“If I don’t get to vote, at least I know I did my part, I showed up, and the system failed me rather than me failing myself.” It was an incredibly busy morning in the neighborhood of Benito Juárez in Mexico City where I spoke to a Catholic nun as she and other citizens from outside of the Federal District lined up outside a “casilla especial,” a special polling place, to participate in Mexico’s 2018 general election.
Part of the trip included meeting with candidates up and down the ballot to talk about their takes on the current state of Mexico and what changes they sought that made them want to run in the first place. In addition, I was able to interview a journalist, a polling expert, and a campaign strategist. Each of them offered incredible insights and the nine of us #HoyasInMexico were certainly prepared with enough background information for the night of the election itself. And yet it wouldn’t have been as complete an experience as it was had we not engaged with voters about what they thought and about what mattered to them.
I’d never gone out in public to find strangers and talk politics before. I’d also never really done anything regarding podcasts or journalism either, so I was already in a position of firsts in a country I’d never really visited. But I had just enough passion to encourage me to go out and try. Of course, there were people who didn’t want to share an opinion, others who were indifferent to the election, and some who were eager to let someone know what was on their minds.
The two most common concerns voiced were corruption and public safety. At a political rally, a mother of three told me she was nervous for her children due to the increased levels of organized crime in her area. An older gentleman told me that he too was concerned about “la seguridad,” about the economy and combating poverty. In Mexico City an older woman at a shopping mall told me she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to go vote on Sunday because of her long work hours. At the special polling place in the city on election day, voters from out of state told me they wanted to see something done about rampant corruption and others told me all they hoped for were “honest elections.” I encountered people who differed on who they preferred for the presidency, but they did have one common message: “regardless, go out and vote.”
INE is Mexico’s central electoral organization in charge of conducting elections. One of the policies that the INE has in place is that citizens who vote outside of their state zone need to go to a special polling location to cast their ballots. However, since there were thousands of out-of-state voters in line to vote, special polling locations were short on special ballots, with only 750 in place.
“So what happens if this place runs out of ballots?” I asked a woman who was frustrated by the likelihood she wouldn’t be able to vote this year.
“Then we have to find someplace that has them. If we can’t, we don’t vote,” she replied.
Plenty of voters that morning were confused, frustrated, and desperate to find a polling place that still had these “boletas especiales.” After all, voters were eager to have a say at a time when the country experienced massive corruption from the current administration and the deadliest campaign year to date.
On July 1st, 2018, an estimated 53% of the people of Mexico voted for Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to become the next president of the United Mexican States. Only time can tell how much AMLO will accomplish over the next six years, but a lot of people cared and they showed they did.
I went to Mexico to cover the elections and to learn about the issues the country faces and about its electoral process. The highlight of the trip was speaking to all of these people, though. I’m grateful that they took the time to speak with me about what mattered to them, as well as their hopes for the future. I learned so much from just talking and listening. All it took was a couple minutes at a time.