Doing math in Mexico
While Mexicans take to the streets
over the presidential vote, democracy's fairweather friends are
by James K Galbraith
July 17, 2006
The election was stolen. It's not in doubt.
Colin Powell admits it. The National Democratic Institute and
the International Republican Institute both admit it. Senator
Richard Lugar of Indiana - a Republican - was emphatic: there
had been "a concerted and forceful program of election-day
fraud and abuse"; he "had heard" of employers telling
their workers how to vote; yet he had also seen the fire of the
resisting young, "not prepared to be intimidated".
In Washington, Zbigniew Brzezinski has
demanded that the results be set aside and a new vote taken, under
the eye - no less - of the United Nations. In The New York Times,
Steven Lee Myers decried "the use of government resources
on behalf of loyal candidates and the state's control over the
media" - factors, he said, were akin to practices in "Putin's
_I wrote those words two years ago, for
Salon. They referred, of course, to the election in the Ukraine,
where the presidential candidate favoured by the powerful neighbouring
state (Russia) had claimed a tainted victory in a tight race.
The thunder from America, citadel of democracy, was overwhelming.
Nothing mattered more than to see the vote annulled, a new election
held. The subsequent installation of Viktor Yuschenko as President
of Ukraine was widely celebrated as a great triumph for democracy.
But that, of course, was in another country.
Two weeks have now passed since the presidential vote in Mexico,
pitting Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the party
for a Democratic Revolution (PRD) against Felipe Calderón
of the ruling National Action party (PAN). The candidate who trailed,
López Obrador, has explicitly charged that the count was
cooked. He has challenged the result in court. No final resolution
is due before September.
Yet the stalwarts of democracy outside
Mexico are silent. Bush has congratulated Calderón, not
waiting for the court to rule. Reuters and Bloomberg echo the
confidence of the elites that Calderón will win in court
- never mind whether he won at the polls. When The New York Times
is heard from, the headlines tell us of the "leftist claims"
about the occurrence of fraud, while Calderón is described
as "presidential." The Times never doubted that fraud
did occur in Ukraine. In Mexico on the other hand, it seemingly
renounces any duty to examine the facts on the ground.
Here's one difference between the two
situations. In Ukraine, it was extremely hard to learn exactly
what the evidence of fraudulence actually was. In Mexico, it is
extremely easy. That is because the Mexican electoral authority,
known as IFE, posted the ongoing count on its website in real
time, an initiative called PREP. Independent scholars kept a record
of PREP as the night progressed. A statistical analysis of that
record does not, of course, constitute proof. But it brings to
mind Henry David Thoreau's remark that circumstantial evidence
can be very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.
To begin with, a simple matter. According
to an article by Roberto González Amador in La Jornada,
the vote totals don't match the percentages reported. Given the
just over 15m votes Calderón was said to have earned, the
percentage reported for him, 35.89%, could only be obtained by
including invalid ballots in the total reported. If, on the other
hand, one takes the overall vote total and the percentage reported
for Calderón as correct, then his total vote must have
been substantially less than was reported.
The same is true for AMLO and the other
candidates, and there is a total shortfall of over a million votes
between what can be justified by the official percentages of the
valid votes, and the sum of votes reported. The discrepancy proves
nothing, but even if it is only a simple error, it certainly seems
to cast doubt over the competence of the count.
Let's turn to the harder stuff. An analysis
by the physicist Luis Mochán of UNAM based on the realtime
evolution of the vote count and the distribution of vote totals
by polling place can be found here, and in greater detail in Spanish,
here. It's not easy reading, but is immensely worthwhile. It's
possible that Mochán's work inaugurates a new era in realtime
checking for vote fraud, made possible by the simplicity of Mexico's
first-past-the-post direct vote and the rich electoral data sets
that can be made instantly available. Call it the age of transparency,
in collision with an oligarchy of thugs.
Mochán's work calls attention to
at least four important anomalies in the count.
1. Calderón's percentage lead in
the count started at around seven percentage points, and diminished
steadily in percentage terms through the first part of the count.
