A special commission in the Legislative Assembly is considering reforms to the Electoral Code that would allow Costa Ricans living abroad to vote in referendums and presidential elections.
“Not only is it a wish of the (Supreme Elections) Tribunal that there be a vote in other countries, but it’s also a commitment of the Commission,” said Tribunal president Luis Antonio Sobrado, who recently appeared before the seven-member Electoral Reforms Commission.
Reforms wouldn’t come in time for the Oct. 7 referendum on the controversial Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), Costa Rica’s first referendum in modern history and possibly the first in the work on a freetrade treaty.
Some 80 countries in the world, including 10 in Latin America, allow for absentee voting, Sobrado said. He added that the lack of absentee voting is a “significant defect” in the Costa Rican electoral system, which is otherwise a “model and example for Latin America.”
The Commission is considering putting polling places in the 54 Costa Rican consulates so that the 200,000 Costa Ricans living abroad will be able to vote. The question is how soon.
The Tribunal has suggested a pilot plan to open voting booths in foreign communities with the highest concentrations of Costa Ricans by the next presidential electionsin 2010. But Maureen Patricia Ballesteros, a National Liberation Party (PLN) legislator on the Commission, said all Costa Ricans living abroad should be able to vote by 2010 – perhaps even electronically.
“This would not be any more complicated than opening a voting booth in (the province of) Limón or anywhere else,” she said. “Of course, it would be more expensive. But the Tribunal must make room in its budget so that this is feasible…It’s a right.”
In an appearance before the Commission last week, Minister of Foreign Relations Bruno Stagno said the reforms to the Electoral Code should specify whether migration status will affect the voting rights of Costa Ricans living in other countries.
About half Costa Ricans living abroad are concentrated in four states in the United States, Stagno said.Many live there illegally.
Costa Rica does not have diplomatic representation in Africa or Oceania; most of its embassies and consulates are concentrated in Latin America, the U.S. and Europe.