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UPDATE, May 2011: Federal Electoral Institute President Leonardo Valdés Zurita has come under further fire because the real-estate buying program he has been criticized for apparently grossly overpaid for a building and equipment on Acoxpa avenue in Mexico City. Gregorio Guerrero, comptroller general of the IFE, told El Universal there were grave irregularities in the purchase. The institute has been looking into irregularities involving the site since the fall, Valdés Zurita said. Cambio magazine devoted much of its May 1 issue to the IFE's problems, saying the IFE overpaid more than 350 million pesos ($30 million) for the building and equipment.
Members of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute came to San Diego on Monday to encourage Mexicans to register to vote for the July 2012 presidential election.
IFE President Leonardo Valdés Zurita (left), in a speech at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at UCSD, said Mexicans living in the United States can go to two IFE offices in Tijuana to work out the details on their voter credentials. Only Mexicans with voter credentials will be allowed to register to cast absentee ballots in a process that begins Oct. 1 and ends Jan. 15. Mexican consulates and embassies also are to help Mexicans register.
Although there were expectations that 4 million Mexicans living abroad might vote in the 2006 election, only 32,632 did so, at a government cost of $745 per vote (not including the costs incurred by the voters). Valdés Zurita said the low turnout came in part because Congress took so long to formulate a law allowing Mexicans living outside the country to vote for the first time. That gave the IFE relatively little time to organize the absentee balloting and voters yet less time to react.
He said the IFE created an office for absentee balloting in 2009 to better plan the 2012 vote.
He said the institute hopes to cut the total amount spent on the absentee balloting in half, from the $24 million spent in 2006. "Very expensive. I am going to lower this figure, or my name is not Leonardo Valdés," he said. Still, he said the IFE had plans to cover the cost of mailing the absentee ballots. He said he wanted to see far more absentee ballots, and for the votes to come in from more countries. Mexicans voted from 71 countries in 2006, Valdés Zurita said. He said he hopes to at least surpass 75 countries, the number in which Mexico has embassies. Valdés Zurita said there are 12 million potential Mexican voters living outside Mexico, 11.5 million of them in the U.S.
He said Mexican law prohibits the IFE from advertising outside Mexico to promote the absentee balloting.
To vote absentee, Mexicans:
IFE offices in Tijuana designated to help Mexicans living abroad to obtain or renew their voting credentials (hours may vary):
Plaza Comercial Otay Local 3233
Plaza Ingenieros frente al Tianguis Nueva Tijuana
IFE contact information:
In Mexico: 01800 433-2000
Update, Jan. 7, 2012: IFE offices in Tijuana to be open weekends through Feb. 15 so that voters can register or renew their credentials, El Mexicano reported. Story, El Mexicano (PDF).
Update, Feb. 14, 2012: Valdés Zurita, in Tijuana to give a workshop, says Mexico has close to 80 million on its voter rolls, with 3.5 million new young voters and 10.5 million young voters who have never voted for president. Item, Frontera (PDF). Story, Frontera (PDF).
IFE president comes under fire from Mexican Congress, media
Federal Electoral Institute President Leonardo Valdés Zurita, who was in San Diego on Monday to encourage Mexicans living in the United States to register to vote, is under fire for actions he has taken at the institute.
An editorial in Cambio magazine entitled "El Cochinito de Leonardo" says the institute is undergoing one of its worst moments in its 20 years of existence. Much of the furor has to do with the IFE's creating a 348 million peso (U.S. $28 million) fund to buy real estate instead of returning the money to the nation's treasury. Valdés Zurita said the fund has the potential to save the agency up to $83 million over a five-year period.
He is also under criticism for the 20% pay raise for IFE counselors to $175,000, the equivalent of Mexican Supreme Court pay. Part of the rationale is that justices and IFE counselors would be more immune to bribery when they are that high on the pay scale. The media also have raised many questions about other IFE expenses.
The IFE was made an independent agency in order to prevent political meddling, but that also means there is less oversight over its spending.
Cambio also ran several articles about IFE finances: "Recuento de Abusos; "La Danza del Dispendio" "; "Condena Unanime"; and "La Vía Legal".
Valdés Zurita said the real-estate fund was going to go to buy office space rather than rent it. He said by law, the agency must have offices all over Mexico. He said the IFE rents 575 offices, at an annual cost of 250 million pesos, or nearly $21 millon — close to what it cost for absentee balloting in 2006. He said studies indicate that if the IFE invested the money to buy offices rather than to rent them, it could save a billion pesos — $83 million — over five years.
But Congress members say that while all that might be well and good, the IFE is not following the law in having such a fund. Valdés Zurita said that if the IFE spends all its allocated money, members of Congress get mad, and that if it saves money, members of Congress also get mad. He said some of the anger against the IFE might be a result of 2007 electoral reforms imposing strict rules on radio and TV political advertising.