Oct 26, 2023 - World

AI and weakened electoral body threaten Mexican presidential elections

The Mexican flag. Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

A weakened independent electoral body and the unregulated use of generative AI threaten Mexico's already chaotic presidential elections, experts tell Axios Latino.

State of play: The June 2024 election is set to be the largest in Mexican history, with around 20,000 local, state and federal seats up for grabs.

  • The two major political coalitions — Morena and the Frente Amplio — have selected their presidential nominees, even though they weren't legally allowed to before Nov. 5, which is considered the official launch of primary season.
  • The nominees are Claudia Sheinbaum from Morena and Xóchitl Gálvez from Frente Amplio; both are vying to become Mexico's first woman president.

What they're saying: The early campaigning and selection of candidates by the two main political coalitions violated the law and threw the electoral process into chaos, says María Marván Laborde, an expert on electoral law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

  • Launching campaigns — which are entirely taxpayer-funded — before being legally allowed to access funds raised concerns about where the money came from.
  • "Maybe it comes from the candidate's own pockets, maybe it's government funds that had other earmarked purposes, maybe it's organized crime," Marván tells Axios Latino. "Either way, they're avoiding the oversight that electoral law sets out."

The big picture: After years of public criticism from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose party, Morena, controls Congress, legislators in 2022 slashed the budget for the independent National Electoral Institute (INE) by 62%.

  • The body, which organizes and oversees elections, hasn't yet been allocated funding for next year.
  • Experts say the INE's weakening position is particularly troubling because candidates this year have launched campaigns before they're legally allowed to and because AI-aided misinformation and disinformation is expected to play a big role this election season.

The INE has been cautious about how to proceed and almost "complacent" in the face of widespread illegal campaigning, says Marván Laborde, who was an INE commissioner in the early aughts.

  • The INE tried to stop Morena and the Frente Amplio coalition from getting ahead of the process this summer, but neither coalition relented, using loopholes to hold "internal leadership assemblies and polling" before picking Sheinbaum and Gálvez in September.
  • INE commissioners have said they will uphold electoral law and continue to do their jobs as best they can, and have asked the 2024 budget be approved without delay or further cuts as "democracy is priceless."

Zoom in: Gálvez, a senator and computer engineer of Hñähñu Indigenous descent, is running for the Frente Amplio opposition coalition ticket.

  • Sheinbaum, an environmental engineer from the ruling party Morena, is the other major contender. She previously headed the Mexico City government.
  • Other politicians, including former Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and Nuevo León state Gov. Samuel García, have expressed interest in running, though only García has formally declared.

What to watch: Next year's election will be the first in the era of generative AI technology — a reality that worries some experts.

  • "It might be used to create content such as summaries of campaign platforms that are widely disseminated without accuracy checks," warns Manuel Alejandro Guerrero, an expert on political communication at Ibero University.
  • If unchecked, generative AI could be used to take photos or messages out of context for mudslinging, Guerrero tells Axios Latino.
  • "That could foster toxicity and polarization, and maybe deter some people from even going to vote," he adds.
  • "If the INE doesn't tackle the issues of timings, of unexplained expenditures, of possible disinformation or AI… I think it could be overrun for the first time since its inception," says Guerrero.

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