On June 2, Mexicans will vote in an historic election that will set the country’s course for the next six years. The vote will be historic for its size—nearly 100 million citizens are eligible to vote and about 20,000 positions are on the ballots. It will almost certainly yield the first woman president, either former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum– running for the currently governing Morena party, or Senator Xochitl Gálvez — representing the Strength and Heart for Mexico coalition of three historically competing parties (PAN, PRI and PRD). (The third candidate, former congressman Jorge Álvarez Máynez running for the Citizen Movement party, is far behind his competitors in the polls.)   

What Are the Issues? 

This election is on track to be the most violent election in a generation. In the seven months from September to May 2024, there were 560 victims (lethal and nonlethal) of electoral violence, including 34 candidates murdered already—this compared to 299 in the 12 months of the entire 2020-21 mid-term cycle and 389 in 2017-18 presidential elections. Turf wars between battling cartels and organized crime syndicates are putting candidates and politicians in the crosshairs at the local level and in a handful of states in central and southern Mexico.  In mid-April Claudia Sheinbaum was “retained” at a checkpoint by armed men (evidently associated with the Sinaloa Cartel) while campaigning in the southern state of Chiapas. Over 500 candidates have dropped out of the race in that state alone, fearing for their lives. 

This election will also have important implications for the future of Mexico’s democracy. Critics of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who is constitutionally barred from seeking reelection) says the country is turning more authoritarian. They point to his attacks on Mexico’s independent institutions such as the National Electoral Institute (Instituto Nacional Electoral, INE), National Institute for Transparency and Access to Information (Instituto Nacional de Transparencia y Acceso a la Informacion, INAI), and the National Anticorruption System. These attacks are reflected in an overall decline in freedom and judicial independence in Mexico since 2018.  

Why Should We Care? 

More than any country in the world, what happens in Mexico has an impact on the United States. The U.S. is home to some 35 million citizens of Mexican descent—a critical familial and cultural link.

Early this year, Mexico surpassed China as the U.S.’s largest trading partner. Trade will be a key challenge for the new administration. Nearshoring is a major opportunity for Mexico’s economic development, and for US-Mexican cooperation, but it is not a given. Energy uncertainty, rule of law, corruption, and security are major clouds hanging over investment and cooperation. Notably, in 2026 the USMCA trade will be opened for joint review and likely renegotiation. Speaking on the agreement, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has warned that no one should be too comfortable with assuming the continuation of the current version of the arrangement.  

Cooperation between the United States and Mexico on cross-border challenges is also critical to our mutual security: Mexico is the largest source and a corridor for irregular migration to the U.S. It is also point at which illegal drugs, including deadly fentanyl, enter the country.  

What Can Be Done? 

The U.S.-Mexico relationship is extremely complex and multifaceted. It does not turn on any one issue alone. Cooperation at all levels of government will be key.  

The U.S. should offer its vocal support for measures to strengthen key electoral institutions like the National Electoral Institute (INE) and the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judicial Power (TEPJF), recognized as some of the best in the world but under attack in recent years. Even if organized crime succeeds in coopting local elections, these institutions are critical to investigating, punishing, and rectifying electoral crimes and corruption.  These institutions play a crucial role not just every six years, but continuously, as Mexico conducts annual local and state elections on a rolling basis.  

Robust oversight from civil society is also critical. The U.S. should support initiatives such as the National Agreement for Electoral Integrity, a coalition of government, private sector, academic and civil society institutions monitoring the overarching electoral process and support existing initiatives to keep the pressure on national authorities to respect autonomous institutions that keep watch over the elections. These initiatives are crucial to the success of the electoral process beyond election day, ensuring transparency around investigations of electoral irregularities to uphold electoral integrity.  

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