MEXICO CITY -- The tiny but closely watched migrant segment of the Mexican electorate voted firmly for Josefina Vazquez Mota of the governing National Action Party (PAN), an opposite result to her third-place showing in the national race.
The results announced Monday by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) also showed a 23% increase in voter-abroad participation over the 2006 election, the first time Mexicans living abroad had the right to vote.
In all, 40,714 votes were counted from 91 countries, with a wide majority of those from the U.S., reflecting the deep civic engagement with Mexico that many established immigrants can maintain after decades away.
Voters abroad registered with the IFE months in advance to receive a postage-paid ballot by mail, which had to be returned by Saturday. Electoral authorities on Monday noted they were also able to reduce the budget for the vote-from-abroad count by more than half.
"It was a success because the goal was to get more votes than in 2006 at less of a cost, and that's what happened," said Ana Isabel Fuentes, IFE spokeswoman for the vote-abroad program.
The news was a bright spot in the post-election buzz for the PAN.
A PAN-led government under President Vicente Fox pushed changes in electoral laws in 2005 to give Mexicans living abroad the right to vote, which migrants in the United States had lobbied for since the 1970s. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had resisted giving migrants the vote throughout its presidencies.
PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto won Sunday's election, returning the party to power after 12 years in opposition. During the campaign, supporters of the PRI opened an unofficial campaign office in the Los Angeles area, and that may have given the party a boost over its showing in 2006.
Vazquez Mota won 42.1% of the 2012 migrant vote, results showed. She was followed by leftist coalition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with 38.9%. The PRI finished with 15.6%, a low third place compared with its national victory of at least 38%, according to Monday's ongoing national tally.
In 2006, the PRI finished with a paltry 4% of the votes sent from abroad.
The migrant vote is minuscule compared with the tens of millions who vote in Mexico, but they often remain influential leaders in their communities here and account for a large portion of Mexico's wealth through remittances.
In an interview with The Times conducted before the election, Peña Nieto's advisor on migrant affairs said that upon winning, the PRI would maintain and expand migrant-friendly programs developed by two consecutive PAN governments.
Arnulfo Valdivia, a political economist and dual Mexican-U.S. citizen himself, said Peña Nieto's administration would also seek to make it easier for the estimated 12 million Mexicans living in the U.S. to vote in future elections. Currently the IFE does not issue voter cards outside the country.
"The phenomenon of migration cannot be a point of pride," Valdivia said. "It's fundamentally a reflection of the lack of opportunities that exist in Mexico."
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Ramiro Romero shows his ballot as a voter abroad in Mexico's July 1 presidential election, May 24, 2012, in the Lynwood suburb of Los Angeles. Credit: Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times