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Turning rights into ballots: Mexican external voting from the US

While some countries lag in enacting or implementing voting rights for nationals living outside the territory, others grant them but lag in turning rights into ballots. What explains the stagnation between offering democratic voice on paper to realizing active external voting in practice? We draw from the diaspora politics literature to analyse Mexico as a deviant case: we expect widespread external voting, given extensive state–diaspora institutionalization, continued legal and policy innovations, high financial investment, and consistent application of federal-level external voting since 2006. Yet, 15 years on, around 2% of those with a voter ID card and less than 1% of the pool of over 10 million potential voters participated in the 2018 election. Lowering key institutional barriers and easing voting modalities have yet to spur meaningful participation. Evidence from turnout data and electoral laws is supported with interviews within Mexico’s electoral management body, which capture insiders’ views on the politics behind innovations. The interpretive policy analysis contributes to understanding the role of electoral institutions and governance across territories. Innovations to ease registration and voting can fail to increase external voting numbers, leaving a large group of nationals abroad on the sidelines of democracy.