Lacking options, Mexico will employ quick vote counts and Prep again

On June 4th, six states in Mexico will go to the polls in what will be the event that starts the journey to the 2018 Presidential elections.  The different electoral organisms from those regions have confirmed they are ready to service millions of voters that will elect governors, local deputies and city hall members.

Facing this process, it is a good time to look into the electoral system of this Latin American country.  Their manual elections have not been free of incidents; for instance, the 2015 parliamentary elections, where the National Electoral Institute (INE) was forced to perform the biggest recount in its history – 60% of all polling stations.

It has been two years since, but Mexicans had no other choice but to keep using the same manual voting model, which implies accepting quick vote counts and the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (Prep in Spanish), given the impossibility of modernizing their system thanks to a lack of political willpower.  A legal reform is needed, budgets need to be allocated, and this hinges upon political disposition.

The first instance of vote tallying in Mexico is a quick count.   The National Electoral Institute defines it as the statistical procedure to estimate the trend of the results, which is to be made public shortly after polls close; that is, an unofficial presentation of the vote count within a reasonable time after the end of the process.

This mechanism has been a sort of “solution” for countries that do not employ technology during their vote counts, and it aims to mitigate the citizen uncertainty product of the biggest flaws of manual voting: delays in the official results, tampering of certified election returns and inconsistencies in the count.

For example, the Electoral Institute of Mexico State (which together with Coahuila, Nayarit, Veracruz, Oaxaca an Tlaxcala will hold elections this Sunday) has announced that after several trial runs, both the quick count and the Prep are ready for the event.  In the light of the “unofficial speed” of the pre-count results, this procedure shows an acceptable performance in some scenarios. However, severe logistical and procedural problems work against its reason to be in the first place.

Other regions will also use the Prep, a mechanism where the electoral returns are made public after being scanned and transmitted to storage centres, which then upload them to a website.  In this case, the data made that is public is also preliminary in nature since, according to the law, the tallying of results must be done manually.

Upon taking a closer look to this process, it is evident that although Mexico wanted to move forward using tools like optical scanners, a full modernization of the system has been put on hold, as shown by the constant deferral of pilot tests or reforms year after year.  Case in point, testing an automated model that would allow Mexicans abroad to vote was delayed until 2018.

Mexico keeps getting closer to the moment where they will have to decide whether to stay trapped in an obsolete manual voting system, or give electoral technology a bigger space. The latter is the only way to make voting easier, protect it from fraud, and guarantee a quick delivery of secure, official results.

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