂
So now it’s just a matter of waiting for election night. When it comes we’ll probably end up on the couch in front of the TV with a cup of tea, a dog, a bunch of cats, and our fingers crossed. We truly believe that Barack Obama will be the best choice for the country, and we dearly hope that he wins. More importantly, though, our experience in the third world has reinforced our belief that the best thing about democracy is that everyone has a chance to be heard and that in the end we’re all Americans, no matter which political party we belong to. Regardless of who is elected on November 4, we hope the country will give him a chance. He’s going to have one hell of a tough job.
Now go VOTE!!!!