Evidence of Election Fraud Grows
by Chuck Collins and Joshua Holland
As the U.S. media distorts the aftermath
of the July 2 election, evidence suggests there may be an attempted
theft in progress.
A month after more than 41 million Mexicans
went to the polls to elect their next president, the country is
still awaiting a result. A preliminary count of polling station
tally sheets put conservative Felipe Calderón of the National
Action Party (PAN) ahead with a slight lead over left-populist
Andres Manuel López Obrador of the Democratic Revolution
Party (PRD). Both candidates have claimed victory, with López
Obrador and his supporters holding vigils and protests across
the country and calling for a vote-by-vote recount.
That hasn't kept a consensus from emerging
in the commercial media that Calderón won by a small margin
in a squeaky-clean election. In a hyperbolic editorial on July
30 -- one that bordered on the ridiculous -- the Washington Post
accused López Obrador, known as AMLO to his supporters,
of taking "a lesson from Joseph Stalin" and launching
an "anti-democracy campaign" by demanding a manual recount
and urging his supporters to take to the streets in peaceful protests.
Calling the vote "a success story and a model for other nations,"
the editors concluded that it's "difficult to overstate the
irresponsibility of Mr. López Obrador's actions."
Days after the election, the New York
Times irresponsibly declared candidate Calderón the winner,
even though no victor had been declared under Mexican law, and
just this week, in an article about López Obrador's protests,
the Times reported that López Obrador had "escalated
his campaign to undo official results."
But there are no "official"
results and probably won't be until after Sept. 1. Under Mexican
law, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) is charged with running
the elections and counting the vote. But only the country's Election
Tribunal, known by its Mexican nickname as the "TRIFE,"
has the power to declare a victor (See here for background on
the TRIFE). They have until Sept. 6 to rule on the election.
It appears that the U.S. media has become
so enamored with the construct of the "anti-democratic"
left in Latin America -- the ubiquitous "fiery populists"
(a term that has described everyone from the centrist Lula da
Silva to Hugo Chávez) -- that they are incapable of fulfilling
their basic mandate to inform their readers when it comes to the
political landscape south of the border. It's nothing short of
But back in the real world, a growing
body of credible evidence from mainstream Mexican journalists,
independent election observers and respected scholars indicates
that an attempt was made to deliver the presidency to Calderón.
It includes a pattern of irregularities at the polls, interference
by the ruling party and some very suspicious statistical patterns
in the "official" results.
The TRIFE is now sifting through 900 pages
of formal complaints lodged by López Obrador. Their ruling
on those challenges will indicate how well México's electoral
process holds up in a closely fought and highly polarized race.
Growing evidence of irregularities and
México has a history of the party
in power's using its clout to tip the election in its favor, and
strict laws prohibiting ruling party interference were enacted
in the 1990s. Election law prevented Vicente Fox, the outgoing
PAN president, from making public statements of a partisan or
political nature. But he overstepped this line many times in the
2006 campaign, including dozens of speeches reinforcing candidate
Felipe Calderón's basic message that López Obrador
was a "danger to México." In a well-publicized
speech, candidate López Obrador responded, "With all
respect, Mr. President, shut up. You sound like a chattering bird."
Fox continued with these speeches until election authorities and
public commentators warned Fox he was violating election laws.
The Fox administration also ran public
service announcements touting government programs and services
and promoting the vote. PAN saturated the television airwaves
with "swift-boat" style attack ads against López
Obrador, comparing him to Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and calling
him a "danger to México." Election authorities
eventually ordered these commercials off the air on the grounds
that they were untrue and maligned the candidate's character,
but critics believe they moved too slowly.
Under Mexican law, ruling party interference
is a serious charge and grounds for annulling an election. In
the last ten years, the same Electoral Tribunal judges that are
reviewing AMLO's complaints annulled governors' races in Tabasco
and Colima, based on ruling party interference. The Institutional
Revolution Party (PRI), which ruled México for seven decades
before the system was reformed in the 1990s, made vote buying
and voter coercion into a high art form, and there is strong evidence
that they were up to their old tricks in the 2006 election. With
PRI governors in 17 of México's 31 states, election observers
documented a significant number of examples of voters being offered
money or receiving food or building materials in exchange for
their PRI vote. In a country where half the citizens live in poverty
and rely on different forms of government assistance, voters are
often told that their public assistance is dependent on voting
for the party in power. There are examples of PAN using similar
practices, especially a well-documented case of funds diverted
from a San Luis Potosi building program into PAN electoral races.
