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Hundreds turned down the chance to vote at the Mexican consulate in Houston

The line of people wanting to vote in the Mexican elections stretches several blocks along Richmond Avenue from the Mexican Consulate building on Sunday, May 2, 2024.
The line of people wanting to vote in the Mexican elections stretches several blocks along Richmond Avenue from the Mexican Consulate building on Sunday, May 2, 2024.Kirk Sides/Staff Photographer

Mexican citizens living across Texas waited hours outside the Mexican consulate in Houston on Sunday to cast their votes in Mexico’s presidential election, the first in the country’s history to likely elect a woman.

Even around polling station closing time (7 p.m.), hundreds of people stood outside the consulate hoping to make their voices heard, and the sun shone hot, as did the emotions of the crowd. Many said they registered online months in advance and arrived hours before polling stations closed, only to be denied entry to the consulate.

Houston resident Claudia Padilla said she and her family arrived at the consulate to vote around 1:30 p.m. and waited for five hours. They moved from Mexico in 2004 and wanted to vote because they go back often, so what happens in Mexico affects them and their family still in the country. Padilla said they were motivated by government corruption and the prevalence of drug cartels, among other things.

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But in the end, Padilla and her family were unable to cast their votes.

“It’s really unfair. Houston is very big and there are a lot of Mexicans. If they only allow (some people) to vote in Houston, that’s not reasonable at all,” Padilla said.

About 240,000 Mexican citizens received voter IDs from the Mexican consulates in Dallas and Houston, the only two in Texas where people could vote in person in Mexico’s elections on Sunday, the Texas Tribune reported in February. This year’s election was the first in which Mexicans living abroad in the US could vote in person at Mexican consulates; previously, citizens were only allowed to vote by mail or electronically.

For the first time in Mexico’s history, the two leading candidates for president are women: frontrunner Claudia Sheinbaum, a scientist and former mayor of Mexico City, and Xóchitl Gálvez, a former senator and technology entrepreneur. Jorge Álvarez Máynez, the third candidate, is a congressman pursuing the youth vote.

The Consulate General of Mexico in Houston did not return a request for comment.

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Houston resident Sergio Garcia said he arrived at the consulate at 2:45 p.m. with his registration from months ago in hand, but was still not allowed to vote. Despite the polls closing time of 7 p.m., Houston police began driving around at 6 p.m. telling people to leave, and the consulate stopped letting people in at 6:30 p.m., he said.

As the confusion of hundreds turned to anger as many realized they were not allowed to vote, the crowd outside the consulate gates began chanting “Queremos votar,” or “We want to vote.” Some painted the phrase on a large banner and began waving it.

Daniel, an Austin resident who asked to be identified by his first name as he continued immigration proceedings, said he drove to Houston because he wanted to vote for what would likely be Mexico’s first female president. He arrived at the consulate around 5 p.m. and was confused by the lack of staff or signage guiding voters. He also did not get the chance to cast his vote.

“It looks like this is really fraudulent. They limit people’s right to vote. A lot of people came out today because they really wanted to vote… If you get in line before closing time, you should be able to vote,” Daniel said.

Even those who entered the consulate and were told they could vote, like Carlos Guillermo Borrego, said they were unable to vote when the computers automatically turned off at 7:30 p.m. Borrego said he had been waiting in line since 10 p.m.: 30 hours

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Santiago Rosas, a Houston resident who arrived at the consulate at noon with his registration from January, was still waiting outside the consulate gates around 8 p.m. with “naive hope” that he might be able to vote.

Rosas said many in line seemed to want to vote for Sheinbaum based on the conversations he had had and the chants of the crowd, even though he planned to vote for Gálvez. He was concerned about the rise in disappearances and femicides, and whichever candidate won, he hoped Mexico’s first female president could usher in a new era for a country plagued by gender inequality.

As the sun set, the crowd of hundreds thinned to dozens as most gave up the chance to vote. Rosas decided to ask a friend to pick him up.

“Anyway, Mexico is making history today, and I’m quite proud of that,” Rosas said.

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