Election Reform Lessons from Mexico
About This Event

In July 2006, Luis Carlos Ugalde, president of the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute, found himself at the center of international attention as the Mexican presidential election between Felipe Calderón and Andrés Manuel López Obrador became mired in controversy and accusations of voter fraud. Ugalde presided over the resolution of a Listen to Audio


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post–Election Day storm that would become even more protracted than the 2000 election controversy in Florida. The resilience of Mexico’s administrative practices—widely considered by international observers to be among the most well-designed and balanced in the world—illustrates many important lessons for election administrators in the United States.

The AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project aims to synthesize election-related research, link the research and policy communities, track and assist the implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and encourage improvements in HAVA and in election conduct and administration. Important goals of the reform project are to better inform policymakers, to provide a more comprehensive view of election reform changes among the national policy community, to raise the profile for election reform issues within Washington, and to improve coordination among groups and researchers around the country.

Agenda
10:15 a.m.
Registration
10:30
Introduction:
Norman J. Ornstein, AEI
Keynote Speaker:
Luis Carlos Ugalde, Mexican Federal Electoral Institute
Discussant:
Robert Pastor, American University
Noon
Adjournment
Event Summary

March 2007

Election Reform Lessons from Mexico

In July 2006, Luis Carlos Ugalde, president of the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute, found himself at the center of international attention as the Mexican presidential election between Felipe Calderón and Andrés Manuel López Obrador became mired in controversy and accusations of voter fraud. Ugalde presided over the resolution of a post-Election Day storm that would become even more protracted than the 2000 election controversy in Florida. The resilience of Mexico's administrative practices--widely considered by international observers to be among the most well-designed and balanced in the world--illustrates many important lessons for election administrators in the United States.

At a March 26 AEI event, Ugalde spoke about the lessons the United States can learn from Mexico on election reform. Robert Pastor of American University was the discussant, and AEI's Norman J. Ornstein moderated.
 
Luis Carlos Ugalde
Mexican Federal Electoral Institute

The fiercely fought July 2006 Mexican presidential election ended in a virtual tie, with Felipe Calderón edging out Manuel López Obrador by half a percentage point. Mexico survived the considerable turmoil of the ensuing months and avoided a political crisis because of its superior election administration practices. Mexico ensures that elections are transparent, open, and reliably conducted. First, Mexico randomly selects five hundred thousand citizens to serve as poll workers. These citizens receive a full two weeks of training before Election Day. All citizens are automatically registered to vote and receive free identification cards that prevent double voting and serve as a convenient ID for other purposes. The nonpartisan Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) monitors and creates detailed records of media coverage for each of the candidates, ensuring that any bias will come to light. Finally, election results are reported directly to the IFE, which is in charge of counting and announcing the results.

Despite the close margin of the July 2006 election, Mexico's system worked. None of the 500,000 poll workers reported any irregularities or mismanagement. Votes were reported quickly and accurately. Although both leading candidates sought to declare victory on the night of the election, their claims were undermined by the IFE's statement that the race was in fact too close to call.

Robert Pastor
American University

There are a number of lessons the United States can learn from Mexican election practices. First, we should appreciate the value of a professional, autonomous, and impartial administrative body. In the United States, elections are typically administered by partisan secretaries of state--often candidates for office themselves. Second, the "drafting" of poll workers leads to an election workforce that is better qualified and a process that is more transparent. Third, an automatic registration system, in cooperation with a voter ID card, increases electoral participation and confidence in the outcome. Fourth, Election Day practices, such as the availability of special IFE problem-solving teams and well-defined procedures for reporting, tabulating, and announcing election results, decrease the chances of an electoral meltdown. Finally, with the increasing frequency and importance of post-election litigation, separate electoral courts can provide an extra layer of expertise and fairness. Above all, we should remember that democracy is a work in progress requiring constant refinement and diligence.

AEI research assistant Timothy J. Ryan prepared this summary.

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