Student, faculty monitor election

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Even before the Aug. 21 Mexican presidential election, many people around the world worried about the fairness of the process.

One University of Arizona student and four faculty members agreed that the election should be monitored by international observers and were in Mexico when Ernesto Zedillo, the candidate of the International Revolutionary Party (PRI) was declared victorious with 49 percent of the popular vote.

“International observers can validate or invalidate an election. It is especially important in Mexico because their electoral past is riddled with fraud and violence,” said Naomi Mudge, a UA history senior who observed the election in Xonocatlan, a village in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

Mudge said she was invited to Mexico by Civic Alliance, a non-partisan group, which did not pay the expenses of her two-week trip.

After a four-hour bus ride from Chilpancingo, the state capital, Mudge said she had to ride in the back of a truck on dusty roads for four hours, then hike for an hour and a half to get to the small village.

Mudge said she “watched the election process every step of the way,” from when the booths opened early in the morning until the time the polls closed and ballots were counted. She said part of her job was to keep a tally on how many people voted.

She said she was amazed by the amount of attempted fraud she witnessed and added that she thought the only reason the attempts were not successful was because of the international observers’ presence.

UA Scholarship Development Director Frank Felix, who spent five days observ ing the election in Mexico City, said he disagreed that fraud occurred but agreed the international observers added to the election’s honesty.

Felix and three other UA faculty members were invited by the PRI party to observe the election in various parts of Mexico.

One incident Mudge witnessed occurred when a group of people tried to take the ballot box from her and the other observers, she said. She said that if the attempt had been successful, the ballots may have been dumped into the river.

Mudge also said she plans to go to Brazil to monitor the election this fall if she can raise the necessary money.

A change in procedures from past elections resulted in one problem that Felix witnessed, he said.

In the past, people who were visiting or working in Mexico City could vote at special voting booths there, Felix said. However, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the Democratic Revolutionary Party’s presidential candidate, suggested that this was conducive to fraud and convinced the other two parties to agree to limit the number of absentee ballots available at each voting booth to 300.

Felix said at 2:30 p.m. on the day of the election about 500 people showed up to vote at one of these special booths and were told they had to return home or go to another precinct to vote. He said they were angry until members of all three major political parties came to inform them of the policy and explain they would not bend the rules.

Cardenas also announced that afternoon on television and radio broadcasts that he had originated the idea, which settled many of the concerns of the unhappy voters who had been turned away, Felix said.

Felix said the Mexican government also provided internal monitoring by allowing members from each of the three political parties to observe each polling area.

While in Mexico, Felix said he observed the computer mechanisms used for voter registration. He said he was impressed by the “phenomenal data that had been accumulated regionally.”

On election day, he said he observed the election at eight voting booths in Mexico City.

Edward Williams, a UA political science professor, who observed the election in Chilpancingo, also said he did not observe anything dishonest or unfair, but said he agreed that foreign visitors had a beneficial impact on the openness and honesty of the election.

He said he was interested in the election because he teaches Mexican government and politics at the UA and does other research and writing in that area.

“It was fascinating to see the system, how it is set up and how it unfolds during an election,” he said.

Adela Allen, associate dean of the UA graduate college and president of the Hispanic Professional Action Committee, monitored the election in Mexico City.

Jill Guernsey de Zapien, a program coordinator for UA’s Rural Health Office, monitored the election in Merida, Yucatan.

Neither Allen or Guernsey were available for comment yesterday.

Associated Press wire reports contributed to this story.

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