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.

Accuracy and speed: two pending tasks in Mexico’s elections


Mexico had to recount votes from 60% of the polling stations during the federal elections.

Last June 7th, Mexicans headed to the polling stations for its Midterm elections. And after polls closed, instead of releasing results, the National Electoral Institute (INE) had to announce the biggest vote recount in Mexico’s history— 60% of the installed polling stations.

Unfortunately, in some states, the Preliminary Electoral Result Program (PREP) suffered considerable delays due to the processes coordinated by the newly formed body INE. Poorly trained polling station officers delayed the delivery of count reports at the data centers.

The internal report of the recounts showed that in 22,963 out of the 88,444 polling stations recounted, the difference between first and second place was less than the number of void votes. Besides, vote tallies had to be verified in 48,057 cases because the number of votes did not match the number of voters, while 9,929 of the polling stations simply did not have a count report.

Such discrepancies constitute a clear evidence of the poor training operators received and also point at manual voting as a problem in itself. Manual voting brings great disadvantages both for voters and for those who count votes. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the transportation of thousands of voting minutes to hundreds of results consolidation and processing centers can turn into a cumbersome task. The logistic challenges INE faced, which affected the Preliminary Result Program—just another name for an unofficial vote count carried out and disclosed on election day—caused confusion and distrust among the citizens.

This situation forced the authorities to delay the announcement the official tally another seven days. It was only on June 14 when the definitive electoral results were finally delivered.

There is no doubt that Mexico is in the middle of a crossroad: to remain using an obsolete manual voting system which is proving disastrous or to give more protagonism to electoral technology. The adoption of an automated model of tallying or voting would not only eschew double counting and eliminate all these problems (as aggregation would be fast and precise), but it would eliminate the need to conduct preliminary results. Moreover, it would also enable authorities to announce official results only hours after closing the election.