Saturday, June 15, 2024

Voter envy: What can Mexico teach US about running elections?

Sitting here on the eve of my own country’s election, I find myself wishing we could be more like Mexico when it comes to voting.

Pretty much anyone will tell you that Mexico is by no means a beacon of democracy (the lack of the rule of law is of particular concern despite the strongest efforts by many).

But take a closer look at the makeup of the government and you’ll see at least an institutional effort at keeping things representative of voters’ wishes. Both Mexican chambers of Congress, for example, reserve a portion of their seats for the party that got the second highest number votes to guard against a “winner-take-all” makeup.

Another striking difference to the US system is that there is no reelection for the president, although as of the 2018 elections, members of the legislature can be reelected.

When it’s time to head to the polls, Mexico also seems to have a much more straightforward process in place. And I won’t lie: I’m a little jealous.

Whereas in the U.S. our main “never-leave-home-without-it” government-issued ID is a driver’s license, in Mexico it’s the INE, Mexico’s National Electoral Institute card, which is essentially a voter ID card. (Note: Many Mexicans still refer to this card out of habit as the IFE, which refers to the INE’s predecessor, the Federal Electoral Institute.) Since this card goes everywhere with everyone, it’s rare that one wouldn’t be able to vote because they didn’t have it … They always have it!

When it’s time to vote, they simply go to their local assigned voting booths, show their IDs — which are checked against the lists of voters the officials have — and then they vote, leaving with ink on their fingers to ensure that they only vote once.

Voting is held on a Sunday, ensuring that as many people as possible can participate. At the end of the day, the results from each voting station are taped up on the outside and left there for a few days for everyone to see. Now that everyone has phones, it’s easy to snap a picture and compare it with the numbers on the INE (Instituto Nacional Electoral) site. All in all, it’s a pretty straightforward process.

The president is elected by a nationwide popular vote: whichever candidate gets the most votes wins, period.

In my own country of the United States, the president is ultimately elected by the Electoral College, a system that no one was ever enthusiastic about but one we can’t seem to shake. To be fair, no country at the time it was created elected their leaders by popular vote, and it was considered too risky to give that much power to everyday people.

And now, well, it’s tradition. It’s also more than evident that the party that’s currently in power would lose over and over again if the president were selected by popular vote. After all, both Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, both Democrats, received the majority of votes cast, but did not wind up being president. In tomorrow’s election, Donald Trump wouldn’t stand a chance if he had to be chosen by popular vote.

While Mexico hasn’t had to deal with a state-by-state system that ultimately has given certain states much more power than others in selecting the president (I sometimes scoff when I remember that Wyoming’s two senators get just as much say in decisions that affect the entire country as Texas’ or California’s), one thing they have had to deal with are too-close races.

Some of you might recall the 2006 election in Mexico, in which our current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was neck-and-neck with the man who was ultimately declared the winner, Felipe Calderón. I never heard a great explanation for why they didn’t sit down and recount all those votes, but I sure remember it being a stressful time.

López Obrador set up shop as the “legitimate president” for months in Mexico City’s zócalo, and surely the U.S. would like to avoid precisely that kind of thing happening.

All that said, Mexico’s got the basic idea right: a president is a president for everyone. So it makes sense that everyone votes for the president and that the candidate who gets the most votes wins.

That’s one way I’d love the U.S. to be more like Mexico. Voting on Sundays? Also an excellent idea! Or perhaps we could make election day a national holiday? A paid national holiday?

Just imagine! Making our main IDs voting cards would also be a great step in the right direction, as not everyone has nor can get a driver’s license. Let’s take a cue from Mexico on that one and do the same, making those cards easily accessible and free. Maybe seeing that card every day will remind people to vote when it’s time!

And if we ensure that there are actually enough voting booths to accommodate everyone without making them wait in line for hours, what a step that would be! Surely it can’t be that hard. Mexico might only have a third of the population of the United States, but they’re pretty much rocking it on this front.

All that said, I’m not as naïve as I seem. We don’t do all of this, of course, because one party in particular knows that if everyone who were eligible actually showed up to vote, they’d be toast. Over the past few days, in the face of greater voter turnout than we’ve seen in a very long while, efforts at voter suppression are reaching ridiculous heights: highways are blocked, campaign buses for the other side are run off the road, and vigilantes “patrol” voting spaces at the direction of the president.

Here’s hoping that by the time the U.S. elections roll around again in 2022 and 2024, we’ll have learned a thing or two from Mexico.

Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

CORRECTION:  A previous version of this article stated that no one in the federal legislative branch could run for additional terms. For legislators elected in 2018 and after, this has changed. The previous version also incorrectly referred to Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) by its predecessor’s name, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). Mexico News Daily regrets the error.

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