The Mexican electoral system has come
a long way in two decades in implementing anti-fraud systems.
But there are still several ways that results can be tampered
with on election day. López Obrador's campaign and hundreds
of independent election observers documented several hundred cases
of "old fashioned" election-day fraud in making their
case for a recount.
Here's how the system was supposed to
work. On July 2, Mexicans voted at over 130,000 different polling
stations, casting separate ballots for president, senator and
federal deputy. Each political party was encouraged to have registered
poll watchers at every polling station to observe the voting process
and count at the end of the day. As international and Mexican
election observers noted, however, problems emerged when there
weren't enough independent and party observers to go around. In
regions where one party was dominant, this created opportunities
for vote shaving, ballot stuffing, lost ballots and other forms
The PRD's strongest case for a recount
comes from the fact that ballots in almost one-third of the country
were not counted in the presence of independent observers. One
analysis of IFE results found that there were 2,366 polling places
where only a PAN observer was present. In these districts, Calderón
beat López Obrador by a whopping 71-21 margin.
Other elements of PRD's legal challenge
include documentation of several ballot boxes found in dumps in
the PRD stronghold of México City. They also point to evidence
such as the nonpartisan Civic Alliance's report documenting 17
polling sites in PAN-dominated Nuevo León, Michoacan and
Querétaro, where the number of votes cast vastly exceeded
the number of registered voters at a site.
Reports by international and domestic
election observers affiliated with the Civic Alliance and Global
Exchange stop short of claiming fraud in the elections. They laud
the dedication of most poll workers they monitored and the preparations
for the vote in most of the polling places, as well as the orderly
and peaceful process overall. But the cumulative evidence is damning
in such a closely contested race.
In the weeks after the election, PRD observers
again sounded the alarm as sealed ballot packets were being illegally
opened at IFE district offices in several PAN-dominated regions.
PRD officials accused IFE officials of possibly tampering with
ballots or attempting to cover up fraud in the event of a recount.
The TRIFE ordered these offices to stop opening vote packets.
While the López Obrador campaign
has not made major charges of "cyber fraud," there is
an emerging controversy over the IFE's role in reporting who was
ahead in the vote count. For the 2006 election, the IFE had developed
a sophisticated system to provide preliminary results called the
PREP. Relying on results being phoned in from a sample of precincts,
the IFE could compile a credible picture of the vote. If the PREP
showed one candidate with a clear majority, the system would have
allowed Mexicans to go to sleep on election night knowing who
their next president would be. But because of the razor close
results, the PREP proved to be an inadequate measure.
Now research is emerging to suggest that
the PREP results were cooked to create the appearance of a Calderón
victory. Physicist Jorge López at the University of Texas,
El Paso, conducted a statistical analysis of the PREP results
and found that, as the results came in, the differential between
the candidates' totals remained almost constant. One would expect
that, as results from each party's geographic strongholds were
counted, the gap between their totals would rise and would fall.
In such a tight election, one would even expect the lead to change
back and forth as the count progressed. None of that happened.
The results of a third candidate, Roberto Madrazo of the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), fluctuated as expected.
He also noted that there was very little
deviation between the actual results as they came in and the average
results; in a normal, natural distribution, one would expect significant
differences between the two (it should look something like a squashed
bell-shaped curve). Dr. López concluded the pattern was
"a clear indication that the data was manufactured by an
algorithm and does not stand a chance at passing as data originated
at the actual voting."
Luis Mochan, a physicist at the Universidad
Nacional Autónoma de México, did similar work. He
noted that the PREP data was posted after the first 10,000 reports
had been processed, and looked at whether those first 10,000 reports
were consistent with the statistical trends for the rest of the
day. When he plotted the data backwards, Calderón's vote
total originated at zero, as is normal, but López Obrador
began the day 126,000 votes in the hole.
