Vote buying tarnishes Mexican elections. But tech-savy citizens fight back (video)
Omar Armas received hundreds of reports of vote buying across Mexico. 85 percent of them are related to Mexico’s oldest party, and likely elections winner, the PRI.
We recently spent an evening with Omar Armas, a systems engineer who spends his free time looking at reports of vote buying across Mexico.
“Here’s one of the videos they sent us,” Omar says glancing at a big TV screen. In the video, people line up in a room, where a man hands them 500 pesos in exchange for their voter IDs. A logo of Mexico’s oldest party, the PRI , hangs above the doorway.
“We’re not sure what they will do with the ID’s. Perhaps they will give them to another set of voters, (who would presumably vote for the PRI). But it is clear that this is not right, this is not legal,” Omar said.
Omar, 36, is a soft spoken guy, he told us he had never before participated in anything that had to do with politics.
But indignation with Mexico’s electoral system prompted Omar and two college friends to create a site which collects information on vote buying and other electoral violations that seem to be rampant in Mexico.
Watch this: Omar Armas and Contamos showed us several videos of vote buying in Mexico.
In a span of just three weeks, Omar’s site, which is called Contamos, has received some 1,300 reports, videos and pictures showing violations of Mexico’s electoral laws.
Violations include busing paid supporters to rallies, or spending more on campaigns than what is allowed by the law.
But some sorts of cheating are so creative that they deserve special mention.
In one video taken in Mexico City for example, a man outside a PRI office describes a pyramid scheme through which voters get paid for bringing more voters to the party, who in turn also get paid.
Another video filmed in Guanajuato, shows a humble woman who displays an ATM card with the logo of Juan Ignacio Torres Landa, the PRI’s candidate for governor in that state. The card is called “La Benefactora,” (the beneficial one) and the woman explains that if Landa wins, it will be activated.
“They are trafficking with people’s ignorance and with their need,” says Omar, acknowledging that vote buying would not happen if some people in the country did not have a desperate need for cash.
But Omar also thinks that by practicing these vote buying schemes for decades, political parties in Mexico, particularly the PRI, have accustomed people to getting an immediate reward for their vote.
“They created this (vote buying) culture.” Omar said. “If over the past 70 years, people had not become accustomed to beg the government for food, well, perhaps then they would not be tempted to sell their vote.”
Despite the scandalous nature of the reports collected by Omar, Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) does not believe that vote buying is a mainstream phenomenon in the country.
In a recent interview with newspaper La Jornada, the IFE’s president Leonardo Valdez, said that vote buying only had a “marginal” impact on electoral outcomes in Mexico and that perhaps vote buying schemes could only decide who wins government posts in small towns.
“I don’t see that operations like these, will change the outcome of the presidential race or congressional races,” Valdez said, when asked about recent accusations of vote buying presented by opponents of the PRI.
Valdez argued that a party would require huge and presumably unaffordable amounts of money, to even buy one percent of the vote in Mexico’s presidential race.
In Mexico 55 million people are expected to vote in the upcoming presidential elections, so one percent of the vote is equal to around 550 thousand people.
“Now imagine if you paid 1,000 pesos for each vote” Valdez told La Jornada. “How much would each percentage point cost? 55million pesos ($4 million).” Valdez calculated.
Omar said he had no way of knowing which percentage of the vote in Mexico is “bought” or “co-opted” and which percentage of the vote is “free” or in other words, carried out by people who vote because they like a candidate and not because they were offered money or gifts to vote for a certain candidate.
But Amilcar Sandoval, Omar’s colleague in Contamos, said that vote buying is not as marginal a phenomenon as Mexican officials say it is.
“Only 30 percent of people in Mexico, have regular access to internet,” Amilcar reasoned. “And out of those perhaps only 1 percent know about us,” he said as we drove back to the Univision Mexico bureau, in the midst of a heavy storm.
“If more people knew about us, and had access to internet and iphones, we could get millions of reports [of electoral violations],” Amilcar said.
With the help of a group of lawyers at Mexico City’s UNAM university, Amilcar, Omar, and the rest of the folks at Contamos, presented 180 complaints of vote buying and other electoral violations to Mexico’s Attorney General earlier this week.
Mexico is famous for criminal impunity. Ninety eight percent of homicides in the country are not even prosecuted. But Amilcar and Omar are hoping that officials do something about these electoral crimes. At least they are trying to do all they can to make things better in this country.
“We want to have an authentic democracy in this country,” Amilcar said. “And as citizens, it is our duty to make these complaints.”