|Out for the count
The decision by a court to name Felipe Calderón president of Mexico
brings back memories of President Bush's first election win.
James K Galbraith
September 7, 2006
Felipe Calderón has been named president of Mexico, by a court, much
as George Bush was named President of the United States, by a court.
But did he win the election? We do not know. The court's decision does
not establish this, any more than the Bush v Gore case established
that Bush won his first election - which, as we now know, he did not.
In both cases, the truth could have been known in time. But it was
not. And that is because one side - in the legal struggle, the winning
side - refused and resisted a full recount of the votes.
In both cases, we can be sure that if plaintiff and defendant had been
reversed, the decisions would have been unanimous the other way. If
Bush had been for it and Gore against, the US supreme court would have
voted 9-0 for a full recount in Florida. If Lopez Obrador had led the
count by a minute fraction, and if it were Calderón charging
irregularities and fraud, then the Mexican electoral court would have
recounted all the votes.
On July 16, I summarised in this space the principal irregularities
found in the preliminary report of the vote (the PREP), in an analysis
by the physicist Luis Mochán. They were: (1) an improbably stable
absolute differential between Calderón and AMLO, throughout the count;
(2) an improbably low AMLO total in the first 10,000 boxes, which were
not included in the PREP, suggesting that he might have started the
night with negative votes; (3) obvious backtracking and mistabulation
in the late hours of the count, and (4) a non-normal distribution of
the differentials across precincts between Calderón and AMLO,
suggesting that in many close precincts small numbers of votes could
have been shifted to Calderón.
Since then, not one of these anomalies has been explained. The court
decision did not address them. Instead, we have seen an intense
propaganda effort, aimed at establishing that the Mexican electoral
procedures were, and are, incorruptible. A former high Mexican
official with a well-deserved international reputation as a democrat -
since it was a private communication and he is a friend I will not
name him - told me that they were "bulletproof".
Yet the quality of the procedures is the easiest thing in the world to
test, and Luis Mochán has now made a new analysis, which tests them.
His test concerns a very simple, very basic number. It is a number
that, in an, impeccable process, should be known for sure. How many
votes were cast in this election?
Mochán points out that there are four separate ways to count this
number. And remarkably, all four counts were not only used, but made
available in the reporting of the preliminary count. Therefore, we
have the capacity to check on the perfection of the counting process.
The first way to do this is by counting the number of voters who
signed in, receiving an official stamp by their name on voting list.
The number of stamps equals the number of voters. This count was made.
A second way, is to count the number of ballots received by the voting
station, less the number left over at the end of the voting process.
This was done.
The third option is to count the total number of ballots cast, before
separating them into piles and recounting who they were cast for.
This, too, was done.
Finally, you can count the number of votes cast for each candidate,
plus the number of write-in votes, plus the number of blank ballots.
Add these together, and you should have the total number of ballots
cast. Obviously, this also was done, in every polling place.
In a perfect process, all four methods should yield exactly the same
result. And while some human error is normal, and to be expected,
error inherently means that the process was not perfect. Errors, of
course, occurred; the process was not perfect. The real question is:
how substantial were they?
Mochán 's analysis yields the following figures, among others:
Among 130,488 domestic polling places, the records for 13,201 (just
less than 10%) are missing altogether from the preliminary count.
Among the 117,287 records that are present, 24,148 are incomplete,
missing one or more numbers. The incomplete records correspond to 21%
of the polling places reported. While these mainly reflect blank votes
and write-ins, and do not directly affect the election outcome, the
missing data makes it impossible to know exactly how many total votes
were cast in those precincts.
Among the 109,134 records for which one can compare directly the
number of ballots in the box against the number of ballots received
and the number left over, there were 17,465 records where the number
of ballots deposited was larger, with the difference equal to 788,077
votes. There were also 32,758 records where the number of ballots in
the box was less, by 716,489 votes. In total, this type of error
occurred in more than 50,000 ballot boxes, that's more than 46%, with
a grand sum of 1.5m missing or excessive votes.
In 97,790 records where one can compare the number of citizens voting
with the number of votes counted, there were 22,419 where the number
of votes counted exceeded the number of citizens voting, and 22,391
where the number of citizens voting was less. In total, this type of
error affected 46% of the ballot boxes, and involved nearly 1.8m
In 107,425 cases one can compare the number of ballots deposited and
the number of voters signing in. Discrepancies between these two
numbers affect 41% of the boxes, and about 2.35m ballots.
The bottom line of this back-breaking analysis is that the preliminary
vote count was affected by basic inconsistencies in tens of thousands
of boxes, with the inconsistencies cumulating to millions of votes.
This, in an election decided, by the official count, by less than a
quarter of a million votes.
Were the problems corrected in the official, or "district count"? One
cannot tell, because the detailed data made available in the PREP were
not published for the District Count. Yet we know that the number of
ballot boxes recounted, vote by vote, in the District Count was much
lower than the number showing inconsistencies in the PREP. Thus we
have no reason to believe that the District Count was any better.
Nothing here establishes actual fraud. The errors discussed above may
have been entirely innocent, for all we know. But they are so large
that they rule out accepting the diktat of the court, as to the winner
of the election. In the final analysis, we do not know who won
Mexico's presidential election. And without a full recount of all the
ballots, no one will ever know.
Mochán 's analysis contains the following severe summary of the facts:
"(1) The PREP presented obvious errors; (2) These errors show that
[Mexican election] officials have the capacity to interfere with the
computers that made the reports, adding, eliminating and modifying
data; (3) The computer system, or at least that part in charge of
reporting the results from the PREP, is not robust and it may be
interfered with; (4) The absence of an explanation of these anomalies
and the enormous propaganda pretending to induce the notion of a
perfect process can not but produce distrust about the other stages in
the election process."
In its decision, the Mexican election court compounded this problem
with a type of reasoning quite familiar in the United States, where it
cropped up over the Ohio vote in 2004. Yes, they agreed that seals
were broken on the voting packets. Yes, they agreed that Lopez Obrador
suffered illegal propagandistic attacks. Yes, they agreed that the
private sector and Vicente Fox had participated illegally in the
election. But because it could not be proved that these illegalities
were sufficient to turn the election, they accepted the declared
This is a bogus argument. Where massive illegality afflicts an
election campaign and a voting process, the result is not legitimate.
It therefore cannot be accepted as legitimate. In Ohio in 2004, there
was undeniable, massive partisan interference in access to voting
machines - which I witnessed with my own eyes - and many other
improprieties in the count. It doesn't matter whether Bush won Ohio or
not. He won it - if he won it - illegitimately, by techniques that
amount to unprosecuted crimes. Therefore, his second term is as
illegitimate as his first. The same will now be true of Felipe
Meanwhile, American democrats have much to learn from our Mexican
friends, who have been fighting for democracy far more toughly than we
did, in 2000 or 2004.