Tech dif­fi­cul­ties trip up Mex­ico’s in­de­pen­dents

Can­di­dates forced to use bad, faulty smart­phone app

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Mark Steven­son

MEX­ICO CITY — The first pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to al­low in­de­pen­dents on the bal­lot was sup­posed to be a step for­ward for Mex­ico’s costly, un­wieldy elec­toral sys­tem, long dom­i­nated by widely re­sented po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

But in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates are be­ing forced to use a smart­phone app to col­lect the 866,000 sig­na­tures they need to get on the bal­lot in a coun­try where cov­er­age is spotty and only a mi­nor­ity can af­ford smart­phones

In­de­pen­dents from all ends of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum are call­ing the app faulty at best, and down­right racist at worst.

Mex­ico’s reg­is­tered po­lit­i­cal par­ties get on the bal­lot au­to­mat­i­cally and are sup­posed to be al­most com­pletely funded by tax­payer money. The Na­tional Elec­toral In­sti­tute, or INE — which de­signed the app — will spend $1.3 bil­lion for the July 1 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and other races next year. Crit­ics say the in­sti­tute is bloated, out-of-touch and in thrall to the po­lit­i­cal fat cats.

The app is de­signed to take a photo of a per­son’s voter ID card and up­load it, along with other data, to the Na­tional Elec­toral In­sti­tute’s data­bases.

But it’s so buggy that in­de­pen­dent can­di­date Margarita Zavala, the wife of for­mer Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderon, is­sued a mock­ing video pre­tend­ing to demon­strate how to use it.

“I’m go­ing to show you in two easy steps how to col­lect a sig­na­ture,” she says on the video as up­beat mu­sic plays.

But the app bogs down with er­ror mes­sages, and the video shows her — sup­pos­edly a half-hour later — still try­ing to make it work as the mu­sic slows down to a dirge, and she fi­nally gives up.

That was recorded on a ter­race in Mex­ico City. Imag­ine try­ing to do the same in the moun­tains of ru­ral Chi­a­pas state, where homes are lit with can­dles and heated with fires.

That is what both­ers Maria de Jesus Pa­tri­cio, known by her nick­name, Mar­iChuy. Sup­port for the Nahua woman, the first in­de­pen­dent indige­nous can­di­date, runs deep­est among the Za­p­atista rebels who staged a brief armed up­ris­ing for indige­nous rights in Chi­a­pas in 1994. Many of their com­mu­ni­ties lack phone lines, much less good cell cov­er­age.

“Maybe they de­signed the process with an­other coun­try in mind that isn’t Mex­ico,” a group of her sup­port­ers said in a state­ment last week.

The elec­toral in­sti­tute says the app is meant to avoid sit­u­a­tions like those in past elec­tions where can­di­dates signed up dead peo­ple or reg­is­tered the same per­son mul­ti­ple times. But it re­quires a speedy data con­nec­tion and will work only on more ex­pen­sive mod­els of smart­phones.

The in­sti­tute says that it has ap­proved al­low­ing cam­paigns to gather sig­na­tures on pa­per — the way it was pre­vi­ously done in lo­cal races — in about 5 per­cent of Mex­i­can town­ships that com­prise the coun­try’s poor­est ar­eas.

But cam­paigns have had to file for in­di­vid­ual ex­emp­tions to use pa­per, and ev­ery­one in Mex­ico knows that cell­phone cov­er­age is faulty in far more than 5 per­cent of the coun­try. Pa­tri­cio’s cam­paign noted that the av­er­age cost of smart­phones that will work with app is about three times the min­i­mum monthly wage.

“Are there prob­lems with the app? Yes,” ac­knowl­edged elec­toral chief Lorenzo Cor­dova in an in­ter­view with the Tele­visa net­work. He promised an update or patch for the soft­ware.

That prom­ise — and the pledge of a one-week ex­ten­sion to the Feb. 12 dead­line for gath­er­ing sig­na­tures — rang hol­low among the indige­nous can­di­date’s sup­port­ers.

“Our cam­paign is be­ing run pri­mar­ily in the ‘deep Mex­ico,’ where no other can­di­date goes, where there is no cell cov­er­age, where there are no copy ma­chines, where there of­ten isn’t even elec­tri­cal power,” the cam­paign sup­port­ers wrote.

ED­UARDO VERDUGO/AP

Maria de Jesus Pa­tri­cio, pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for the Na­tional Indige­nous Congress, cam­paigns with an es­cort of masked indige­nous women in the Chi­a­pas, Mex­ico.

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