by Monica Mehta
The fairness of elections is a priority in every democracy in the world. In order for local and federal officials to lead with authority, the public must have faith that the electoral process was fair and legitimate.
Headquarters: Mexico City, Mexico
Industry: Public sector
Budget: 15,473 million pesos
Oracle products: Oracle Managed Cloud Services; Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition Plus Managed Cloud Service; Oracle Database, Enterprise Edition; Oracle Data Integrator; Oracle Diagnostics Pack; Oracle Partitioning; Oracle Real Application Clusters; Oracle Tuning Pack
Chief Executive of Prerogatives and Political Parties
Length of tenure: Two years
Education: JD, UNAM (Mexico’s Autonomous National University); MS in comparative politics, London School of Economics
Personal quote/mantra: “The man who has no imagination has no wings.” —Muhammad Ali
This is no small feat in Mexico, which has battled corruption for decades. In 2015, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Mexico as one of the top 75 most corrupt countries in the world.
In 1996, as part of continuing efforts to address fraud and tampering in the political system, the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) was created as an independent and neutral authority for organizing federal elections for the presidency and the Senate every six years as well as the National Congress for a three-year period. The organization included the installation of voting centers nationwide, counting the ballots and certifying the legality of the victorious candidates.
Just two years ago, the institution was transformed into the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE) to become a national authority over local electoral processes as well. The INE’s staff supervises campaigns, monitors elections, and coordinates the civil service. The creation of the INE was part of a mandate to transform and modernize the country’s elections to ensure high levels of transparency, impartiality, and credibility.
One of the INE’s most important tasks is overseeing political campaign advertising throughout Mexico’s 31 states and the capital city. The monitoring and analysis of these campaigns is critical to maintaining fair and impartial democracy in the country. It’s also a massive and complicated undertaking involving multiple sources, complex technology, and numerous internal and external stakeholders. With the help of Oracle Business Intelligence (Oracle BI) solutions, the INE is able to collect massive amounts of data, disseminate reliable analysis of the data, and make more-informed decisions that ultimately serve the Mexican people and increase their confidence in the electoral process.INE Stats
|Number of terabytes of recorded content the INE has collected from TV and radio broadcasts since 2011|
|Number of hours of TV and radio programming the INE records every day|
|Number of political advertisements in every federal election|
“In the past, we had some uncertainty about the information we had, but now we feel confident about it,” says Alejandro Vergara, director for verification and monitoring at the INE. “When you have business intelligence, data becomes knowledge.”A State-Regulated and -Funded Political Model
Mexico has a very different political spending system than the United States. In the US, most campaign funding is privately financed, and large individual donors and political action committees contribute most of the money to campaigns. Mexico’s system is largely modeled on equity (both to access and to resources to compete), largely due to the dominance of one-party rule for most of the twentieth century. As a result, Mexico imposes strict spending limits on campaigns, and most of the campaign coffers are publicly funded.
When it comes to campaign advertising, political parties can only broadcast television and radio ads through broadcast time owned by the Mexican State and allocated through the INE. To prevent networks from siding with favorites and offering more or cheaper ad time to certain parties, the purchase of political advertising is prohibited, and the electoral authority, the INE, strictly monitors every ad that is run. The parties submit their ads to the INE, which then distributes them to the media networks. (During a typical federal elections process, the INE orders the transmission of more than 40 million ads.)
The networks must air the ads according to prearranged rules on factors such as time of day, frequency, and ad length. During the electoral process, the Mexican State reserves 48 minutes per day of programming per channel, and political ads must run within prescribed timeframes. The INE can fine networks that do not follow the rules.
“We monitor and analyze data from more than 2,000 TV and radio channels 24 hours a day, seven days a week—every day we record about 55,000 hours’ worth of programming,” says Patricio Ballados, chief executive of prerogatives and political parties at the INE. “This is one of the largest monitoring projects in the world.”Accuracy and Accountability
With the schedule of political advertisements set, the INE receives TV or radio signals through one of its 143 monitoring centers across the country. A silent audio watermark run at the beginning of each ad notifies the monitoring system that an ad has been broadcast. This automated process allows the INE to track campaign ads nationwide that are then validated by the staff of each monitoring center.
The system then checks the broadcast data against the prescribed schedule to ensure the ads are running in accordance with the plan and guidelines and uses Oracle Business Intelligence Suite, Enterprise Edition Plus to create reports. Prior to using this Oracle BI solution, delivering complete election cycle reports took several weeks; now, it takes one week.