Mochan and López both point out
that the Calderón began the day building a large percentage
lead -- seven points -- that decreased steadily throughout the
day. The large early lead would have been handy from a psychological
and political perspective, allowing Calderón to claim that
he led all day long, but the results had to end in a close result
given that polls conducted a week before the tally showed a statistical
Mochan also notes gross discrepancies
in the number of votes processed late in the evening: "At
the end of the plot, we find intervals with more than 1,200 votes
per [voting] booth. I understand that no booth was to receive
more than 750 votes. Even more worrisome, some data points indicate
a negative number of votes per booth."
Mochan notes that these statistical anomalies
aren't definitive proof of anything. But economist James Galbraith,
reviewing Mochan's data, speculated about a likely scenario that
would fit the discrepancies seen that night:
Felipe Calderón started the night
with an advantage in total votes, a gift from the authorities.
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.
Toward the end of the count, further adjustments
were made to support the appearance of a victory by Calderón.
Critics suggest that the IFE may have
aggressively pushed to swiftly declare Calderón a victor,
obviating the need for a poll-by-poll vote recount.
The U.S. media was also confused on the
Wednesday after the vote when the IFE ordered all 300 district
offices to review the tally sheets. It was widely reported as
a "recount," when in fact very few ballots were actually
counted. In some cases, such as when a tally sheet was illegible,
the sealed ballot packets where opened and recounted. Almost every
time that occurred, observers encountered significant errors in
the vote count. In the state of México, one tally sheet
recorded 88 votes for López Obrador when the recount of
ballots found 188 votes. Whether it was human error or intentional
vote shaving, in a tight election race, these examples gain heightened
None of these reports in and of themselves
constitute a smoking gun. But the questions they raise need to
be answered. There is far more evidence pointing to fraud in the
Mexican elections in 2006 than was made publicly available about
Ukraine's contested vote in 2004. Comparing the media and political
establishment's reactions to the two reveals the transparent dishonesty
in backing Calderón's claim of victory; in 2004 many of
the same voices that are now calling López Obrador "undemocratic"
were screaming that the Ukrainian tally had to be annulled and
only a new election would assure democracy in the former Soviet
satellite. In both instances, the candidate who declared victory
was friendly towards a powerful neighboring state; in 2004 that
state was Russia, and two years later it's the United States.
Forget about threatening México's fragile democratic institutions
-- that makes all the difference to the editorial boards of the
New York Times and the Washington Post.
According to the Mexican daily La Journada,
over two million supporters of López Obrador gathered in
México City on Sunday, July 30, the largest public demonstration
in México's history. Millions of voices chanted "vote
by vote, poll by poll," calling on the Electoral Tribunal
to order a recount. A poll released this week found that Mexicans,
by a 20-point margin (48-28), want a vote-by-vote count. López
Obrador has said he will call off protests when the Tribunal agrees
to a recount and will honor its final decision.
As for the charge in the U.S. media that
López Obrador is undermining democracy and the rule of
law by calling on his supporters to protest, we believe that the
rights of peaceful assembly and free speech are important democratic
tenets. Public protests have played a historic part in México's
three decade-long transition to democracy.
President and PAN leader Vicente Fox called
for direct action when he believed he was victimized by electoral
fraud in his race for the governorship of Guanajuato in 1991.
Fox called on thousands of supporters to take to the streets and
block highways, and the results were eventually overturned. Asked
before the 2000 presidential election if he would do the same
thing if he suspected fraud, he didn't hesitate to say "we
will be very alert to any irregularities, and we will submit the
appropriate legal accusations that are necessary. If there is
any instability [as a result of those accusations], it will be
due to whatever they have done fraudulently to avoid recognizing
While Calderón has opposed a ballot-by-ballot
recount, even some of his staunchest supporters have argued that
the process would assure Mexicans' faith in their electoral authorities
and strengthen the country's young democracy. In a race where
over 64 percent of Mexicans voted against him, Calderón,
if he should prove victorious, will need all the legitimacy he
As México awaits the rulings of
the electoral tribunal, tensions are high. The campaign -- often
dirty -- and the close results have polarized the country. Given
the context, the U.S. media's water-carrying for Calderón's
campaign is anything but helpful. The fact that there have been
no "official" results is not open to dispute, and until
AMLO's allegations have been investigated, there is no way that
anyone can say who will come out ahead.
Chuck Collins is the co-author of "Economic
Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity"
(New Press). He is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy
Studies and lives in Oaxaca, México. Joshua Holland is
an AlterNet staff writer.