July 2, 2006

US-resident Mexicans pour over border to vote

By Magdiel Hernandez

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico (Reuters) - Thousands of U.S.-based
Mexicans swamped polling stations south of the border on Sunday
in a rush to vote in a tight presidential election with high
stakes for crime-weary border residents.

A large stream of Mexicans trekked on foot and piled into
cars to cross the border and vote in towns from Tijuana in the
west to Nuevo Laredo below Texas.

Several polling stations were overwhelmed by the number of
expatriates who showed up to vote, and hundreds were turned
away after ballots assigned to voters from outside each
district were exhausted within hours.

"It's a very close-fought race ... and if we don't vote, we
can't hope to decide the outcome," said Luis Tovar, 28, a
shipping agent who drove from San Antonio, Texas, to vote in
Nuevo Laredo.

Many waited for hours in the sweltering heat to cast their
votes in a fight between leftist front runner Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador and conservative rival Felipe Calderon.

Television and newspaper exit polls said the result was too
close to call, after a bruising campaign fought over job
creation, the economy and corruption.

The Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, was to announce
official results at around 11 p.m.

Only 40,000 of an estimated 6 million to 7 million Mexicans
of voting age in the United States registered to vote by mail
mostly because the paperwork was difficult.

IFE officials in Tijuana, south of San Diego, said 15,000
ballots set aside for voters from outside the area were used up
within hours, as Mexicans living in southern California came
south of the border to vote.

"I'm prepared to wait in line for 10 hours if I have to,"
said Enedina Trujillo, 32, a Wal-Mart cashier from San Diego as
she prepared to vote for the leftist.

"(We need) to get these bandits out of power," she said,
referring to Calderon's ruling National Action Party.

While the candidates have campaigned on economic growth and
corruption, expatriates said they were more concerned about
rampant drug crime on the border and migrant welfare.

"Anywhere you go on the border... there's violence,
insecurity and robberies, and it's a big challenge for whoever
gets to run the country," said well-known singer Alicia
Villarreal, from Odessa, Texas as she waited to vote in Nuevo

Hundreds of people have been shot, stabbed and beaten to
death on the Mexican side of the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border
since January in a turf war between cartels battling for
control of the drug trade to the United States.

Handyman Maurileo Salcido, 40, crossed to Tijuana from San
Diego to vote in an election in which emigration to the United
States has been a campaign issue.

"I'm going to vote for Lopez Obrador. Let's see if he can
deliver the job opportunities (at home) so that Mexicans don't
have to leave the country," he said.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana)