Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mexico election: What's happening

The Mexican election magistrates, the TEPJF, is overseeing a recount of some 11,839 ballot boxes which began at 9:00 this morning. Notimex is reporting that very first ballot box opened and recounted cost AMLO 1 vote.

This probably will not go well for AMLO. In the days immediately following the election on July 2, some 3000 ballot boxes were opened and the votes recounted. This was done on orders from the Mexican election commission's various district headquarters in response to anomalies found on tally sheets. In that exercise, PAN candidate Felipe Calderon lost 10,000 votes due to incorrect tally sheets. AMLO lost 12,000. That was a net loss of 2000 votes for AMLO.

I would expect that the recounting of the votes contained in the 11,839 ballot boxes to, more or less, duplicate those original recounts.

For those of you who are not familiar with Mexico's election procedures, here is a brief primer.

There are approximately 131,000 polls around the country divided into 300 districts. The polls are maintained much the same way that ours are. They are staffed by employees of the IFE (Mexican election commission) as well as representatives of all the political parties involved.

Here is where the Mexican system differs from ours, and in two big ways. There are no electronic voting machines. All ballots are paper ballots which must be marked with a pencil. There are separate ballots for each contested election, i.e. a Presidential ballot, another for the Senate etc.

Every voter must have his/her voter ID card issued by the federal government. This voter ID card is the single most important piece of ID carried by a Mexican. It is used to open a bank account, get a credit card, buy a car etc. Each voter is assigned a poll at which he must vote. Specific polls in each district are assigned "special poll" status. They will have special ballots for out-of-town voters, but a limited number. If a special poll runs out of absentee ballots, the visiting voter is out of luck. The highest number of special ballots assigned to any individual poll on July 2 was 750. Here in Oaxaca, because there were so many out-of-town striking teachers camped out downtown, the special poll ran out of special ballots. Cue the riot.

After the polls close, the counting begins. Just as in the U.S., all the parties are represented and must agree on the vote counting, vote by vote. When finished, a tally sheet, called an Acta, is filled out and everybody signs it. The original tally sheet, along with some other documents, like the voter rolls and all of the ballots, are sealed in a "paquete". A copy of the tally sheet is attached to the outside of the paquete and the paquete is hand carried to the district headquarters for that poll.

It was at this point on election night that confusion began to set in, at least among the many millions watching the results. A separate group, called the PREP, exists to take the results from specified polls and publish them as those counts are concluded. This preliminary result is for informational purposes only. At the conclusion of the release of all the preliminary results, the PREP goes dormant until the next election. At this point, when AMLO's supporters saw that they were not going to win, the accusations of fraud began.

When the preliminary results first began to roll in, AMLO held a substantial lead. However, it was soon learned that in those many thousands of polling places where AMLO lost the vote, PRD poll workers were delaying the counts. They were arguing over every ballot and every tally sheet, trying to slow down the process. Why this was done, I do not know. I can only surmise that AMLO's handlers realized in the hours leading up to the vote that their seemingly insurmountable lead of some weeks before had shrunk to zero. They may have been laying the grounds for their subsequent fraud accusations.

The polling places where AMLO carried the vote were reporting early, thus his lead in the vote. When Felipe Calderon's strongholds finally began to send in their long delayed results, AMLO's lead evaporated and Calderon overtook him at about 2:00 in the morning of July 3. Again, these were preliminary results which would have no bearing whatsoever on the final results. But many people, from pundits and AMLO supporters up to the Los Angeles Times, all ignorant of Mexican election law and process, claimed that the preliminary results as announced constituted fraud. Ridiculous.

AMLO and his supporters claimed electronic fraud, basing their charges on court testimony from a U.S. trial in Ohio back in 2002 that Diebold voting machines could be hacked. When it was pointed out to them that; 1) voting machines aren't used in Mexico and 2) that a scanned tally sheet could not be hijacked on its way from a poll to Mexico City via the internet tubes, they backed off on their charges. AMLO personally admitted that no electronic vote fraud had occurred, calling it "old fashioned vote fraud".

Let me reiterate that even if the PREP had announced fraudulently that Calderon had won by 20 points, that result would have had no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the election. I tried to point this out in my blog on election night and in the hectic days proceeding the vote, but to little avail. The losers weren't listening.

After the ballots arrive at the 300 district headquarters, the district committees get to work. These committees, like the individual polls, are comprised of IFE professionals as well as representatives assigned by all the political parties involved in the election. The district committees had the authority to open the sealed paquetes, but only by unanimous vote and only under very strict legal guidelines. In approximately 3000 cases, the sealed paquetes were opened but not in all those cases were the votes recounted. Many were opened due to anomalies in the Actas and when those anomalies were corrected, the paquetes were re-sealed.

