IFE: Nature and Attributions



1. Background

The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) is an autonomous, public organization, with an independent character regarding its decisions and functioning. It is in charge of organizing federal elections, that is, the election of President of the United Mexican States and Lower and Upper Chamber members that constitute the Union Congress.

It was formally established on October 11, 1990, as the result of a series of reforms to the Constitution approved in 1989 and the issuing of a new legislation in electoral matter, the current Federal Code of Electoral Institutions and Procedures (COFIPE) in August 1990. This new legislation underwent its latest reform process by the end of 2007. The Legislative Branch, the national political parties, and the citizens participate in the integration of the IFE.

The Constitution states that the Federal Electoral Institute must be ruled by five fundamental principles:

  • Certainty
  • Legality
  • Independence
  • Impartiality
  • Objectivity

The IFE is endowed with a permanent character, legal personality and patrimony of its own. Its headquarters are in the Federal District, and in order to carry out its tasks it operates in a decentralized fashion across the nation.

Ever since its creation, the constitutional and legal regulations in this matter have experienced significant reform processes, which have had an impact on its integration, attributions and functions. It is worth mentioning the reforms of 1996 and 2007. The first one because it reinforced the level of independence and autonomy of the IFE by completely dissociating the Executive Branch from any aspect regarding its integration and functioning, and by reserving the vote within all its directive bodies to Councilors that do not have links to any party or to any State power or body. The second, because it strengthened and extended IFE’s attributions, especially in terms of oversight audit and control of the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns, as well as the administration of the slots allocated to the State on radio and television to operate a new electoral advertisement scheme.

In order to guarantee a professional and specialized performance, the Institute relies on a special system regarding recruitment, selection, training, and evaluation of qualified staff to provide electoral services, especially in areas directly linked with the preparation and organization of elections. This system is called Professional Electoral Service.

2. Fundamental Goals

  • The electoral legislation establishes that the organization and functioning of the IFE must be oriented towards the achievement of eight fundamental goals:
  • To contribute to the development of democracy.
  • To preserve the strengthening of the political party system.
  • To integrate the federal registry of voters.
  • To ensure the citizens' exercise of political-electoral rights and to guard the observation of their duties.
  • To guarantee periodical and peaceful elections to renew the Legislature and the Executive Branch.
  • To watch for the authenticity and effectiveness of suffrage.
  • To promote voting and democratic culture.
  • To serve as the sole authority to administer the slots belonging to the State in radio and television designated to electoral bodies objectives and to guarantee the rights of the political parties.

3. Main Attributions

The IFE is directly responsible for all of the activities concerning the preparation, organization, conduction, and surveillance of the federal electoral processes, as well as for those regarding the goals that the law has established for it. Among its main attributions are the following:

  • To periodically determine and revise the electoral geography.
  • To elaborate and update the Federal Registry of Voters, and issue the photographic voting card required for casting a vote.
  • To register national political groups and parties as well as guard their rights and prerogatives.
  • To set the ceilings for campaign expenses.
  • To oversee and audit the origin, management and application of all parties’ resources regarding ordinary and campaign activities.
  • To register the candidacies for federal election posts.
  • To design, print, and distribute all electoral materials.
  • To select and train the polling site officers.
  • To regulate the electoral observation and the opinion surveys and polls.
  • To count the electoral results.
  • To declare the validity and grant certificates in the elections for Lower and Upper Chamber members.
  • To review and sanction the electoral penalties and infringements established in the law.
  • To design and implement permanent civic education programs.

4. Organic Structure

Three different kinds of bodies are relevant to the conformation and functioning of the IFE:

  • Directive: Formed by councils in a collegiate fashion.
  • Technical-executive: Composed basically by members of the Electoral Professional System, in the shape of Executive Boards.
  • Surveillance: Formed mainly and equally by political parties and shaped as commissions.

In compliance with the principle of decentralization in which the organization and performance of the IFE is based, these bodies are represented at a central level, a state level (one delegation in each of the thirty-two states), a district level (a sub-delegation in each of the 300 single-member districts), and in some cases even at a sectional level.

Directive Bodies (Councils)

They are in charge of enforcing the constitutional and legal provisions on the matter, as well as setting the guidelines and issuing the resolutions in all of the areas of responsibility of the IFE. These bodies, which are named Councils, are structured in a collegiate fashion and only the Councilors without partisan affiliation or links to the state powers have the right to vote.

The main directive body of the IFE is the General Council and the decentralized directive bodies are the thirty-two Local Councils (one in each state) and 300 District Councils (one in each single-member electoral district). Unlike the General Council, which is a standing body, the Local and District Councils are installed and hold sessions during electoral periods, only.

a) General Council

The main directive body of the IFE is the General Council, consisting of nine members with a right to vote and to participate in debates, and of members who have the right to participate in debates, but are not entitled to vote (currently, 15).

The nine members of the General Council entitled to vote and participate in debates are the President Councilor and eight Electoral Councilors, all of them elected through the vote of two thirds of the members in the Lower Chamber, from among the proposals put forward by the parliamentary groups of the same Chamber, after an open consultation. However, whereas the President Councilor is elected to serve for a period of six years and may be elected once only (the current President Councilor, Leonardo Valdés, took office in January 2008), the eight Electoral Councilors are elected at regular intervals for a period of nine years, but may not be re-elected.

Both the President Councilor and the Electoral Councilors must meet certain requirements to guarantee their independence and impartiality, as well as the suitability in the performance of their positions, among these are: not having been registered as a candidate for any elective post nor having performed any directive position at a national or local level for a political party during the last four years prior to the designation; be 30 years or older, hold a bachelor’s degree at least five years before the designation and be knowledgeable in electoral and political matter.

