Recounting? Not really.

This is an attempt to summarize what’s going on in Mexico at this very moment, and to rectify my own prior misunderstanding — which, I must say, was shared by many others in Mexico.

First, the “recount” began early on the day at the IFE headquarters on Avenida Revolución, southwestern Mexico City. But this is not the recount vote by vote, full or partial, for the whole country or parts of it, that López Obrador is demanding. No. This is the “recount” of the consolidated tallies at the electoral district level. So, the votes (the physical ballots) are in sealed packages and they have not been opened yet. None.

The PAN opposes any attempt to open them and they have been helped by the press (e.g. Reforma, El Universal, etc.) to present the position of the PRD as an extreme one, where they intransigently demand the opening of all the packages with the votes and a full recount vote by vote.

In the permanent session of congress this morning, representatives of the PRD tried to clarify that they were ready to open only the packages that at least one of the parties involved had reasonable doubts about. In any case, the press is presenting this “recount” as if it were the ultimate and definitive recount of the votes — and not as what it is, the double-checking of the consolidated tallies (one set of figures per polling place) at the electoral district level.

Second, the IFE began to announce the votes accrued by each candidate when about a third of the polling-place tallies (known in Spanish as “actas” or “sábanas,” literally spreadsheets) had the sums checked. At first, as I noted on this blog, López Obrador was ahead of Calderón by 3 percentage points. With each extra batch of polling-place tallies counted (district by district), this difference has been steadily shrinking. Moreover, the speed of the shrinkage has increased as more districts are reviewed.

As I type, almost 90% of the polling place tallies have been reviewed (reviewing or double-checking of the sum is perhaps a more adequate term than recounting, even with the quotation marks) and the IFE reports a López Obrador’s edge shrunk to 1.3%. According to El Universal, the PAN is complaining that the PRD has pushed the districts where the PAN has an advantage all the way to the end, thus suggesting that the speed of the shrinkage of López Obrador over Calderón is going to accelerate drastically — perhaps even reversing the ranking to wind up with Calderón back as the “winner.”

If this was intended, it is pure genius. The PRD has been saying all along that the votes need to be recounted — at least in cases where the PRD (or any other party with a complaint) can show a probable case that the results were rigged at the polling-place level. But the noise created by the process today, together with the impression that López Obrador was ahead all along… almost to the end, but not quite… is helping the PAN and their friends in the media create the impression that this is the recount.

But, again, this is not the recount López Obrador wants — and has strong reasons to demand. This is something that may only add some votes to the PRD. Considering the strong opposition of the PAN to opening the packages with the physical ballots, it seems to me that they feel they can still “win.” It’s not going to be easy to persuade people that the recount is still ahead. I’m not entirely sure, but dealing with Mexican elections, being suspicious is the default mode. So, I expect the media to insist that López Obrador had his chance, that the tallies were counted in a different order, that opening the packages and going vote by vote is a disproportionate demand given that López Obrador’s recount was already done, that this time he enjoyed a temporary and illusory lead… almost all along, but that once all tallies were double checked, district by district, he’s still the loser.

The people who voted for López Obrador will need to be extremely alert to counter this new trick. I expect those people to continue their fight. They are already mobilized, surrounding the IFE, protesting in different points in the country, etc. But things may get much harder from this point on.

Or maybe I’m just being paranoid and López Obrador will retain his lead.


4 Responses to “Recounting? Not really.”

  1. Sheila Lennon Says:

    Thanks for explaining this.

  2. Al Grimstad Says:

    I encourage you to continue with this blog.

    The NY Times coverage of this race hasn’t been good generally, but this morning their piece by Thompson and McKinley ( had a something interesting:

    Six ballot boxes from Guadalajara were opened and recounted and the results were very different from the tally sheets. This is pretty good evidence that AMLO’s demand for a full recount is justified.

    The Miami Herald/El Universal had an article by Roeder ( that reported statements by election observers from Global Exchange-Alianza Cívica. The observers witnessed vote buying in Oaxaca and San Luis Potosí. And their statistical specialists found discrepancies in the vote count that were “alarming.” So, the question on the table now is, is the IFE dirty?

  3. panchovilla Says:

    Thanks to you both for those nice and informative comments. Today, Reforma had a piece written by José Woldenberg. This is the guy who laid the foundations of the IFE. This far, the IFE has enjoyed a relatively high degree of credibility in Mexico, and in no small measure due to the work by this guy and others (José Agustín Ortiz Pinqueti also comes to mind, if my memory serves).

    Moreover, Woldenberg just declared that there should be no recrimination against López Obrador for contesting the outcome of the election before the federal electoral tribunal, because it’s his right — and it’s all within the legal framework. (He’s saying that because the pundits are all over the airwaves calling López Obrador “irresponsible” and “authoritarian” for challenging the outcome.)

    That’s all fair. Woldenberg also rejects the idea of software manipulation. But I’d not be willing to swear by that. Why? Because the stakes are high and the temptation to manipulate the results are proportional to those stakes. Think Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004. So I think a healthy dose of skepticism, particularly when things look too funny, has nothing to do with being a conspiracy nut.

    It also calls my attention that Woldenberg excludes the mere possibility of a “centrally machinated fraud.” Well, I’m not sure about that. It depends on what you mean by “centrally.” It’s perfectly possible to go Al Qaeda in committing a fraud. That is, all leaders have to do is wink and insinuate to their followers that they should use all their local creativity to pad the vote tallies in favor of the candidate. (Let me add that López Obrador also excludes the possibility of a fraud in his statements, but he does it as a call to action — i.e. a fraud is ruled out because “we won’t permit, we’ll do whatever it takes to reverse it.” But that’s different from Woldenberg’s stance, which is more detached or academic.)

    I think the all-out propagandistic campaign launched by the right, a sector of the business class, president Fox, and the leaders of the PAN against López Obrador sent a very clear and strong signal to mid- and even low-level PAN and right-wing operatives that local creativity to stop the guy would be duly appreciated. In areas of the country where the dispute on the vote count is sharp (e.g. Guanajuato and Jalisco), there’s a long and bloody history of right-wing extremism that includes terrorism and stuff of the kind. And all those people are a hard core constituency of the PAN.

    (Here’s a link on somebody who knows a lot about this:

    But, again, my main point is that in a country like Mexico, the burden of the proof must fall on the rich and powerful, and on the political institutions. With a political floor so uneven, the attribution of political responsibilities needs to be apportioned in accordance with wealth, power, and opportunities. The poor are not mere victims, particularly when they are using their number and organization to make a difference. But, clearly, they have an uphill battle. Now, I’m not dismissive of formal democracy. In a country like Mexico, sticking to democratic forms would be great progress, in and by itself. But formal democracy cannot be the ultimate value in human affairs.

    Just to close this comment, let me mention that Lorenzo Meyer also has an op-ed in today’s Reforma (in Spanish, of course). I recommend it. Unfortunately Reforma charges to read its stuff and I cannot post it here for obvious copyright reasons. I could share with people via e-mail, but for that they have to ask me for it.

  4. lull Says:

    This news about the recount is very interesting–the BBC had said that Lopez Obrador had asked for a full recount and left me with the impression that a vote-by-vote recount was occurring. So when Lopez Obrador continued calling for a full recount, I was mightily confused. Thank you for clearing it up.

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