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A polling station in Puebla for the airport vote. A polling station in Puebla for the airport vote.

The airport vote: delays, few voters and a dead website kick things off

Despite assurances it wouldn't be possible, reporters tested the system and voted up to three times

A late start, few voters, a dead website and proof that it is possible to cast more than one ballot all contributed to defining the first hours of the public vote on the future of Mexico City’s new airport (NAICM).

In the México state municipality of Chimalhuacán, the polling station opened half an hour later than scheduled this morning because the ballots and other electoral materials were late to arrive.

Voting got under way at around 8:30am.

Pedro Valencia was the first person to cast a ballot in response to the question asking whether construction of the new airport in Texcoco should continue or whether the existing airport and that in Toluca should be reconditioned and two new runways built at the Santa Lucía Air Force Base.

Valencia told the newspaper El Financiero that he hoped that the project would continue at Texcoco because it would generate employment for the area. However, he conceded that the project also presented risks.

In the south of Mexico City, the consultation got off to a slow start with only a few citizens arriving early this morning to cast votes at a polling station located on a busy avenue in the borough of Coyoacán.

However, one person who did vote, a biology student at the National Autonomous University (UNAM), stressed the importance of participating in the democratic exercise.

“Asking whether you want an important infrastructure project [to go ahead] or not is something that is unprecedented in the country. It’s necessary to know all of the implications that building the airport in Texcoco or moving it to Santa Lucía will have for the city,” Diego Ortiz said.

In Tlalpan, a Mexico City borough even further to the south, there was again only a trickle of voters shortly after polls opened this morning.

Elvira Hernández told the newspaper El Financiero that she had voted but that she was initially unaware that a vote on the future of the airport project was taking place.

“I thought that [the polling station] was to register for a senior citizen’s card but the young lady explained to me that it was about the airport so I took the opportunity to vote,” she said.

Perhaps one reason why voter turnout was low this morning is that the website set up to provide information about the public consultation —  including the location of the polling stations across the country  was down intermittently.

The newspaper El Economista reported that a “this site can’t be reached” message was displayed on the site when it made several attempts to access it. Mexico News Daily received the same message after several attempts to visit the site this morning and late this afternoon.

Another reason for the low number of voters could be that many Mexicans have indicated that they don’t have enough knowledge about the airport project to offer an informed opinion about it.

“A lot of people are not informed to make a decision about which place is better,” María Victoria González told the newspaper Milenio.

“. . . We don’t have the training, we don’t know what is advisable . . . I declare myself incompetent to offer a response because I don’t know on what citizens should base their vote.”

Businessman Fernando Gómez offered an even blunter assessment on the public consultation.

“It’s a perverse farce,” he said, adding that the decision to build the airport at Texcoco was the result of a years-long study and that it would benefit the whole country.

Layla Arcos, a pilot for low-cost airline Volaris, said that only 15% of Mexicans travel by plane and that what really matters is the opinion of those “inside the planes.”

“Yes to Texcoco, a new airport is needed. The delays [at the existing airport] are excessive,” she said.

The first part of the old adage “vote early and vote often” may not have been followed by many but some people heeded the latter advice.

Despite president-elect López Obrador declaring that it would not possible to vote more than once, two reporters — one from Milenio, another from broadcaster Multimedios — found otherwise.     

Gabriel Ortega first voted this morning in a neighborhood in the Mexico City borough of Miguel Hidalgo before voting again at another polling station located two kilometers away in the same borough.

Not to be outdone, Ramón Ramírez of Multimedios was able to obtain ballots at three different polling stations but only voted once so as to not willingly distort the result.

“These inconsistencies could throw up alarming figures at the end [of the vote],” he said.

Some social media users also claimed that they, or people they know, had voted more than once.

Voting in the public consultation called México Decide (Mexico Decides) is taking place in 538 municipalities across Mexico and will conclude Sunday.

President-elect López Obrador has said that the result will be binding, although legally speaking the incoming government will not be bound by it.

There are signs of growing concern over the negative economic impact a decision to cancel the project might have, with Mexico’s two biggest banks and others saying that it would hurt private investment.

Source: El Financiero (sp), Milenio (sp), El Economista (sp) 

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