The members with right to participate in debates, but not entitled to vote are:

The representatives of the national political parties, and if applicable, of the coalitions, at a ratio of one per registered party or coalition. Currently, there are seven registered parties, and therefore, represented in the General Council of the IFE.

The Legislative Branch Councilors: each parliamentary group with party affiliation in any of the two chambers of Congress has the right to appoint a Councilor. Currently, there are also seven Councilors from the Legislative Branch, since the seven registered political parties have parliamentary representation.

The Executive Secretary of the Federal Electoral Institute, appointed by two thirds of the General Council after his nomination by the President Councilor. He acts as the Secretary of the Council.

In short, the General Council is currently made up of 24 members, nine of which have the right to participate in debates and to vote, and 15 of which have the right to participate in debates, but are not entitled to vote.

During non-electoral periods, the General Council must gather in an ordinary session, once every three months. During electoral periods, which begin in October of the previous year and conclude two months after the election, the ordinary sessions of the General Council must take place at least once a month. The General Council can also carry out extraordinary and special sessions. Generally, the decisions are made by a simple majority of votes.

The General Council has the authority to make up the number commissions considered as necessary for the execution of its attributions. The law also provides for the permanent functioning of six commissions:

  • Electoral Training and Civic Education
  • Electoral Organization
  • Prerogatives and Political Parties
  • Professional Electoral Service
  • Federal Registry of Voters
  • Reports and Complaints

For each federal electoral process, the law itself establishes the amalgamation of the commissions of Electoral Training and Civic Education with Electoral Organization, to create a Commission of Electoral Organization and Training. In any case, commissions must be made up by a maximum of three Electoral Councilors, and chaired by one of them in a revolving one-year period. With the exception of the Professional Electoral Service Commission, Councilors of the Legislative Branch and representatives of the national political parties may participate in their sessions and debates, but without the right to vote.

b) Local and District Councils

The decentralized directive bodies are the thirty-two local councils (one in each state) and 300 district councils (one in each single-member electoral district). Unlike the General Council, which is a standing body, the local and district councils are installed and hold sessions only during electoral periods.

It also consists of seven members with the right to participate in debates and vote and members with the right to participate in debates but not to vote (the number varies according to the registered parties to contend in each election, currently eight).

The seven members with the right to participate in debates and vote are:

  • A President Councilor appointed by the General Council, who is also the head of the corresponding technical-executive local or district body.
  • Six Electoral Councilors, who in the case of the local councils are designated by absolute majority of the General Council, and in the case of the district councils, by absolute majority of the local council.
  • The members with the right to participate in debates but not to vote are:
  • The representatives of the national political parties, in the same manner and terms in which they are represented in the General Council, that is, one for each registered party.
  • The members of Electoral Organization, of the Federal Registry of Voters and of Electoral Training and Civic Education of the corresponding technical-executive body.
  • The Secretary of the corresponding technical-executive body, who performs as the Council Secretary.
  • At this level, there is no representation of the Legislative Branch Councilors.

Technical-executive Bodies

They are the permanent bodies in charge of all the technical and administrative tasks required to prepare, organize, and conduct the electoral processes. It is also their duty to enforce all of the agreements and resolutions adopted by the directive bodies. The technical-executive bodies rely on professional and permanent staff.

The central technical-executive body is the General Executive Board, chaired by the President Councilor of the IFE. It consists of the Executive Secretary and the Executive Directors of the Federal Registry of Voters, Prerogatives and Political Parties, Electoral Organization, Electoral Professional Service, Electoral Training and Civic Education, and Administration, which constitute the main executive areas within the institution.

The heads of the other central technical units of the Institute also take part of the General Executive Board, but without the right to vote: the National Social Communication Unit, the International Affairs Unit, the Center for Democratic Development, the Information Technology and Services Unit, the Technical Information and Documentation Services Unit, the Legal Department, and the Secretariat.

The Executive Secretary of the IFE is in charge of coordinating the General Executive Board, as well as conducting the administration and supervising the adequate development of the activities of the technical-executive bodies.

It is worth mentioning that due to the reforms to the Constitution and electoral legislation passed by Congress in 2007, two specialized bodies were created within the Institute: the Oversight Unit for the Resources of Political Parties as a technical body of the General Council of autonomous performance, and the General Comptroller, of technical and performance autonomy, in charge of the surveillance of all income and expenditures of the Institute, which are also represented and take part in the works of the General Executive Board.

The decentralized structure of this technical-executive bodies comprises thirty-two Local Executive Boards (one per state), which represent the IFE’s state delegations; 300 District Executive Boards, organized as sub-regions in each single-member district, and which may even have district offices wherever the General Council so determines.

All of the Boards are made up of qualified and permanent staff that is selected, trained and updated by the Professional Electoral Service, legally implemented within the IFE since 1992. Local and district boards have a presiding executive member, a secretary and other members for the areas of Electoral Organization, the Federal Registry of Voters, and Electoral Training and Civic Education.

Surveillance Bodies

These are collegiate bodies encompassed exclusively within the field of the Federal Registry of Voters to assist and supervise the tasks related to the conformation and updating of the Electoral Roll. They are called Surveillance Commissions.

The National Surveillance Commission is the highest authority over these bodies, with representation at a nationwide level but is not a central body of the IFE, since its tasks have an ancillary nature in a clearly restricted field.

In accordance with the decentralized organic structure of the IFE, there is a Local Surveillance Commission in each of the thirty-two states, as well as a District Commission in each one of the 300 single-member districts.


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