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One Man, Ten Votes Mexican Election Fraud Goes High Tech BY SALLIE HUGHES Mexico City I . N THE NORTHEASTERN MEXICAN state of Coahuila, Jesus RafaerEsquivel Lopez walked into his neighborhood polling station last month, with identification in hand to cast his vote in the election for governor. The official register there showed he had already cast his ballot, so surprised and confused, he left without voting. In the western state of Nayarit, only 36 ballots were delivered to the polling station where opposition member Cristobal Mendoza stood posted as an observer. At the end of the day, the ruling party’s gubernatorial candidate had garnered 58 votes there. These two examples, drawn from a sworn affidavit and polling station documents, illustrate the two forms of electoral fraud in Mexico today one old fashioned, the other high-tech. Election violations last July in Nayarit, which have spawned continuous protests aid a police crackdown just last month, exerhplify the old style of Mexican fraud. Ballot boxes were stuffed with “tacos,” illicit ballots rolled up like tortillas and shoved into the voting bin. But elections in September in Coahuila, an industrialized border state, represent the new trend. Computer specialists strategically altered voter rolls to keep opposition voters from voting. Or they added phantom voters to the official register, according to autonomous and partisan electoral observers. “Fraud is known now as ‘cybernetic fraud’ and it is more difficult to prove,” said Oscar Ortiz, coordinator of the electoral observer program for the prestigious Mexican Academy of Human Rights. Government election officials do not like to speak on the record about fraud. Privately, they say the problems are being resolved and opposition claims are exaggerated. They also argue that no system is perfect, pointing to the impact of huge donations by special interests in U.S. elections. But after a joint review by the oppositional Party of the Democratic Revolution October 15 the Nayarit elections were declared seriously flawed. Historically, elections in Mexico have had Sallie Hughes is a political reporter for El Financiero International, an English -language weekly based in Mexico City. little to do with the contest for public office and power. Instead, they were plebiscites on the official party’s rule during the previous political term. Since the only protest available was abstention, electoral engineers in the Interior Secretariat -dubbed “alchemists” for turning lead into golden victories for the ruling PRI inflated turnout so the party’s legitimacy would not be questioned. In a comparison of census and voter data between 1961 and 1988, Colegio de Mexico analyst Silvia Gomez Tagle documents instances in which official tallies registered more ballots than there were voters to cast them. The PRI has controlled the electoral process via the Interior Secretariat’s control of the electoral machinery, its domination of labor unions, the parry’s unrestricted access to government funding and the,government’s control of mass media. Mexican elections began to change after 1977, when political reform opened the door to opposition party representation in the Chamber of Deputies. In the 1980s, elections actually became competitive when the morebegan winning local elections in the north. In the 1988 presidential election, the threat of competitive national elections might have proved too much for the dominant PRI, whose candidate, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, reportedly won the presidency with 50.4 percent of the vote three days after government computers shut down with left-ofcenter opposition candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas in the lead. As evidence of fraud poured in, Salinas promised to clean up the system. A review of elections since 1988 shows just how profoundly he has failed. Despite thousands of television and radio ads promoting and defending one new program, stories of the manipulation of the government’s $700 million photo voter identification program abound. The IDs, a creation of a new institute to oversee elections after 1989, did not stop fraud from ravaging midterm elections in 1991. Most critics characterize the institute as weak and blame the weakness on the fact that it operates under the control of the president and his hardline Interior Secretary, Patrocinio Gonzalez Garrido. Electoral reforms passed in September might help strengthen the but only somewhat. The reforms increase the weight of opposition parties on the institute’s general council and give the opposition more of a voice in choosing the citizens appointed to the institute’s boards. The reform also created a tribunal, whose members are drawn from the nation’s jurists, to make the final judgments on electoral complaints. Previobsly, partisan federal deputies ruled on complaints. Yet despite the reforms, Interior Secretary Gonzalez still remains in charge of the institute. “I think we are advancing,” said Antolio Lozano, a PAN representative to the ll,E. “But the agreements will not count for anything if the electoral process next year is full of lies.” Roberto Pastor, director of the team of electoral observers headed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and a former U.S. National Security Council advisor on Latin America, said that for the 1994 election it “seems clear that the government will retain sufficient influence as to be in the position if they so desire or feel it is necessary to influence the results.” Moreover, the federal reform package will not affect state elections, like in Nayarit and Coahuila, where some of the most outrageous electoral violations occur. In Nayarit, the PRI’ s control of elections is locked tight. The new state constitution, passed by a PRI-controlled legislature, guarantees each party a representative on state electoral councils. However, Nayarit law gives the party that won in the previous election which has always been the PRI “as many representatives as needed for a majority.” Recently elected state deputies, meeting as Nayarit’s Electoral College, have the final word on complaints about their own election. “The student who takes the test then grades it,” said Rodrigo Gonzalez Barrios, a state executive council member for the “Electoral bodies should be autonomous. This is probably the most strongly partisan board in Mexico.” Even though PRD complaints in Nayarit were backed up in most cases with documentation, they have so far been ignored. They included: Polling stations where final vote tallies exceeded the number of ballots delivered to the poll at the beginning of the day. Voters trucked from poll to poll, using duplicate voting cards to cast more than one THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13