Was fraud decisive in the Mexican presidential election? Well, in the sense of fraudulent vote-counting, no. But what about vote-buying? The PRI stands accused of bribing people to vote for them. Moreover, cellphones have provided a new way of circumventing the secret ballot: to get the bribe, the voter needs to zap a picture of his or her ballot. Pretty nifty stuff! More prosaically, the PRI-Green coalition hired children to watch the voting and report back.
Still, at the end of the day, Peña won by a margin of 3.2 million votes. My friend Alberto Simpser calculates that there it would have been expensive for the PRI to have bought enough votes to swing it. Here’s his calculation (modified slightly by yours truly to account for an apparent arithmetic mistake):
First, the PRI needs to swing a minimum of 1.6 million votes from the PRD to win. Second, reports show bribes between 100 and 1,800 pesos per voter. (Note the final “r”!) Youtube indicates that 100 pesos was small enough to backfire. Alberto goes with ₱700, which is consistent with data from the 2000 election (after adjusting for inflation) of a cost of ~₱500. Finally, bribing a voter is not the same as getting his or her vote. Data from a 2004 survey of Argentines implies a vote-buying efficacy of around 16%. So ... the minimum cost of buying the election is: ₱700 × 1.6 million ÷ 16% = ₱7 billion, or US$560 million.
That is a significant chunk of change. Of course, if you assume that the PRI is better at targeting its vote-buying than Argentine parties (which is not unreasonable) the cost goes down.
At 33% efficiency, the minimum cost of buying the election drops to $272 million. Even at an impossible 100%, the coalition would still need $90 million. That is a significant chunk of change: legal spending by the PRI-Green coalition came to only $111 million. Alberto concludes that although the PRI could have raised such sums, they should be detectable. For what it’s worth, the PRD claims to have evidence that the PRI-Green coalition spent $320 million.
To recap: Alberto is not arguing that the amount needed to buy the election is too large to carry out! He is arguing that the amount is too large to hide.
When evaluating the morality of the situation, as opposed to the legality, readers should keep in mind what exactly the PRI stands accused of. It matters whether voters were offered store coupons or offered rides to the polls, both being illegal under Mexican law. Consider the list of illegal behavior on election day reported by the Alianza Cívica, with the percentages reporting the activity:
- Someone came to your door to insure that you voted (5.6%);
- You were offered breakfast (2.3%);
- You were called by phone (2.1%);
- You received a gift (1.7%);
- Someone tried to take your voter ID (1.0%);
- Someone offered to take your voter ID to the polls (0.3%);
- Someone gave you a pamphlet (0.3%);
- Someone offered you a ride to the polls (0.8%).
Well, I worked heavily in North Carolina in 2008 and in Florida in 2004. (I also worked on New York local elections in 1988 and 1989.) The GOP in New York and the Democrats in Florida and N.C. all engaged in nos. (1), (2), (3), (7), and (8) quite legally. They also did a little bit of (4), not so legally. (Google “walking-around money.”)
I find it hard to be outraged about (1), (2), (3), (7), and (8). After all, not all that is legal is moral, and not all that is illegal is immoral. That said, an argument can be made that political parties need to be held to a higher standard: they should avoid all illegal behavior (regardless of morality) and a pretty good chunk of legal behavior as well. My point is only that 1988 this is not, but I can be convinced that I should be more outraged than I am.