Venezuelans living abroad want to vote for president this year but can’t meet absentee requirements

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro points upwards as he is driven to the electoral council headquarters to register his candidacy for a third term, in Caracas, Venezuela on March 25. (AP)

MEXICO CITY, April 14, (AP): Giovanny Tovar left Venezuela five years ago in search of a job after his country came undone under the watch of President Nicolás Maduro. He now sells empanadas and tequeños in the streets of Peru’s capital, where he pushes around a small cart outfitted with a deep fryer.
Tovar wants nothing more than to vote Maduro out of office. He sees an opportunity for change in July’s highly anticipated presidential election but he won’t be able to cast a vote. Neither will millions of other Venezuelan emigrants because of costly and time-consuming government prerequisites that are nowhere to be found in Venezuela’s election laws.
“I really don’t understand why they put so many obstacles in the way of us exercising our vote,” Tovar said before offering the main reason emigrants suspect is behind the prerequisites: “I really would like to vote but not to give the vote to Maduro.”
More than half of the estimated 7.7 million Venezuelans who have left their homeland during the complex crisis that has marked Maduro’s 11-year presidency are estimated to be registered to vote in Venezuela. But of all the Venezuelans fanned out around the world, including those who emigrated before the crisis, government figures show only about 107,000 are registered to vote outside the South American country.
Analysts and emigrants assert people who left Venezuela during the crisis would almost certainly vote against Maduro if given the chance. Maduro, who became interim president in 2013 following the death of the fiery Hugo Chávez, is seeking a third term in office.
Venezuelan law contemplates absentee voting, allowing citizens to vote at embassies and consulates. Interested voters must be properly registered with their foreign address and cannot be living in their host country illegally or seeking refugee or asylum status there.
The residency requirement alone reduces significantly the number of people who can register as the majority of emigrants lack legal status. During this year’s registration period, which ends Tuesday, even those who have been granted temporary residency in host countries are being turned away by consular officials because the diplomatic outposts are demanding proof of permanent status.
“Permanent Residence Documents issued by the host country” must show “validity of … at least 3 years from the current date” and “must have been issued at least 1 year in advance,” according to a flyer outside the consulate in Colombia’s capital, Bogota. But Venezuela’s election law only calls for interested voters to “have residency or any other status that denotes legality of stay” in a foreign country.

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