July 5, 2006

Electoral Commission’s Mistakes Undermine Credibility of Mexico's Election 

For Immediate Release: July 5, 2006

Contact: Mark Weisbrot, 202-746-7264

Washington, DC: The credibility of Mexico's electoral process was thrown into question on Tuesday morning when the head of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), Luis Carlos Ugalde, acknowledged that as many as 4 million votes had not been counted in the preliminary vote count that began after the polls closed on Sunday.

Mr. Ugalde said some 2.6 million votes were set aside "because the poll reports were illegible or had other inconsistencies," and another estimated 600,000 ballots "might not have reached his offices to be included in the preliminary count" (New York Times, "Vote-by-Vote Recount Is Demanded in Mexico," July 5, 2006). According to the IFE's preliminary results, 827,317 votes - another 2 percent of votes cast - were nullified [ http://prep.terra.com.mx/ ].

The total number of votes not counted is thus, according to the IFE, more than 4 million, or nearly 10 percent of all votes cast. This would be equivalent to more than 12 million votes not counted in the U.S. presidential election of 2004.

"Calderon's lead in the preliminary vote count appears to be statistically meaningless*, since the excluded votes are more than 10 times as large as his margin over Lopez Obrador," said economist Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The preliminary vote count of the IFE showed Felipe Calderon of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) leading left challenger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) by one percentage point.

Weisbrot questioned why the Federal Electoral Institute did not inform the public about the more than 3 million votes not included in the preliminary vote count, until about a day and a half had passed, and only after the PRD has raised the issue of "3 million missing votes." (The 827,317 nullified votes were listed with the preliminary count on the IFE's web site).

Until Ugalde revealed the missing votes in a television interview on Tuesday morning, most people, including journalists reporting on the election, understood the preliminary vote count to have encompassed about 98.5 percent of the total, thus making Calderon's one percent lead look nearly insurmountable.

The withholding of this important information allowed the Calderon campaign and its allies to create a widespread impression that their candidate was the likely winner - an impression that persists in the media today, despite the fact that the preliminary count was nowhere near complete and therefore could not provide evidence of a winner. All of this is important because it influences the political context in which further decisions about the elections and vote tallying will be made.

"The withholding of information about ballots not counted calls into question the impartiality of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute," said Weisbrot. "At this point, given the long history of electoral fraud in Mexico, the extreme closeness of the vote, and widespread distrust of the process, a full and carefully monitored recount may be necessary to restore public confidence in the result."

*The preliminary count would be statistically significant if the votes not counted were a random sample of the total; however, there is no reason to believe that it is a random sample, and a number of indications that it is systematically biased toward PRD voters. For example, the PRD campaign has alleged that in some of the southern states where their support is strongest, there were more votes for congress than for president, an unprecedented and unlikely event, indicating that many of Lopez Obrador's votes in those areas have not yet been counted.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research is an independent, nonpartisan think tank that promotes democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues affecting people's lives. CEPR's Advisory Board of Economists includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University; and Eileen Appelbaum, Professor and Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.