How Mexico Organizes Its Polls

 Similar, but different

Back in  2000 when President Vicente Fox was first elected, it was a big deal in Mexico. People were expected to turn out in bigger numbers than ever before. The Mexican INE, the agency in charge of elections, was in a frenzy of preparations, made all the more difficult because Mexicans don’t have a culture of volunteering. So poll workers were drafted, chosen by the month they were born. This wasn’t such a good plan, because 40% of those draftees simply did not show up to the polls.

One of those selected was Maria Luisa, known to us as at the Gringo Gazette as Sparky. She was our collector back then. (She has since retired and then passed away.)She said she was not going to do it. Why? Just because. After much weaseling by me, that “just because” turned out to have a reason: like most Mexicans she hated and distrusted the Mexican government and believed there was nothing she could do to change it. So why help them when they wouldn’t help her?

I put my foot down. She was to march down there and pick up her voting materials and then take the day off to work the polls. OK, so Election Day here is Sunday, but if it had been a workday, I would have given it to her. I was not open to arguments against her doing her civic duty, so she went to the central point of dispersal of voting materials and picked them up a few days before voting day – and brought them to the office. I was pretty freaked out by seeing Mexican ballots in a foreign owned newspaper so I told her to get them out of the office, didn’t she have a home to take them too? I’m not sure to this day where she took them, but they vanished from the office.

 Here is Sparky’s voting day story, reprinted from these pages 18 years later. As you can see, turns out she was glad she “volunteered”



July the 2th year of 2000 I wake up at 6 a.m. full of energy. I am going to be President for one day in front of 750 voter people. Today is the great day for elections, the day for major change in our government. I was in charge of 11 people working on three folding tables six feet long. We were located in a kindergarten school. Each table had a president but I was the super President of them all. There were 11 people and three little presidents. All us workers were choose to help because we were born in April or May.

Two days before the voting the IFE, (election agency), gave to me all the materials and supplies for voting, includes printed forms to paper clips, from voting tents to pencils, And also includes a strange piece of equipment to punch holes in the voting cards. I got a grand total of 61 items, all perfect counted in inventory

Indalecio, my husband, help me to transport all these materials to the kindergarten the election morning in the little car my boss gave me.

The voting booths were propped up pretty quick, thanks to the book of rules to assemble. You could only see the voters’ legs when they voted inside.  The booths all said “IFE Your Vote Is Secret” on both sides so you feel pretty safe to vote.

My vote place must be ready at 8 A.M. un punto. To tell the truth, almost no voter place was ready on time, for one reason or the other, but voters started showing up around 7:30.

As soon as I arrive to the place I noticed a lot of political flyers and stuff hanging from the electricity poles outside. Displaying this is not allowed so I approached that party’s representative and right away they removed everything, even their colored flags. I was the President and everyone had to obey me.

We were eight people sitting at each table. Each table had representatives from each political party sitting with us worker, all of them watching all of our every move, 

We counted the ballots we were given: 750 for President, same for federal senator, same for federal deputies. I was the only one authorized to touch the ballots. Remember, I am the Head President.

We handed out one ballot per each voter. Could not replace them even if a voter made mistake. Several did make mistakes. Tough luck.

At 8:00 we started to let people vote. We were un punto. I would look at peoples’ thumbs to make sure they hadn’t voted before somewhere else. Sure, that happens, if the voter workers aren’t real on the ball. We put their finger in ink after they vote so the sneakies can’t do that. Every voter is marked for several days after, to attest that they were good citizens. We also had to make sure their voter card was their own so we had to look close at their snap shot of their face. My President’s secretary looked in the book for everyone’s name.

It was nice to see so many people lined up and I noted how nervous they were. I saw one guy in line trying to tell voters to vote for his guy, and I called the cops in. They actually showed up, (a miracle), and set him straight. The Los Cabos police report at the end of the day was of five people imprisoned basically because of electoral misdemeanors. They were all freed after a couple of hours. The reason there are no liquor sales on voter day is so things like this don’t get out of hand.

The watchers for the different political parties were like eagles, with their eyes everywhere. One even insisted on helping me but I had been told not to allow that, so as President, I told him to stop it. He said he could file a report to have me removed from my President job, but he never did.  Each party sent food to their reps, for us volunteers the IFE sent water, ice, toilet paper, and an envelope with $15 US in pesos inside, which was food money, but we couldn’t leave our post, especially me, so my hubby brought in a big salad for me. We did not get money for our time, it was a volunteer service for our country and I was glad to do it. Well, I was glad after I was made to do it.

At 6 PM un punto I closed the voting place and I told everyone to clear everything off the tables so we could count the votes. Only about six had to be tossed because of mistakes. I was impressed that even though some very poor people voted, they all seemed to know what to do. At our poll place about 249 people out of 750 registered voters didn’t show up to vote, about 33%. The IFE said later that about 65% of everyone Mexican showed up to vote. About 15 minutes after polls closed, more voters showed up. What do they think? We run elections on Mexican time? No, no vote for you!

The ballot boxes were turned upside down and the empty box was shown to all the party reps, the President , (me), the secretary, and the helper volunteers. Like a magician showing nothing up the sleeve. The ballots were counted separately and together again, no room for mistake. And everyone had to sign that it was all on the up and up, workers and party peepers. We had to put everything in sealed envelopes with tape with President, President all over it like police tape at a crime scene. Boy you would think we had gold bars. Finally, we posted all the results for all the offices on carboard give to us in our materials and nailed them up outside the school so the whole world could see the results at this voting place.

Finally, all the materials had to go to San Jose where we stood in line with volunteers from all five municipalities of Los Cabos. After we inched our way up the line, we presented our precious boxes, materials and ballots, to IFE officials while policemen stood near. It was 11:45 and I still had to drive back to Cabo San Lucas. I had worked for my country for 17 hours and 45 minutes! I don’t work that hard for the Gringo Gazette, and they pay me. I feel pretty satisfied that I did this for my country. People were respectful, patient and polite, and enjoyed voting because they felt their vote was going to be respected.