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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEditorials | July 2006 

U.S. Could Take Lessons from Mexican Voting Process
email this pageprint this pageemail usNorman Stockwell - Capital Times

A supporter of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, presidential candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), protests outside the Fiesta Americana hotel in Mexico City, July 25, 2006, as he demands a vote recount in opposition to candidate Felipe Calderon. The sign reads 'with my vote - not play'. (Reuters/Daniel Aguilar)
The recent rally of up to 1.5 million Mexicans in the main square of the capital city is only the latest stage in a series of lessons in democracy that our neighbors to the south are teaching us here in the United States.

In Mexico, campaigning must cease several days before voting takes place; on election day and the day before, no alcohol can be sold (or used to buy votes); and election day itself is always held on a Sunday so people will be sure to have time off from work to get to the polls. A nationwide electoral law and system of voter IDs guarantees uniformity, and hand-marked paper ballots stuffed into clear boxes give the process a sense of "transparency" fast disappearing in our country.

And yet, in spite of these provisions, questions of fraud, inconsistency and inaccuracy plague the results of the July 2 election. The prize in this contest is the presidency of the world's largest Spanish speaking nation, and both front-runners have claimed victory. Felipe Calderon, of the incumbent National Action Party (PAN) claims a win by a mere 0.57 percent margin. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) says his exit poll numbers show a clear win, and wants a vote-by-vote recount to prove it. Sunday's rally is just one piece of a nationwide campaign in the streets and the courts to call for that recount.

Lopez Obrador has filed challenges to the vote counts in over 50,000 of Mexico's 130,000 polling places. He has extensive evidence to back up these claims videos of ballot boxes being stuffed by PAN operatives; testimonies from people who waited in line for hours only to find their polling station had run out of ballots; statistical analysis of returns and counting anomalies; and more. A difference of a mere two votes at each polling place nationwide would flip the victory to the PRD.

But more disturbing to many in Mexico is the fact that although things went pretty smoothly on election day itself (a far cry better than elections in previous decades), it is the events of the days and weeks before that may have had the largest effect on vote totals. A questionable contract with the U.S. data firm ChoicePoint was revealed by one Mexican paper; a spring visit by political consultant Dick Morris was followed by a vicious negative ad campaign spuriously linking Lopez Obrador to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez; and links were exposed by several journalists between Calderon's brother-in-law's data firm and the IFE the supposedly neutral Federal Electoral Commission which counted the votes on July 2.

On election weekend, the PRD's Web page was hacked, then two PRD poll-watchers were gunned down in a scene that brought back bitter memories of the 1988 election, when PRD candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was defeated through a computer failure, followed by the burning of the ballots and the killing of hundreds of PRD activists. The stage was clearly set for a difficult showdown in this visibly close race.

Election day itself seemed to go smoothly, but a shocked silence filled the pressroom on Sunday night when the IFE announced at 8 p.m. and then again at 11 p.m. that the contest was too close to call. Lopez Obrador took the stage in Mexico City's central square the Zocalo and announced that their polling numbers showed a clear win, but asked people to wait for the official process to run its course.

The PAN, asserting its own victory, began pressuring PRD supporters to concede defeat. But unlike John Kerry in 2004, Lopez Obrador, called AMLO by his supporters, refused to give in before the count was complete. And unlike Al Gore in 2000 in Florida, his ultimate strategy was to ask for ALL the votes to be counted.

The Monday after election day, much of Mexico sat quietly stunned by events. Tuesday, a hard rain in Mexico City washed the last of Sunday night's confetti the remains of an incomplete victory celebration from the streets around the Zocalo. It seemed people were beginning to resign themselves to AMLO's defeat from taxi drivers to hardware store clerks, I heard "of course he won, but they will steal it from him." Then in an amazing turn, the IFE admitted Wednesday morning that at least 2 million ballots (out of a total of 41 million) had been omitted from their initial count.

After that moment, everything changed. People's hope grew, neighborhoods and committees began to mobilize. There were, after all, paper ballots in this election they could be counted! That Sunday, a huge crowd gathered in the Zocalo, the following Wednesday people began assembling in every state around the country, then this past Sunday the largest gathering in Mexican political history assembled, with another planned for two weeks hence. The people of Mexico wanted their ballots counted, their voices heard. The courts have until the end of August to make their decision, but the people of Mexico plan to be very vocal until that decision is reached.

As many states in the U.S. move toward electronic voting machines with no paper trail, as media conglomerates try to give voters the winners' names before the count is done, and as huge data companies get the contracts to "Help America Vote" perhaps we should look south and learn a lesson from people who believe their vote can make a difference.

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