This corresponded to a remarkably constant absolute differential
between Calderón and AMLO as the count progressed. Is this
normal? The count depended on the arrival of the boxes; if this
were absolutely random then the proportions should have held roughly
constant while absolute differentials widened, as actually happened
to the differential between Calderón and the third major
candidate, Madrazo of the PRI, for most of the evening. Why did
the Calderón-AMLO differential follow a different rule?
2. The PREP results went on view only
after the first 10,000 boxes had been processed. If those first
10,000 boxes resembled what came later, then extrapolating backward
should produce a line intersecting the origin - each candidate
should have started with zero votes. For Calderón this
is the case, but for AMLO it is not: the AMLO intercept is actually
at minus 126,000 votes. Thus, the first 10,000 boxes were markedly
different from those that followed. How?
3. There are gross anomalies in the number
of votes counted per five-minute interval as the count finishes.
Over the course of the evening, the pattern of vote counts set
a normal range for this variable. As the last boxes came in, however,
it was radically violated, with many more votes piled in, per
interval, than was normal before. Moreover, toward the very end,
PREP reset the box count, which regressed from 127,936 at 13.17
on July 3 to 127,713 at 13.50, meaning that records for 223 boxes
disappeared. 33 minutes had by then passed with no updates. When
they resumed, there were updates with absurd results: more than
6000 votes per box at 13:57, and then updates with large negative
votes per box at 13:57 and 14:03.
4. From a statistical point of view, the
distribution across boxes of votes earned by each candidate should
be smooth. For Madrazo it is. But for Calderón and AMLO
it isn't. In Calderón's case, the distribution appears
to be shifted out, with the shift localized among the last 40,000
boxes counted. In the case of AMLO, the distribution tails off
abruptly from its peak. It is in the difference between the slightly
fat distribution for Calderón and the shaved distribution
for AMLO that the difference in the final outcome is to be found.
A graph of the differences in Calderón and AMLO's votes
per box, which ought to follow a normal curve, does not. Over
a certain range, Calderón's margins appear abnormally large.
Professor Mochán does not claim
to explain these anomalies. More time and closer investigation
remain necessary. But he does conclude that it "is reasonable
to suspect that there could have been a manipulation of the results
reported by the PREP." It is true that the PREP is not an
official count - that was done at the district offices, with equally
serious anomalies alleged. But PREP reported the box-by-box results
as they flowed in-and as such it constitutes a vital instrument
for the detection of patterns of manipulation and fraud.
Let me go further than Mochán.
The evidence he assembles is consistent with the following possibilities:
1. That Felipe Calderón started
the night with an advantage in total votes, a gift from the authorities.
2. That as the count progressed this advantage
was maintained by misreporting of the actual results. This enabled
Calderón to claim that he had led through the entire process
- an argument greatly repeated but spurious in any case because
it is only the final count that matters.
3. That toward the end of the count, further
adjustments were made to support the appearance of a victory by
Add these elements together, and there
is no reason to accept the almost universal view that the election
was close. AMLO might have won by a mile.
If you want sound and colour, there's
plenty of that too: actual tally sheets showing that votes counted
for AMLO were reduced, taped conspiratorial telephone conversations,
videotapes that may or may not show guilty behaviour; the endorsement
of Calderón by Fox; the inclusion of PAN themes in corporate
advertising. As a Mexican correspondent writes, "the fraud
is a p-r-o-c-e-s-s." In late news, La Jornada on July 16
charges that 40% of the vote packets have been illegally reopened
by the IFE since the election. This amounts to a pre-emptive strike
against the credibility of any recount. The charges, if true,
are tantamount to proof of fraud, evidence prima facie that AMLO
won the election.
Is it time to move on? The numbers suggest
otherwise. By demonstrating the possibility of detecting fraud
before the results of an election are officially decided, they
also inaugurate a new phase in the struggle for the recognition
of a democratic vote. The Mexican people, who marched through
their capital today, appear determined to carry that struggle
forward until justice is won. Unlike the so-called Democratic
Party in the United States six years back, Andres Manuel López
Obrador appears, for now, determined not to compromise with fraud.
And for those of us outside Mexico, we
must decide where we stand: with democracy ... or quietly on the