Sunday, January 30, 2011

Notes on the administration of a Mexican election today

Through good fortune, I happen to be in Mexico today on the day of a gubernatorial election. I had the opportunity to speak with the people at a polling place and would like to share what I learned, with a particular eye towards election administration.

Today the State of Guerrero is holding an election for Governor. Today is a Sunday (notable in itself) and the polls are open from 9 am to 6 pm. The polling place I visited is outside -- a card table and a booth on the side of a street with posters taped up the wall is all the shelter required. I've never seen an outdoor polling place before today, but apparently with the excellent climate of Mexico, there is no need to find a polling place inside.

The ballot is colorful. There are three candidates and seven political parties. Of the seven parties, only one nominated a single candidate (PAN). The other six parties split evenly in two teams of three, with PRI and PRD each leading a respective coalition of two smaller parties. The ballots show the logos of the parties in full-color over the printed name of the candidate. Voters are given a black permanent marker and told to put a mark over the name and/or logo of the candidate of their choice, then fold the ballot in half or quarters and drop it into a box. The box is made of flimsy paper with transparent windows on each side, a bit like a magician's box, to allow anyone to see the folded ballots inside. The ballots will be counted by hand and then taken to a central location.

A posted sign on the wall above the booth instructs that no cameras or cell phone are permitted inside the booth to prohibit any images to be taken of the marked ballot. This is presumably to stop the production of any proof of voting for vote-buying purposes.

I was told that no electioneering is permitted at all on the week before election day. It still occurs, but is apparently not only frowned upon but the potential subject of a complaint against the offending party.

Volunteers with each political party sit with the volunteer election administrators (credentialed by the federal election administration agency). These volunteers are permitted to call their political workers with the names of supporters who have or have not yet voted. No one, however, may accompany a voter to the polling place, as that would be considered an inducement of voting.

Ballots are counted immediately after the polls close at 6 pm. There are four offices: a President, a Secretary, a First Counter and a Second Counter. The two counters are responsible for the official count of each polling place. The smallest administrative unit is a section of a colony (or colonia), instead of the term precinct.

To verify identification, the federal election administration agency prepare a booklet that contains a copy of the photo identification of every voter in the section. The voter must present his or her voter ID card (supplied by the federal agency) and the presented card must match the copy shown in the book. The Secretary than puts a check mark in the book under the image of the voter ID card and also stamps the word "VOTA" under the image to indicate the citizen has voted. Furthermore, the plastic voter ID card is physically stamped with an indentation on the back. On the back of each card is a row of boxes numbered consecutively to indicate the year of the election with just enough room in each box to accept an indentation. Finally, the voter's thumb is marked with ink.

If a citizen isn't registered to vote, there isn't any recourse on election day. The volunteers told me the deadline to appear on the list of registered voters of the section is three months before the election.

There aren't any primaries in Mexico, so the internal process where political parties determine which candidate they will nominate for the election isn't clear. There is an internal election, according to the volunteers who worked at the section that I spoke with, paid for by the government, but it is not administered the same way as the general election today.

Starting next year, state and federal elections are to be held at the same time. Today's election was for one office: Governor. The legislature was not up for election. So even though everyone in the State of Guerrero had the same ballot, citizens could only vote on election day in the section where they lived, not where they worked.

Perhaps some day Mexicans and Americans will share an election day to elect a joint body of some kind. I certainly hope so.

Here is some video I shot this afternoon that shows the polling place.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

This is the time to create a more just, progressive state

I'm grateful that Illinois remains a blue island in the Midwestern Red Sea, with Governor Pat Quinn and a Democratic-led General Assembly ready to govern. January is in many ways the best month of the legislative calendar, because it is now when all things are possible. The deadline to submit bill ideas to the professional draftsmen and women is not until early February. Most legislators are open to ideas now, while they are putting together their legislative agenda.

The ideal bill is significant enough to improve people's lives if enacted, but not so large as to require a revolution in administration to implement. And with 177 legislators (about 95 of whom are in the Democratic majority), the path to a higher standard of living and a more just, progressive state is through dozens of these bite-sized bills, every year.

My favorite question for young people thinking about politics or government is to ask "If you were in charge, what would you change?" It has to be specific, concrete and ultimately helpful. This is the question always facing the progressive movement and the Democratic Party -- what would we change to make life better for regular people? And what change can we actually make this year?

For me, I plan to continue our path of change away from the government telling citizens they can not vote in an election because of some administrative barrier. I plan to continue our movement towards building high speed rail with actual bullet trains with my client the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. I hope we can finally make home birth safer with licensed providers and repeal the law that makes non-nurse midwives felons, on behalf of my client the Illinois Coalition for Midwifery. I plan to forge the nation's most innovative and progressive set of policies to support and grow small businesses with my client the Small Business Advocacy Council. And consistent with that mission of growing small businesses that generate jobs, I plan to work with my clients the Federation of Women Contractors and the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association to ensure Illinois' procurement dollars find their way to the smaller and diverse-owned businesses, not just the major legacy companies.

Don't let Republican control of the US House dampen your enthusiasm for implementing the progressive agenda. Aside from the obvious asset of the most progressive President in a generation in the White House and Democratic control of the Senate, there are some Republicans who fear the rising tide of the empty, angry anti-government ideology of the Tea Party in their own ranks and attempt to swim against that current. High speed rail is a good example of this internal debate, where only some Republicans take the self-defeating view that any taxpayer investment in infrastructure to improve our economy is by definition a bad idea. Some Republicans take the correct position that a taxpayer investment in high speed rail that generates real estate development, economic growth and less oil consumption is worth the money. The more we engage in the debate with our legislators and our fellow citizens on what we can do together through our government to improve our standard of living, the better.

Dream big in the New Year. The time to refine our big, game-changing proposals into more manageable laws and programs will come.