Jul 2, 2012

Denied the Right to Vote in Mexico’s Presidential Election

My husband and I moved away from our voting district in Mexico State in large part due to increasing violence. In May 2011, I suffered a botched kidnapping attempt in broad daylight. In October 2011, we were enjoying a drink in a quiet, well-lit bar when municipal police allegedly working for the La Familia criminal organization burst in, locked down the bar, and held us all at gunpoint while they pressured the owner to pay his quota to La Familia. He was the last bar owner in town who refused to pay criminals for the right to operate his business. After about a half-hour of lockdown, we left the bar unscathed. Bar patrons in the next town over, however, were less fortunate. Three days after our ordeal, gunmen allegedly working for La Familia opened fire in a bar that refused to pay its quota, shooting five patrons, including two women.

By March 2012, bodies hanging from bridges or executed and dumped in mass graves or in front of public events were becoming relatively commonplace in the farming community where we lived. So we moved.

After settling in to our new home in a new state, my husband and I debated whether or not to vote in the presidential elections. We’d never voted, nor had any member of our family for that matter. Our family was disillusioned with the electoral process, and the “leftist” candidate, Andres Manuel López Obrador, had promised United States Vice-President Joe Biden that he would continue the drug war if he were elected president. Our family had always preferred grassroots organizing to participation in the electoral process.

But this election was different. My husband and I spent two years in Mexico State under the rule of Enrique Peña Nieto, and we watched as his security policies sent our quiet, close-knit town into a tailspin. Our friends and family were tortured in Atenco in 2006 during a violent police operation ordered by Peña Nieto. No government officials have been punished for the unthinkable things they did to our family, even though we still have to live with the emotional and physical consequences of the torture. On the contrary, Peña Nieto was rewarded for his deeds when his party named him their presidential candidate.

The #YoSoy132 student movement against Peña Nieto’s candidacy convinced us that voting against the man who had done us so much harm was both noble and necessary. We saw ourselves reflected in that movement. The students didn’t belong to a political party. They weren’t faithful followers of a candidate that they felt would single-handedly change Mexico for the better. They simply knew that Enrique Peña Nieto could not become the president of Mexico, and we knew that, too. So we decided to vote for Andres Manuel López Obrador.

Mexican law prohibits any changes to voter registration in the six months prior to an election, which meant that my husband was unable to change his voting district to our new home in the state of Oaxaca. On Election Day, he left early to vote at one of the Special Voting Booths set up for citizens who are voting outside of their districts.

When he arrived at the polling station, the line for those waiting to vote stretched down four city blocks. Because he had other obligations that day, he decided to return in the afternoon. He had until 6pm to vote. When he returned hours later, the line was much shorter, but then he found out why: earlier in the day, election officials handed out numbers to those waiting in line: 750 numbers, one for each ballot the Special Voting Booth received for citizens voting outside of their districts. The rest of those waiting in line were told to go home or find another Special Voting Booth--this voting booth had no more ballots.

My husband visited another three polling stations that were equipped with Special Voting Booths, and none had enough ballots for the citizens who wanted to vote. Nancy Davies, a Mexican citizen and founding member of the Oaxaca Study Action Group, reports that by 3:30 pm, signs were up in Oaxaca’s town square stating that none of the area’s six Special Voting Booths had ballots, news that she says nearly provoked a riot downtown.

As the 6 pm deadline closed in, those who did receive numbers were becoming anxious. One woman at the back of the line said that she had been waiting in line since 11am. An elderly gentleman who was just casting his vote at 6:30 said that he took his place in line at 8. He was number 326. As they waited all day in the burning sun then pouring rain, they watched people with numbers give up and go home.

Voters began to complain about the long waits to the election officials in charge of their polling stations. “There’s so few of us here. We should have voted already! How is it that you’re taking so long to let us vote?” complained one man to an election official, who told him to file a formal complaint with the Federal Elections Institute (IFE). A man who was unable to cast his vote commented that he believed election officials were intentionally delaying the voting process so that potential voters would give up and go home.

My husband and I were shocked and dismayed that he was unable to vote because the government had provided the Special Voting Booths with so few ballots. Those who are forced to vote in the Special Voting Booths instead of their designated polling stations are those who have been harmed the most by the federal government’s policies. They are Mexico’s internal refugees, displaced by the violence and insecurity that the current president unleashed when he deployed the military in the war on drugs. They are the unemployed who were forced to travel to look for work because there was none at home, thanks to the president’s disastrous economic policies. They know better than anyone else what is wrong with the federal government’s policies because they have lived it in flesh and blood, yet on July 1 they were denied their constitutional right to vote for the next president. 

Kristin Bricker, in Oaxaca.

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