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Column 040714 Wall

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mexico's 'New' Electoral Institute has Broadened Authority

By Allan Wall

How are votes counted and how are elections conducted?  That’s an important question in any country.

Historically, it’s been an important question for Mexico.  For many years the PRI (Partido Institucional Revolucionario) ran Mexico as a one-party state.  It’s not that they didn’t have elections.  Like clockwork, they had presidential elections every six years.  It’s just that the same party always won!

In the last few decades of the twentieth century, the PRI gradually lost power as smaller parties grew more powerful.  In 2000 the PRI lost its first presidential election.

From 1990 to 2014, during this time of transition, the governing authority over Mexican federal elections was IFE, the Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute).

The IFE was in existence for 23 years, overseeing federal elections during a period of growing political pluralization in which the institute played a key role.

Now the IFE has been dissolved and replaced with the INE, the Instituto Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Institute), conveniently housed in the same headquarters building.

The IFE held its last session on April 4th, 2014, presided over by provisional president Maria Marvan Laborde.  A few hours later, the INE was sworn in.

INE, the Instituto Nacional Electoral, has 11 councillors, chosen by the Cámara de Diputados, the lower house in the Mexican Congress (equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives).  The INE chairman is Lorenzo Cordova Vianello.

The INE councillors have staggered nine-year terms, with some to be replaced every three years.  Since the INE is just starting and all the councillors are new, that means some begin with three-year terms, some with six-year terms, and some with the full nine-year terms.

There are three councillors with three-year terms: Beatriz Eugenia Galindo Centeno, Arturo Sanchez Gutierrez, and Javier Santiago Castillo.

There are four councillors with six-year terms: Marco Antonio Baños Martinez, Enrique Andrade Gonzalez, Alejandra Pamela San Martin Rios y Valles, and Benito Nacif Hernandez.

The councillors beginning with nine-year terms are Adriana Margarita Favela Herrera, Jose Roberto Ruiz Saldaña, and Ciro Murayama Rendon.

So how big a change is this?  The INE has the same headquarters building as the IFE.  On April 4th, they changed the lettering on the front of the building which wasn’t too difficult as they only had to change one word.  When Instituto Federal Electoral becomes Instituto Nacional Electoral, only “Federal” (seven letters) had to be changed to “Nacional” (eight letters).

One difference is that the new INE has more authority than the IFE.  The IFE had authority in federal elections, but the INE has authority in federal, state, and local elections.

The first elections the INE is responsible for are scheduled for this year, 2014, in two Mexican states.

In the northern state of Coahuila there are scheduled elections for the state legislature.  In the state of Nayarit, on the Pacific coast, there are elections for the state legislature and for ayuntamientos, the governments of the muncipios.  (A muncipio is the government of the city and adjoining rural area, roughly equivalent to what you’d have if you combined a city and county government in the U.S.)

Next year, in 2015, elections are scheduled for the national Cámara de Diputados, the lower house of Congress.  This body has 500 representatives, 300 chosen directly by their constituencies and 200 by proportional representation, according to how the parties do.

One of the responsibilities of the IFE was the issuance of the federal voter cards of the Mexican voter registration system.  A far cry from the slipshod voter registration “system” employed in the United States, the Mexican voter registration system (which I have observed firsthand) is impressive.

The system features government-supplied voter registration cards.  Each voter’s registration card has the voter’s photograph, fingerprints and a holographic image.  At the Mexican voting station, there is a book containing the photograph of every voter in the precinct.  This book is available to the poll workers and observers from various parties.  If there's a doubt as to someone’s identity, the poll workers can simply look up the person's name and see if the photo matches up.

Upon voting, the Mexican voter's thumb is smudged with ink. That way, if he or she shows up at another polling site to vote they know he or she already voted elsewhere.  (The ink wears off after a few days.)

Under the INE, this old IFE voter registration system continues, with all currently-valid cards still valid.  The INE just inherits the old IFE registration system.

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info.

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