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Mexico’s presidential election too close to call

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

The two leading candidates in Mexico's presidential election have declared victory. But the race is too close to call.

This was the first election in which Mexicans living abroad could vote outside the country. But the registration process was so cumbersome, it meant millions didn't vote. For thousands of others, it meant rising early yesterday morning to trek to special polling places along the border in Mexico. KPBS reporter Amy Isacskon has this report from Tijuana.

About 50 people filed off the bus from Los Angeles to vote at a special polling place set up at the Tijuana airport. The site was one of twenty such polling places around Tijuana where Mexicans living in the United States could cast ballots.

At 8 a.m. the line already snaked through the airport's loading zone. Voters arrived early because each special polling place had only 750 ballots. They wanted to make sure there'd be one for them.

Federico Torres woke up at four in the morning to ride the bus three and a half hours from his home in Bell Gardens near LA.

He's lived in the United States for 31 years. He originally came across illegally. But now he's a U.S. citizen and votes in elections there.

Torres says even though his life is in the United States, Mexico is in his heart and that's why he came to vote. He says Mexico's progress is important to him. And the country needs a good government so one day no one will be forced to cross the border illegally and Mexicans living in the United States can go home.

It's estimated one in ten Mexicans now live in the U.S. They've been pressuring Mexico's Congress for the right to vote in elections back home for about 15 years.

This year, they were successful. Congress allowed expatriates to cast ballots by mail. However, turnout was dismally low. Just 40-thousand people out of four-million eligible voters requested absentee ballots. And even less sent them in.

Adrian Maldonado who organized two busloads of voters to travel from Los Angeles to Tijuana said the mail-in registration process was prohibitive. He says many Mexicans in the United States didn't have the correct papers to register. He says undocumented migrants couldn't travel back to Mexico to get them. Maldonado says publicity was a problem. Many people weren't even aware they could vote.

There were lot's of locks, locks on the process but hey, if they are opening the door for us to vote, let's vote. Whatever they want it, however they want it, let's open the door and don't let it close.

After waiting for three hours, Federico Torres from Los Angeles echoed that sentiment.

He said the trip and the wait were worth it. He said one vote counts. Especially in a fledgling democracy. For the California reporter, I'm Amy Isackson in Tijuana.

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