The worst electoral abuses in Mexico during the 20th century were typically the work of its long-ruling political dynasty, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). With polls showing the PRI cruising toward a big victory this year, election officials here have been making near-daily public assurances that the vote will be squeaky clean.
Top regulators from the independent Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) are eager to avoid a repeat of the last presidential election, in 2006, when leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador cried fraud after losing to Felipe Calderon by less than 0.6 of a percentage point.
Lopez Obrador’s supporters took to the streets and snarled traffic in the capital for months with protests, deepening cynicism among Mexicans who weren’t ready to believe that their democracy had really changed.
Public perceptions of the IFE and Mexico’s electoral integrity have recovered from that crisis, pollsters and analysts say, and this time, all of the major candidates — including Lopez Obrador, who is running again — have pledged to respect the results.
Electoral fraud in Mexico “is a thing of the past,” Leonardo Valdes, Mexico’s top election official, said in an interview.
“You would need a conspiracy among the more than 1 million citizens who have been trained to uphold our electoral laws,” he said.
With suspicions still high — and memories of Mexico’s vote-rigging legacy still raw — regulators have developed some of the most expensive and complex oversight measures in the world.
All of the roughly 80 million registered voters have a sophisticated ID card — doubling as their main form of identification — with a photograph and personal information. Election officials are assigned to voting precincts through a lottery process, and representatives of each political party are invited to observe every stage of the balloting.
Voting more than once
That is not the way things often worked during the 71 years that the PRI ran Mexico, until 2000.
Back then, loyalists could demonstrate their enthusiasm for the party by voting more than once — or more than a dozen times. Unfavorable outcomes could be easily remedied by pen stroke or bonfire. In many small towns and remote corners of rural Mexico, the PRI ran unopposed, and its red-white-and-green logo — matching the colors of the Mexican flag — taught generations of Mexicans to simply refer to it as “the official party,” as if the state and the PRI were one and the same.
Come election time, they often were. In parts of rural Mexico where there were no representatives of rival parties to insist on clean balloting, entire villages would vote to keep the patronage flowing, while PRI-appointed election officials happily certified the results.