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.

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