Mexican citizens living in Iowa are unlikely to participate in their nation's election due to a cumbersome registration process that requires them to return to Mexico, officials said.
"The methodology they used accounts for the low numbers. It's not the will of the people," said Armando Villareal, administrator of the Iowa Division of Latino Affairs.
Last year, the Mexican government decided to allow citizens living abroad to vote in the upcoming presidential election in July. But voter ID cards required to obtain an absentee ballot were issued only in Mexico.
Of an estimated 4 million eligible voters worldwide, only about 18,600 had registered by the Jan. 15 deadline, according Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute.
Villareal said those living in the United States illegally fear they wouldn't be able to return. Even if they felt comfortable with the trip, many would be unable to afford the expense, he said.
"Why are they living outside their own country? Jobs. This country has a huge want ads sign facing south," Villareal said.
About 4 percent of Iowa's population is Hispanic, according to U.S. Census figures, with Buena Vista County's meat industry attracting one of the largest concentrations.
Patricia Hamm, professor of political science and U.S.-Latino studies at Iowa State, said registering to vote may have meant two trips back to Mexico - one to request the voter ID card and another to pick it up.
"Even those able to travel frequently need to be able to stay or have the means to come back," she said.
Hamm, a Mexican citizen, said it took officials two weeks to issue her voter ID card.