Mexican Seeks 4 Percent of Votes Tossed

The Associated Press
Saturday, August 12, 2006; 7:35 PM

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's leftist presidential candidate wants votes from nearly 5,000 polling places thrown out, a top aide said Saturday, amid signs that a partial recount won't change enough results to swing the election his way.

"Annulling (the results) from these polling places would change the balance of the election, and would mean that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would be the winner," said Claudia Sheinbaum, the leftist candidate's top campaign aide.

She said the request will be filed soon to the Federal Electoral Tribunal, which is overseeing the partial recount and must resolve all challenges to the July 2 elections by month's end.

Parties involved in the recount say elections officials have found extra ballots in some ballot boxes, and in other cases have failed to account for all blank ballots distributed to polling places. Sheinbaum said this suggests "a concerted operation" to fix the election for conservative Felipe Calderon, who led by less than 1 percent in the official but still uncertified vote count.

"These criminals thought it was going to be easy _ 'we took his victory away and he's going to cross his arms and do nothing,'" Lopez Obrador said Saturday in Chiapas, where he was campaigning for a fellow party member. "Well, no, I'm not going to just wait with my arms crossed."

The polling places to be challenged by Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party were mainly ones where Calderon got more votes, and would represent almost 4 percent of Mexico's voting places, a figure that could rise if more alleged irregularities are found in the partial recount, which is set to conclude Sunday.

Lopez Obrador has said he doesn't want the entire election thrown out, but Sheinbaum said the tribunal might choose to do that, or to order a complete recount of all 41 million votes cast, rather than the current recount of 9 percent of ballot boxes with evident problems.

Some experts have suggested the so-called "missing ballots" might be due to people who kept voting sheets, rather than using them to vote, and said "extra" ballots might have been transferred from nearby polling places. Sheinbaum said neither explanation could account for such widespread problems.

The tribunal hasn't released any official results from the partial recount, but local media reported that variations of only a few thousand votes have been found, far short of what Lopez Obrador would need to overcome a 244,000 vote deficit.

Also, in a Mexican twist on the "hanging chad" dispute that marked the 2000 U.S. elections, the electoral tribunal said it will have judges individually examine questionable ballots that emerge from the partial recount.

Sheinbaum said thousands of ballots could fall into the questionable category.

Mexico's voting system is not computerized _ voters use crayons to make an "x" on a paper ballot in a square corresponding to a candidate, unlike the punch cards that sometimes left incomplete perforations, or "hanging chads," during Florida's 2000 president election recount.

But some ballots apparently have marks that run over more than one square, or no visible marking; such ballots would be reviewed by justices to see whether there was a clear intention in favor of one candidate, or whether they will be considered null or voided.

The protest camps set up in much of downtown Mexico City continued in full swing Saturday. Lopez Obrador's supporters also have briefly taken over highway toll booths, allowing motorists to pass through without paying, a tactic they repeated Saturday on highways in the central state of Puebla, the southern state of Guerrero and the northern state of Nuevo Leon.

© 2006 The Associated Press