July 25, 2006

Mexico's Electoral Commission's Partial Release of Data Raises More Questions

Need for Bigger, Better Supervised and More Transparent Recount to Get a Credible Result 

For Immediate Release: July 25, 2006

Contact: Mark Weisbrot, 202-746-7264
            Dan Beeton, 202-293-5380 x 104

Washington, DC: On Thursday, July 20th, Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute released information on the 2,873 ballot boxes that were opened and where ballots were recounted on July 5th. While the Calderón campaign is contending that these results bolster their case against the larger recount demanded by the López Obrador campaign, the data as well as the IFE's treatment of them raise more questions about the process and provide more reasons for a wider recount.

The 2,873 casillas, or ballot boxes, constitute 2.2 percent of the total ballot boxes and were the only ones that the electoral officials allowed to be recounted during the July 5th second tally of the votes. On Thursday, July 20th the IFE posted on its web site, for the first time since the recount occurred, the locations of the polling stations where recounts took place.

They did not post the results of the recount by ballot box, but it is possible, by comparing the preliminary (PREP) count with the second count for the boxes indicated, to calculate the difference that the recount made for each candidate.

For the 2,534 ballot boxes for which data is available for the two top candidates, CEPR completed this calculation and found that the recount reduced López Obrador's vote count by 14,253 votes, or 5.1 percent of his total for these ballot boxes; and Calderón's vote was reduced by 12,445 votes, or 3.8 percent. The IFE apparently calculated almost exactly the same numbers, as was reported by the Mexican newspaper La Reforma,1 although they did not post these numbers on their web site.

The Calderón campaign has argued that these results indicate that there is no need for a larger recount, as it will not change the result. However this is not necessarily true: the polling stations where recounts took place was not a random sample of the 130,788 ballot boxes. For example, these were the stations where the Calderón campaign and/or the electoral authorities agreed to allow the ballot boxes to be opened, they could be different from the ones that were not allowed to be opened. In fact, the difference in voting percentages between the two candidates in these 2,873 ballot boxes is 5.1 percentage points (37.4 percent for Calderón versus 32.3 percent for López Obrador), compared to the 0.58 percent difference reported by the IFE during the second count.

Also, the IFE's release on this recounted data2 is misleading because the IFE did not tell the public that they only had data for less than the 2,873 ballot boxes where recounts were done.  This implies, and the press has understandably believed, that the above totals are for all 2,873 ballot boxes where recounts took place. In fact, data to compare the vote totals for both candidates is available for only 88 percent of the recounted ballot boxes.

The IFE's failure to mention this fact is reminiscent of its omission of important information during the PREP count, when it led the public to believe that Calderón had a lead of 1.04 percentage points with 98.5 percent of ballots counted, when in fact more than 3 million ballots had not been counted. This helped the Calderón campaign to get a head start on establishing their candidate as the winner.

The IFE further tilted the political playing field in favor of the Calderón campaign when its Director, Luis Carlos Ugalde, on July 6th declared Calderón to be the winner of the election.3 This was in violation of the IFE's mandate, which does not allow for it to declare a winner but only to report the totals. Since the totals are contested, there is no President-elect of Mexico until the Federal Electoral Tribunal rules on this dispute.

The IFE's handling of recounted votes raises even more doubts about its credibility as an impartial arbiter of Mexico's electoral process. In addition to the above problems, IFE officials have no explanation of why it has taken them 15 days to inform the public of the results of the recounted ballot boxes, and why they could not simply post these results in a transparent manner.

The size of the errors in the vote totals in 2,534 of the 2,873 recounted ballot boxes for which IFE data has been reported is also disturbing. The difference was 5.1 percent for López Obrador and 3.8 percent for Calderón. In an election where the difference between the two candidates is 0.58 percent, these are large errors.

1 Irízar, Guadalupe, La Reforma, July 20, 2006: "...Aunque favorece a Felipe," 13th edition, No. 4597.

2 The press release is available online here, and the report is available here.

3 "Therefore, the candidate that obtained the largest percentage of the presidential vote is Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, from National Action Parti. Ladies and gentlemen: The golden rule of democracy establishes that the candidate with the most votes is the winner. It has been the citizens, and only them, who have decided the final result." (Original in Spanish: "Por lo tanto, el candidato que obtuvo el mayor porcentaje de la votación presidencial es Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, del Partido Acción Nacional. Señoras y señores: La regla de oro de la democracia establece que gana el candidato que tenga más votos. Han sido los ciudadanos, y sólo ellos, quienes han decidido el resultado final"); Luis Carlos Ugalde's statement on July 6th, 2006; transcript can be found at http://www.ime.gob.mx/agenda_migratoria/lazos_voto/060706.htm. It is worth emphasizing that if there was any ambiguity in these remarks, Ugalde made no apparent effort to correct the media's reporting that he and the IFE had, with these words, declared a winner.

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.