Published Thursday, July 6, 2006, in National Review Online.

Look South: Americans could learn from Mexican elections.

John R. Lott Jr. & Maxim C. Lott

Claims of stolen elections are not just an American phenomenon. Threats of massive street protests and protracted recount battles have followed Sunday’s Mexican presidential election. Several million votes have allegedly been misplaced in the closely contested balloting.

Despite this ruckus, Mexicans have something to teach Americans about how to run an election. Many types of vote fraud that have been alleged in American elections simply could not occur in Mexico.

A lot is at stake in Mexico, with the relatively pro-business National Action party (PAN) candidate leading the socialist Democratic Revolution party (PRD) candidate by slightly less than one percentage point. The election will determine whether Mexico will see more privatization or a return to more government ownership, and whether the North American Free Trade agreement is supported or gutted.

After Mexico’s 1988 election, when the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) was accused of staging a computer crash that gave them the votes needed to stay in power, major reforms were implemented. In the wake of these reforms, our neighbor to the south now enjoys anti-voting-fraud laws and procedures that are in many ways better than ours.

To begin, Mexico spends much more than the U.S. on measures to prevent vote fraud. All voters in Mexico must present voter IDs at the polls, which include not only a photo but also a thumbprint. The IDs themselves are essentially counterfeit-proof, with special holographic images, imbedded security codes, and a magnetic strip with still more security information. As an extra precaution, voters’ fingers are dipped in indelible ink to prevent them from voting multiple times.

Voters cannot register by mail — they have to go in person to their registration office to fill out forms for their voter ID. When a voter card is ready three months later, it is not mailed to the voter as it is in the U.S. Rather, the voter has to make a second trip to a registration office to pick it up. Sunday’s election was the first in which absentee ballots were available, but only if for voters requested one at least six months before the election.

Opponents of a photo-voter-ID system in the United States argue that any such system would keep voters from the polls — and would impact mostly lower-income voters. Yet in Mexico, where about 40% of the population is below the poverty line, strict voter-ID rules have actually increased voter turnout. In the three presidential elections since the 1991 reforms, 68 percent of eligible citizens have voted, compared to only 59 percent in the three elections prior to the rule changes. People may even take more interest in the races when they are assured that their elections will not be fraudulent.

The current election is a real test of the Mexican system. But even here, the problems may be overblown. The missing-votes claims made by the leftwing PRD are largely overstated. The “missing” votes aren’t really missing at all. They are all recorded, and they weren’t included in the official total because the ballots were left blank or were missing a signature. They were set aside only when representatives of all political parties agreed that they could not be read, so recounting these votes would certainly not change the outcome of the election. In any case, the strict voting requirements in place in Mexico have certainly made things less chaotic than they otherwise would have been.

Every close election in the U.S. seems to be followed by shouts that one side or the other benefited from voting irregularities. Many counties in the U.S. have more people registered as voters than officially living in the county — an impossibility in Mexico.

And it’s not just Mexico. Many countries require some type of voter ID. Examples include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan and South Africa.

How does Mexico, with less than a quarter of our per capita GDP, have a better system for dealing with vote fraud? The answer lies in Mexico’s history of corruption. Mexico, more than the United States, has seen the disastrous problems associated with vote fraud. And now they have largely solved those problems.

Ironically, with Americans still debating the presidential-election results of Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, it turns out that the United States has a few things to learn from Mexico.

— John Lott has written numerous academic articles on voting and racial discrimination, and Maxim Lott is an intern with Fox News.


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