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[Work Plan]

Secretariat for Political Affairs

1. Activities Assigned

The Program assigns the following seven specific activities to the Secretariat for Political Affairs and its departments:

Further studies on comparative legislation related to the political participation of migrants in the democratic systems of their countries of origin and host countries.

Generate, promote, and disseminate information regarding the legal, political, and practical implications of the political participation of migrants in their countries of origin for governments, migrant organizations, and electoral administrations, among others.

Offer technical assistance in institution-building to election authorities and civil electoral registries, on institutional modernization, updating of their countries’ electoral rolls, and the issuance of documents necessary for migrants to participate in the electoral processes of their countries of origin.

Offer technical assistance to legislatures that so request along with advice to parliamentary commissions on migration matters, including advice to states interested in the harmonization of migration legislation.

Provide training to migrants in order to promote their participation in democratic processes.
Promote democratic culture through formal and nonformal education, stressing the need for tolerance and solidarity, in accordance with the characteristics of each country.

Facilitate multiparty and multisectoral discussions within political parties on the human rights of migrants and their families.

2. Activities Carried Out:

During the past year, the Secretariat for Political Affairs, through the Department for the Promotion of Democracy (DPD), has continued its compilation of information on the challenges of establishing a voting system abroad, especially as regards voter registration, political participation, and logistical and financial costs. Within the Electoral Technical Assistance (ETA) programs, the DPD has promoted the strengthening of processes for identifying and registering citizens who live abroad. The efforts by the DPD during 2006 regarding compliance with the mandates of the “Inter-American Program for the Promotion of the Human Rights of Migrants, Including Migrant Workers and Their Families” centered mainly on the possibility of migrants exercising their right to vote by voting abroad.

As part of the Electoral Technical Assistance (ETA) program in Ecuador, the DPD collaborated with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of that country so that Ecuadorians who live abroad could vote in the presidential elections in October (first round) and November (second round) 2006. They prepared and established the Systems for Pre-registration and the Printing of Registration Ledgers. During the entire registration period, there was constant and effective monitoring of applications. In addition, ongoing statistical reports were issued on the number of registered voters, by country and by consulate. The number of registered voters at the close of the registration process was 141,407. Another Web application for the Registration of Volunteer Members of the Overseas Ballot Reception Boards was created so that consulates could download the lists of registered voters, members of the boards, and their respective appointments. At the end of the process, 1,548 citizens had registered as Volunteer Members of the Overseas Ballot Reception Boards. The consultation for the Electoral Register for Voters Domiciled Abroad was disseminated over the Internet and from CDs containing several security devices to safeguard the integrity of the database of the citizens registered abroad (encrypted citizen data). Finally, on the days of the election, the results of the overseas ballot were consolidated with the results of the Electoral Provincial Tribunals.

3. Activities Being Planned

The constant migration of citizens of the countries of the Hemisphere, who move from one location to another for different reasons, including, inter alia, unemployment, violence, lack of security, and the search for better opportunities, have made migration one of the most important issues in Latin America. Many of these migrants, a large number of whom contribute in a significant way to the economies of their countries of origin through remittances, have demanded the opportunity to exercise their national political rights by voting abroad. Between 2005 and 2006, Honduras, Mexico, and Ecuador joined the long list of countries that have taken measures to make it possible for citizens living abroad to vote. Although it is a topic of common concern in the region, the possibility of exercising the right to vote abroad is still somewhat complex and continues to be polemical in countries where levels of emigration are high, so that a significant percentage of potential voters live overseas. Additionally, absentee voting continues to be costly (in financial terms) and the results of it implementation, in many cases, have not been large enough to justify that cost. For example, in the case of absentee voting for the 2005 Presidential elections in Honduras, of 10, 260 voters registered abroad only 4,541 voted. This is probably related to the illegal status of many immigrants, which makes it difficult for them to exercise their right to vote even when there is the possibility of doing so.

It is precisely for these reasons that the Department for the Promotion of Democracy considers it opportune to carry out comparative studies and exchanges of experiences related to absentee voting in countries of the region. This will permit the identification of lessons learnt, future challenges, and successful practices. Carrying out a comparative study of legislation on absentee voting will allow a comprehensive assessment of the situation in the Hemisphere and the holding of a seminar on the experience of different countries would be the ideal forum for generating exchanges on this issue. Finally, as part of the initiatives of the Electoral Technical Assistance (ETA) of the Organization, it would be fitting to offer electoral organizations of the countries that allow absentee voting dissemination and information campaigns to migrants to increase their awareness on the possibility of exercising their right to vote thereby promoting migrant participation in democratic processes. The DPD also thinks it is the right time to reinforce its electoral observation exercises with monitoring of the overseas voting process in those countries that so request. In 2005 the EOM which monitored the Presidential Referendum in Venezuela also observed the voting by Venezuelans living overseas (in the United States). Although there were requests in 2006 by the Ecuadorian and Peruvian authorities to extend the electoral monitoring to overseas voting, it did not in fact materialize within the framework of the OAS EOMs in those countries, due the fact that the exercise required additional financial and logistical resources to those that were available in each of those two cases.

Finally, it is worth emphasizing that the DPD now has at its disposal a technical instrument to serve the countries of the region, developed on the basis of the technical assistance provided to the Ecuadorean SET, that makes voting abroad feasible. This instrument now pertains to the OAS and is at the disposal of any member states requesting it.

4. Calendar

The DPD hopes to embark on research for the comparative study of legislation for introducing absentee voting for countries in the region in second quarter 2007, subject to the availability of the necessary financial resources. At the same time, hopefully by third quarter 2007 – also subject to funding – it will be possible to organize the seminar to share experiences of overseas voting among countries of the region. The outcomes from that seminar will provide further input for the study, which the DPD hope to publish and disseminate extensively in the last quarter of the year.

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