Expert: Mexico’s recent vote a positive step for electoral integrity

Mexico’s 2018 elections, completed in July, appear to have been successfully managed by electoral authorities despite two decision-making setbacks in recent years, according to a new issue brief from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The National Palace in Mexico City. Credit: University

“Mexico’s Electoral Authorities: Implications for Democracy and the Rule of Law” was authored by Rodrigo Montes de Oca, a research scholar and legal expert for the Baker Institute’s Mexico Center. The brief describes Mexico’s electoral authorities and examines two poorly made decisions in the two most recent election cycles, especially in light of the continued fragility of the country’s political institutions and the general lack of trust in the rule of law. It further argues that all rulings by the electoral authorities are pivotal for the credibility of future elections and the consolidation of Mexico’s democracy.

On July 1, Mexicans went to the polls with a relatively low degree of trust in their electoral authorities, Montes de Oca said. “While polls indicated that (now President-elect) Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) from the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party was leading with a comfortable margin over his opponents, there were plenty of reasons to think that the country’s electoral authorities could mishandle the elections,” he wrote.

For example, as Montes de Oca notes in his examination of two controversial decisions, Mexican voters will never know if independent presidential candidate Jaime Rodríguez Calderón gathered sufficient signatures to meet the legal requirements to appear on the presidential ballot this year, and on the state government level there were plenty of reasons to annul the 2017 Coahuila gubernatorial election results. But the country’s Federal Electoral Tribunal found various arguments to justify the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s actions and validate the election.

“Mexico is still a young democracy that requires strong and credible institutions if its democratic practices are to be consolidated and the rule of law strengthened,” Montes de Oca writes. “Electoral institutions are central to any democracy, and they must be rigorous in the application of the law, especially for those who want to govern the country. Candidates or political parties who break the law have to be punished as the law mandates. If electoral institutions allow exceptions to this, as in the recent cases outlined above, they reduce the legitimacy of the electoral institutions themselves and undermine the strength of democracy and the rule of law.”

Montes de Oca concludes, “Fortunately for Mexico, the 2018 election appears to have been a success. AMLO won with more than 50 percent of the vote. His opponents quickly recognized his victory, even before the National Electoral Institute officially announced who was leading the election. Millions of people were able to cast their votes peacefully, and over 1 million volunteers ran the poll locations and supervised the election’s results. Despite this positive result, it is most likely that in the future, the electoral margins will not be so clear. Exceptions in the application of electoral law, like during Coahuila’s 2017 gubernatorial election and Rodríguez Calderón’s 2018 presidential candidacy, should not be permitted. It is imperative that the electoral authorities stop such practices because they undermine Mexico’s democracy and legal authority.”

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.