Once the district committees had blessed all of their paquetes, the only authority to open them would have to come from the TEPJF magistrates. The paquetes were then removed to special storage areas, sealed under lock and key and guarded by the military.

At this point, the political parties began scrambling to mount their legal challenges to the vote process. These legal challenges are decided by the TEPJF and only by the TEPJF. The Mexican federal courts may play no part in this. The entire body of Mexican election law is designed to keep the physical votes and the counting and tallying of those votes out of the hands of the powers in Mexico City.

The TEPJF will hear all of the complaints and assign one magistrate to each complaint. That magistrate will hear the complaint, review the evidence, and make a decision. He will then present that decision to the full board of 7 magistrates who vote on his recommendation. In at least two cases in the past 4 years, the magistrates have voted to overturn an entire state's election. These decisions were based upon overwhelming evidence that massive violations of Mexican election law had occurred, from the beginning of the election campaigns through to the actual voting process.

In the case of the AMLO complaints, some 25 of them charged massive election law violations serious enough to warrant the annulling of the election. These charges included allegations that a potato chip manufacturer's in-house campaign cautioning its employees to wash their hands before handling potato chips was a veiled attack on AMLO and that a fruit juice manufacturer's corporate color scheme - blue like that of the PAN, and adopted by the company in 1968 - was a veiled hint to support Calderon.

Under Mexican election law, if an election cannot be annulled by evidence of overwhelming fraud, we are then left with the issue of recounts. Under those laws, any individual paquete, its contents and its Acta can be challenged. If the TEPJF magistrates can be shown clear and convincing evidence that a given paquete exhibits anomalies or errors, then that paquete can be ordered opened for inspection and/or recount of the ballots contained therein.

The TEPJF has thrown out 25 of AMLO's "massive fraud" complaints as being "baseless". The TEPJF agreed in part with about 125 of AMLO's complaints and agreed with the whole of about another 125 complaints. AMLO lost some ground when his lawyers filed some complaints that, if proved, would have merited an annulment of the election but not a recount. AMLO demanded a recount. He lost more ground when some complaints that he presented might, if proved, have caused a recount. AMLO asked for an annulment.

In other cases, the judges gave complaints back to him and gave him a week to correct them and refile them. That move by the TEPJF took everyone by surprise. It apparently was legal or had some basis in law, but was not required. The magistrates seemed to be using all of the legal discretion and leeway allowed by the law to try to diffuse this growing storm.

Another misconception on the part of pundits, media and AMLO's many supporters is that he could have presented evidence, and, indeed, did present evidence of some massive fraud that should merit a 100% recount. Under Mexican law, such a thing is almost impossible. AMLO would have to have shown that, in more than 131,000 paquetes containing more than 41,000,000 ballots, more than 1,000,000 IFE officials and poll watchers and poll workers from all the political parties, under the watchful gazes of observers from the European Union, the United Nations, the USA, Cuba and Venezuela, including AMLO's own PRD representatives, conspired together as a group to falsify the counts or the tally sheets. These 1,000,000 conspirators, spread out from the Baja beaches all the way down to the Quintana Roo's Blackford Cay Island, would have to have been shown to have devised and carried out a nefarious plan to rob him of that which, as late as last March, he was convinced would be his. Ridiculous, but I repeat myself.

He had one last target of opportunity. If he could show that the 300 district committees changed the ballots or the tally sheets of each and every one of the more than 131,000 paquetes, he might convince the magistrates to order a 100% recount. Using this tactic, he had narrowed down the list of conspirators to about 5000. Again, 5000 conspirators under the watchful gazes of observers form the EU, UN and USA (Fidel's and Chavez's observers had left under cover of darkness) spread out from the Boca Chica at Matamoros to Miguel Aleman in Chiapas, would have to be shown to have devised and carried out a an organized plan to defraud him of the presidency that surely was his by right. Ridiculous, at the risk of redundancy.

All of this is an effort to point out that, under Mexican election law, no individual paquete containing ballots MAY BE OPENED UNLESS EVIDENCE IS PRESENTED AGAINST THAT INDIVIDUAL PARTICULAR PAQUETE.

AMLO failed to even challenge some 25,000 paquetes.

These Mexican laws are designed to protect the ballots from nefarious hands that all too often in the past have derailed the will of the Mexican people. Now AMLO and his supporters are crying for an open air, above the table derailment of the will of the people. When AMLO stated that, if the recount failed to declare him the winner, he would not accept the recount, the game was pretty much up IMHO.

AMLO does not want the election annulled. If that were to happen, the PRI, which had ruled Mexico with an iron hand for more than 70 years, would turn its voters loose to vote for Calderon and AMLO would lose a new election and lose it badly. He wants a recount but only if that recount declares him the winner. He will accept nothing else.

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