Irregularities in the count taint Mexican elections

Mexico held elections in six of its states on June 4th.  Regrettably, both the quick count that was used to publish unofficial results and the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP) showed serious problems.  Additionally, the tallying is taking place very slowly and several states are still waiting for results.

The quick count is a statistical procedure to estimate the trend of results after polls close; therefore, the data is unofficial. PREP is the mechanism used to divulge the electoral returns after these have been scanned, and uploaded to a website.

The more negative instances of the day are the states of Coahuila and Mexico, since political actors have abandoned the count altogether and there are accusations of fraud.

In the case of Coahuila, all opposition parties, including PAN, are denouncing irregularities.  This political party abandoned the counting process and announced that is preparing legal action against the vote, hoping for a redo of the election since they estimate some 20% of the ballot boxes were tampered with.  Additionally, the president of the National Electoral Institute (INE), Lorenzo Córdova, admitted that the PREP tallied only 72% of the election returns.

Amidst these failures and suspicion, Gabriela León Farías, chairwoman of the Coahulia Electoral Institute (IEC) reacted, four days after the vote and still with no final results, by stating that “there are no conditions that merit an annulment of the elections”, since every polling station is being counted, vote by vote.

While in Coahulia tensions are mounting, in Mexico state there were situations that show once again the weaknesses of the country’s manual voting procedures.

Four days after the voting, the tallying is still ongoing, while the Mexico State Electoral Institute signed off on the recount of 17% of the polling stations, that is, 3.189 of the 18.605 installed, as a result of the inconsistencies detected.

On the other hand, the political party Morena, whose candidate for the governor’s office, Delfina Gómez Álvarez, is second in the count, has contested the results since she considers the PREP showed anomalies, and all public statements hint at fraud.

The crux of the issue is that Morena states there are inconsistencies between the votes reflected on the returns by the electoral colleges, and those divulged by the PREP.  This situation is ever more relevant when we consider that the difference between the top two candidates for the office is less than 3%.

Failures like the ones in these elections have taken place in Mexico in other occasions.  Every time, authorities promise improvements or maintain that the system works despite the difficulties.

However, this country has a task pending: delivering to their electorate a voting model that is exact, respects the will of the people and is swift.  To achieve this, they must go forward with technology, and not the kind that just renews errors (like PREP), but a robust kind that modernizes the country’s electoral landscape.

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.

Mexico advances in two electoral technology processes

Mexico decide to postpone until 2018 what would have been its first binding federal e-voting experience: online voting for nationals abroad. Although this cancellation generated critics among Mexicans abroad, national and state authorities have not stopped the development of the system and they are getting ready to present technology-based improvements.

Speaking of these matters, the National Electoral Institute (INE) announced that the electronic enrolment of Mexicans abroad will be modernized shortly.

According to the latest reports by the INE, out of the millions of Mexicans residing abroad (10 million estimated in the US alone), barely 300 thousand have requested their voter ID; therefore the INE is aiming to make enrolment easier through technology, to the point where 500 thousand Mexicans register to vote.

The Institute believes that technology will encourage participation, as it has in other sectors.  For instance, the United Kingdom proved in 2015 that voters preferred automated voter registration instead of using the postal service.

The Mexican Electoral Registry project only needs the approval of the General Council to be set in motion. This way, Mexicans residing abroad will be able to choose between enrolment via the technological platform or the postal service. The requirements by the INE to enrol are: a birth certificate, proof of address and a photograph.

Also in Mexico, the burough of Cuauhtémoc in Mexico City is planning an automated voted event for June 25th, where it will be decided whether borough president Ricardo Monreal will stay in his position or be asked to leave.

The Electoral Institute (IEDF) considers the use of electronic voting will reduce costs to the minimum and improve turnout. IEDF Chairman Mario Velázquez explained that the voting system is already set.

It is an Internet voting model which was already used in the participative budget process of 2017. The organism explains that users must request a password in advance to log into the voting platform, or go to designated polling stations with voting machines.

This way, while the financial viability of e-voting for Mexicans abroad is being considered, Mexico continues working in the automation of some phases of the voting process (e.g. voter registration), also allowing for the use of technology in different regions. Each one of these actions is important for the full automation of their electoral system.