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Amid Violence, Mexican Voters Go To The Polls

ARUN RATH, HOST:

In Mexico, angry protesters burned ballots and election material in more than a dozen polling places today. Thousands of troops are patrolling in five states, and there are threats of more violence and boycotts. A loose coalition of radical teacher unionists and activists have threatened to block voting. Mexicans are set to replace the entire lower house of the Congress, nine governorships and hundreds of local and state officials. NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us now from Mexico City, where she's been out talking to voters and monitoring the situation around the country. Carrie, why is it these elections are so violent compared to other recent contests?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Well, there's a higher than usual voter discontent in the country right now. I think that's the biggest reason. There's some presidential scandals that have come up recently that involve the president and members of his cabinet. There's also the case of the 43 students that were presumably murdered last year that is still upsetting many parts of the country.

When we talk about the violence - they're really in specific states like Guerrero, where the 43 students were presumably murdered. There has been violence today. There was some burning of ballots and campaign material and the closing of at least 20 percent of the polling places in one of the small towns in the state of Guerrero. In the run-up to the elections, there were local offices of the electoral council - the national electoral officials - that were burned. It has been a particularly violent and conflictive midterm elections, which are usually - what we talk about is apathy and low voter turnout. And this time it has been much different.

RATH: And what measures have been taken so far to quell the violence, and could all this lead to a disputed election?

KAHN: We've seen thousands of troops that have been sent into at least five states around the country. There have been a lot of problems registered in the state of Oaxaca, where there's been confrontation between these federal troops and a radical teachers union that is particularly upset about education reforms that have been recently passed in the country.

And you asked if there could be disputes about the election results. Clearly there will be. There was a new law - electoral reform law - that was recently passed that allows for a dispute process, so we're going to see in some of these close races - especially in the governor races, we'll see some disputes. And in these places where there's violence and there's been closing and obstruction to polling places, we're going to hear a lot about in the weeks to come.

RATH: And speaking of these close governor races, there's one in particular that's being considered historic. Can you explain that?

KAHN: Yes. For the first time under new electoral reforms, an independent candidate can run. And there's one in the border state with Texas in Nuevo Leon. And his name is Jaime Rodriguez Calderon, but he's better known as El Bronco. His logo is actually a bucking horse.

He's ahead in the polls. He's running without party support, which is tough since the major candidates really get - they get generous public campaign funds. He's done it all through social media and word of mouth. And actually, he's known for his salty language and really brash ways.

He's really tapped into this sentiment around the country that people are tired of the corruption. They're tired of the political party system here. Polls show that discontent of the political parties is very high. So if he were to win, it would definitely shake up Mexico's entrenched party system. And I think these midterm elections will be remembered more for his independent win than for any of the violence that's been happening in certain states around the country.

RATH: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico. Carrie, thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.