The analysis included in these reports must be accurate. The INE is held accountable to three entities: the political parties, who want to ensure their ads are running on schedule; the broadcasters, who want detailed records to protect against fines; and the public. Ballados must reassure all of these entities that the political campaign advertising system is reliable and trustworthy. “We have millions of party followers we must be accountable to. They’ll say, ‘My party’s advert that was supposed to go at 7 o’clock in the morning wasn’t there,’ and we have to answer to them,” says Ballados.Thoughtful Analysis
With Oracle Business Intelligence, the INE can view details on exceptions in the system—when a station didn’t play a scheduled ad, or perhaps when it played a particular ad too many times. It can then investigate the cause of the aberration. Customized dashboards make the data easy to understand and compare. Sometimes, a disruption in the schedule is unavoidable—a natural disaster such as a flood or hurricane could disrupt a broadcaster’s signal. By viewing the data on a map, the INE can predict (and prepare for) such disruptions.
In other circumstances, however, disrupted broadcasts may reveal a trend. Oracle BI solutions help identify these incidents by sending real-time email or dashboard alerts about exceptions, and also generate lists such as networks with the highest number of omissions or extra commercials. “Before we had Oracle Business Intelligence, it was more like an art form to know when to take legal action or not against a network,” says Ballados. “Now, we can look into the records and see, objectively, if there’s someone that is obviously trying to break the law.”
If the INE sees a troubling trend at a network, it will send a warning letter requiring the network to voluntarily retransmit the omitted ad within four days, and letting the network know it is being closely watched. If the disruption persists, the INE can use the data to take legal action. “This lets us be a good enforcer and a good regulator, because we don’t believe in punishing and just giving fines—that doesn’t work,” says Ballados. “Now they know that we’re watching them, and with the alerts, it’s easy for us to automate that monitoring.”Historical Review
The INE has collected 300 million data points, amounting to 14.5 terabytes of recorded content, since 2011. Oracle BI solutions enable the organization to splice and dice the data to understand both the historical behavior of political parties’ ad campaigns and how networks aired those ads.
“Now we have five years’ worth of information, and we can see what was happening in the past compared with the present,” says Ballados. “Things like which ad was transmitted most frequently, or how was the behavior of a political party,” says Ballados. Communicating with the networks and political parties about ad campaigns has not always been an easy process. Meetings were often contentious, with parties arguing about the credibility of the information. With the new system’s solid data and analysis, the INE can conduct searches by type, channel, date, time, and location, and give real-time answers to questions. This makes the data harder to contest, and enforcement of regulations easier.
“The tone of the meetings has changed because there’s trust in the data,” says Vergara. “Things have gone for the better, and the discussions now deal with other subjects, rather than the enforcement of the model.”
If you don’t have something like the business intelligence solution that we use from Oracle, analyzing this amount of information is impossible.”–Patricio Ballados, Chief Executive of Prerogatives and Political Parties, Instituto Nacional Electoral
With access to hundreds of millions of documents that are organized in an easily accessible format, the INE has also been able to make election campaign data available to the public, conforming with new federal laws that promote transparency and accountability. Since the ads are publicly funded, by enabling more-accurate monitoring, Oracle BI solutions also help ensure more-effective use of money in the electoral process.Looking to the Future
Mexico has a population of more than 120 million people, and approximately 80 million of them are registered voters. Each of these voters has an official ID card that serves as their voter identification as well. As the manager of the voter ID program, the INE is tasked with getting more Mexican citizens enrolled and has launched a seasonal educational campaign that aims to persuade every citizen 18 and older to apply for a voting card. Over the next year, the organization hopes to combine the data and analytics for its voter ID system with its political advertising system. That way, it can deliver better outcomes for its campaigns.
For example, in the case of an advertisement for a campaign encouraging voters to renew their voter ID cards, the INE could track where it ran and what impact the ad had—gaining insight into how many people in a given area renewed their cards after the ad ran, versus in a neighboring state that didn’t run the ad. “This gives us very important, trustworthy information to make better decisions in the future,” says Vergara, “or maybe even correct things as they’re under way.”
Due to the success of the ad campaign–monitoring project, the INE has decided to adopt Oracle Business Intelligence Suite Enterprise Edition Plus Managed Cloud Service as an analytical tool for the entire institution. It will be used to make important decisions such as the optimal placement of polling stations, smarter hiring policies for electoral workers, and better oversight of political party financing (see sidebar). By the 2018 presidential election, the INE hopes to use Oracle BI solutions to analyze most of its more substantive tasks—from registration of millions of voters to a political party spending audit and oversight of political ad broadcasting.
“We want to make that change by the end of 2017 so that we can create better policies and make better decisions,” says Ballados. “This will truly modernize the electoral institutions. Our rules and regulations are very complex, and this will allow us to be more efficient.”
Photography by Shutterstock