Internet movements promote greater transparency and accountability during Mexican elections

Some Mexican citizens participated in the July federal midterm election in innovative ways as they used the Internet and social networking tools to encourage greater transparency and accountability from candidates and political parties.

In one example, the website for “¡Cuidemos el Voto!,” or “Let’s Protect the Vote,” (www.cuidemoselvoto.org) served as an aggregate portal to document the electoral process. Members of the public were encouraged to send tips on possible violations or problems during Election Day through text messages, Twitter updates and photos. The project was developed by Andrew Lajous, a political analyst from Massachusetts and Oscar Salazar, a programmer who studies telecommunications in France. “This is a chance to use the new technologies and provide additional transparency to a process that may already be transparent but requires the management of lots of information,” Andrew Lajous told BBC Mundo.

The July 5 elections were to replace the country’s 500-seat Chamber of Deputies. Actual allegations of fraud during Election Day appeared to have been relatively low, according to the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). Several allegations of party members “buying” votes, and the failure of some electronic voting equipment were reported in the Federal District, according to El Universal.

Lajous and Salazar modified the open source code of Ushahidi, an online platform that has been used to manage electoral information in India, Lebanon and Kenya and included an option to add updates through Twitter. The platform also allowed participants to send messages, photos and videos through electronic mail. They could also send text messages directly to the site through a cell phone. A total of nine people were involved in creating the project with the aim of providing a tool for Mexican citizens to be their own electoral observers and contribute to the electoral process, according to BBC Mundo. The participants were reportedly motivated by the use of technology in other recent world events, such as the recent elections in Iran.

The Internet also provided platforms for Mexican citizens interested in expressing their electoral viewpoints in nontraditional ways. Several alternative movements developed as a form of expressing the dissatisfaction of some Mexicans in the political process and candidates. Traction came from blogs and other Internet sites.

The movement that captured the most attention was the “Voto Nulo,” or “Null Vote,” campaign in which Mexicans were encouraged to scribble a large “X” on the ballots, which resulted in their vote being canceled. Another movement that got attention through the Internet was “Vota Independiente,” or “Vote Independent,” which was aimed at writing the name of a non-official candidate.

As many as 30 percent of ballots cast in the voting booths were to be recounted, and more than half of these were believed to require additional scrutiny because of the high number of votes that were cast as statements rather than for a particular candidate, according to La Jornada. In the Federal District alone, as much as 10 percent of all the votes were annulled for these and other reasons, according to La Jornada.

Political analysts say that the anti-vote movements represent the inability of Mexico to operate as a democracy in which people’s voices are heard and represented. Organizers of these movements decided to hold their own polls on Election Day to determine how many people decided to exercise their options – and their reasons for doing so. They also decided to hold an assembly in Guadalajara on July 18 to continue the discussion on ways to promote citizen involvement in political and electoral reforms.

From the July Justice in Mexico Project’s Monthly News Report:

http://www.justiceinmexico.org/news/recent_news.php

SOURCES:

Dibble, Sandra. “Mexican election draws its ‘anulistas’.” The San Diego Union-Tribune. July 4, 2009.

Grajeda, Ella. “Disputa 2009. Reporta IEDF incidencias sin gravedad.” El Universal. July 5, 2009.

Martinez, Fabiola. “El recuento de sufragios sera hasta en 30% de casillas instaladas.” La Jornada. July 9, 2009.

Rivera, Jossette. “Twitter vigilar el voto en Mexico.” BBC Mundo. July 3, 2009.

Olivares Alonso, Emir. “Organizaciones que promueven el voto el nulo realizaran encuesta de salida el domingo.” La Jornada. July 1, 2009.

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