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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"It sounds so simple I just got to go"

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking before the Mexican Electoral Tribunal in Mexico City at a conference titled "Two Paths in the Law of Democracy." The conference was sponsored by the Mexican Electoral Tribunal and the University of Texas.  The U.S. delegation consisted of five American scholars who study election law and politics, and we presented on various aspects of election law to the researchers, staff, and judges of the Tribunal.  It was a fascinating experience and I learned a lot.

Mexico, as a young democracy, is trying to learn best practices for running free and fair elections.  Yet there is so much that we can learn from the Mexican experience as well -- both procedurally and substantively.  

For example, as the very existence of the Tribunal demonstrates, Mexico has a federal agency that is charged with administering elections.  This Tribunal also includes a court that decides all election disputes.  Although we, too, have two federal agencies that focus on elections -- the Federal Election Commission and the Electoral Assistance Commission -- neither are very effective, especially because they often deadlock along partisan lines on most important issues.  In addition, our regular courts hear election law controversies, and we all know how well that has gone.  Mexico has figured out a way to, at least initially, avoid this partisan deadlock, and its Tribunal and court are well-respected and effective at administering elections in a way that people perceive as generally independent.  Perhaps this is because the members of the Tribunal are non-political and because of the strong research and education focus of its activities.

Substantively, Mexico has figured out some things that we are still struggling to solve.  For instance, partisan gerrymandering is not allowed in Mexican redistricting, which is conducted by the independent Tribunal.  (That said, there are still questions about whether Mexico has sacrificed transparency in the process and whether politics still infiltrates the resulting maps.)  Similarly, there seem to be fewer Election Day mistakes at the polls in Mexico, perhaps due to the robust educational and training programs the Tribunal puts on throughout the country.

Just traveling to Mexico City was a learning experience itself.  It is a fascinating place with beautiful museums, amazing tacos, and extremely nice people.  The researchers at the Tribunal are among the most respected people at the agency.  There is a true commitment to understanding American election law to discern best practices for their own system.  And our hosts showed us genuine sincerity, respect, deference, and collegiality.

This experience demonstrates the importance of looking beyond our borders to improve our own laws and legal structures.  Although we often espouse American exceptionalism, we also deal with the same kinds of issues and share the same kinds of struggles as places all over the world.  We can learn a lot from other countries, especially newer democracies where the rules are not as entrenched.  The Mexican Electoral Tribunal invited the American scholars so it could learn how we do things in an effort to improve its own processes, but of course with any exchange like this, we learned as much, if not more, from them.  This further suggests that we should not shy away from looking to international norms when evaluating our own rules and laws--whether in legislative debates or judicial decisions.

Oh, Mexico -- It sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low.  It sure was.

 

Posted by Josh Douglas on November 17, 2015 at 11:15 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, International Law, Law and Politics | Permalink

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