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Experts concerned over Mexico's electoral reform

Mexico's President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives a press conference in Mexico City, Thursday, July 5, 2018.
Associated Press
Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives a press conference in Mexico City, Thursday, July 5, 2018.

Mexico’s proposed electoral reforms have experts concerned about the state of the country's democracy.

Last month, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pushed forth a series of reforms that would cut funding to Mexico’s independent National Electoral Institute.

Unlike the U.S., where each state has a different system for running elections, Mexico has a federal election institute.


“There is no American equivalent,” said Kathleen Bruhn, a professor at UC Santa Barbara and an expert on Mexican democracy.

“They are professional election managers and they run all of the elections, set up all the polling stations, print out all the ballots, and manage the registry,” she added.

Lopez Obrador's proposed reforms, which have been approved by congress but haven't been enacted, would cut funding for local elections and reduce sanctions for candidates who violate campaign spending laws.

The reforms would mean fewer polling stations in rural areas, possible voter suppression and allowing cartels or foreign actors to finance political campaigns, Bruhn said.

The National Electoral Institute is one of Mexico’s most trusted public agencies, according to recent polls. But Lopez Obrador has been an outspoken critic of it for decades.


The dispute ramped up in 2006 when Lopez Obrador lost the presidential election by less than one percentage point. He accused the electoral institute of rigging the election.

“He declared that he was the legitimate president of Mexico, he asked his party not to take their seats in congress, he occupied the central square in Mexico City, blocked streets and still refuses to accept that election was legitimate,” Bruhn said.

After winning a later election in 2018, Lopez Obrador called for the reforms.

Last month, more than 100,000 Mexican citizens protested the reforms in the same central square that Lopez Obrador occupied in 2006.

The U.S. Department of State issued a press release after those mass protests.

“Healthy democracies benefit from strong institutions and a plurality of voices,” wrote Ned Price, a department spokesperson. “The United States supports independent, well-resourced electoral institutions that strengthen democratic processes and the rule of law.”

These reforms come amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Mexico over the fentanyl crisis. More than 150 people die every day from overdoses to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sen. Lindsey Graham and other Republican lawmakers have called on military action against Mexican drug cartels.

“Not to invade Mexico, not to shoot Mexican planes down, but to destroy drug labs that are poisoning Americans,” he said.

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