The sun is everywhere here in Mexico City. Shining in the sky, a symbol of Aztec force found everywhere in a culture still aware --and proud--of its indigenous heritage. But so much sun when you're wearing a spring suit made of a lightweight wool isn´t so comfortable. Asi es la vida.
Sunny as ever, the irrepressible Miryam Hamdan, the US embassy´s cultural affairs representative, picked me up at 8:15 for a long drive to the southern side of the capital. Mexico City feels like driving in LA -- endless highways and extraordinary traffic. Finally, we arrived at Sol y Canto, a restaurant where we had a reserved room for our meeting with the public affairs section of the IFE, the Federal Elections Institute.
IFE was created in the 90s after a number of damaging cases of electoral fraud in presidential elections. The commissioners must be unaffiliated with parties--unlike the closest equivalent in the US, the Federal Election Commission. But their power is much greater, including the oversight of the disbursement of campaign funds to the parties is a system which is almost completely publicly funded, as well as levying fines for violations of campaign law.
After a series of presentations on their various projects --including truly extraordinary curricula for civic education in grammar schools--I presented my Power Point. As before in the National Assembly, the greatest interest seemed to be in the campaigns´ use of technology, and everyone´s fascination with Hillary Clinton. She is adored everywhere I go--even by the members of the convervative political parties.
In the afternoon, I was driven to the state-level election commission where I delivered the same presentation to about 30 people. The interest in the youth vote remained strong here, too. But I confess the thing that fascinated me there was a prototype touch-screen voting machine they showed me. Developed by the state university UNAM, it is on line to be used in their 2009 elections.
It didn't take an expert to figure out how to use it--and when I asked the question about a paper trail being created, they all laughed at me. ´Of course! How could you have such a machine and not have a 'contraprueba', or proof of voting?' I thought to myself 'just come to the US and some people will tell you with a straight face (Diebold sound familiar?) that you could do it.' I guess these folks are particularly sensitive to the appearance of impropriety which is why they'd so quickly conclude such a machine would invite criticism--and that their purpose wasn't solely to administer elections but assure the public by their every action that the system was not subject to inappropriate tampering by a political party. A thoroughly modern approach that we in the states could learn from!