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Richy Rich, and other electoral oddities

8 June 2018

Although, when the new Republic of Mexico wrote its constitution, it largely cut and pasted the basic nuts and bolts parts from the United States Constitution, over time (and over a couple of major revisions here, and a few amendments there) the Mexican electoral system has become something difficult for foreign observers to figure out, especially for people from the United States.

USAnians have some trouble with the idea of multiple parties — unlike the United States where anything other than the two that trace their roots back to the 19th century is almost unthinkable, we have two parties going back a few generations, and various ones that have spun off, or started out of other movements, or were just founded to push one or another politician and have managed to hold on. On the Presidential ballot (and more on that later) there are nine parties, but representing only three candidates. Not to mention an independent candidate. “Fusion tickets”, only existing in eight U.S. states are the rule, rather than the exception here.

Leading the pack by all accounts is Andrew Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) whose own party, Morena, didn’t exist four years ago. Although considered “leftist” and in coalition with the Workers Party (PT for its initials in Spanish), which is assumed to be the rump of the old Communist Party, he is also backed by PES (“Social Encounter” in English), which openly appeals to Evangelical Protestants, and is social conservatives. Ricardo Anaya, while a leader of the conservative PAN (National Action Pärty in English) has fused his campaign with the left of center PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party) and the “liberal” (in the U.S. sense) MC (Citizens Movement). PAN and PRD were, and at least by number of paid up party members, still are, the second and third largest parties, though Anaya is polling at about half the number of likely AMLO voters. A distant third place in the polls goes to José Antonio Meade, who — to confuse things– is a PAN politican running as the PRI (and Green, and National Alliance) candidate. Which accounts for the several parties in this election. And, coming up in the rear (polling one or two percent) is “El Bronco”, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, an independent.

Unlike the United States, there is no variation in the voting system from state to state, or election district to election district. Everyone votes the same way, on the same (paper) ballot. With one additional independent candidate, Margarita Zavala, having dropped out of the campaign after ballots had already been printed, there are a dozen ways one can vote. Any of the three candidates from any of their three parties, for “El Bronco”, or… write in whomever you want. You could mark your ballot for Margarita, but the INE (National Elections Institute) has decided those votes will not be counted. Unless, of course, you write in Margaria in the write-in box.

Now it gets fun. The various parties, although all wanting their person to win, also want the voters to mark their ballot for their own party. There’s a reason, and here is where it gets hairy for US observers. Two-fifths of the lower house of representatives (the Chamber of Deputies) and a quarter of the Senate, are chosen by proportional representation. While, as in the United States, each state is represented by two senators, in Mexico, there is one extra senator for each state, elected not from the winning party, but from the second place finisher in the state. And then 32 more senators, based on how well their parties did nationally. For the minor parties, this leads to a certain amount of “horse trading”… agreeing to back a major party candidate, in return for an agreement that the larger party will cede one or more of its proportional seats to the minority party.

All of which means… how a ballot is marked becomes problematic. What happens if a AMLO supporter, for example, marks his ballot for Morena… and PT… and PES? In theory, the voter should only mark one (with an X through the party label next to the candidate’s name). For that matter, what if a voter just circles the candidate’s name, rather than putting an X on the logo? Or uses a check-mark, or just a squiggle? Well, the INE (which is itself appointed by proportional representation from the political parties) has g0ne back and forth on this, finally deciding that if the voter’s intention to mark one or another candidate is clear, then that candidate gets the vote. If there are two or three marks for the same candidate, then the vote goes to the candidate, but not to any particular party. .

At the ballot box, the counters will have to decide. This could get interesting, ballot officials here being “draftees”. The closest analogy to the US comes not from election law, but from the courts. Becoming a ballot official is like jury duty. People are chosen from the election rolls (this year people born in February or early March) and, like with a jury pool, there are those who are unable or unwilling to do their duty who are culled out. But, as with a US jury, it’s assumed to be a relatively representative body of ordinary citizens tasked with discovering the truth. Unlike a US jury, which tends to be older people, the poll watchers and ballot counters are disproportionately younger voters. Personally, I think that’s great… it means younger adults are interested in the political process and will be likely voters themselves.

And, to make things even more interesting, today the Elections Institute decided if you just scribble the name of your candidate across the ballot, they’ll count that too. But.. with candidates known by nick-names (AMLO for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador) or their slogans better known than their name (“Yo Mero” for José Antonio Meade), that’s fine Or even the insult joke name. Lopez Obrador, in reference to accusations that Ricardo Anaya’s personal weath was not completely obtained through honest means, referred to the PAN-PRI-MC candidate as “Riky Riquin” — the cartoon character we know in English as “Richey Rich”. Apparently, the name has stuck, and a Mexican can vote for a cartoon character, who probably won’t win but will gain a few senate seats for his supporters.

A few miscellaneous guides to the perplexed:

While party primaries have been held in the past, parties here can chose their candidates almost any way they want… some just hold on-line polls of their membership, some duke it out at party conferences, some have central committees that call the shots. The PRI did have state primaries a few elections ago. It didn’t turn out well for them.

There isn’t really any sort of perpetual campaign (although, some argue that AMLO has been running for President for the last 12 years). The INE sets the opening and closing dates for campaigns. Three months of political advertising is more than enough, thank you. And the weekend before the election, there can’t be anything reported on any campaign, nor can the candidates make any last minute appeals, or even show their faces on TV. It gives the voters a rest.

There are no “exit polls”. There is a “statistical count”, called the PREP, that is announced as it comes in, through official INE reports. This means there really isn’t a “projected winner” until at least midnight after the polls close. The newspaper people are all waiting until the last minute to prepare their front pages (and, I assume, they have a couple different stories already to go, depending on how the election turns out).

Usually, losing candidates cry foul, and frauds … large and small… are inevitable. In theory, the INE doesn’t certify a winner until the first of September, but expect all kinds of charges, counter charges, and counter counter charges (and a few demonstrations) between the first of July (always the first Sunday in July) election and the certification in September, maybe even going on until the inauguration of the certified winner on the first of December.

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