Alejandro Trelles

Open Data, Transparency and Boundary Delimitation in Mexico: Public Mapping Project Mexico

The various claims and protests of civil society that have taken place in Mexico during the in the last decade expose the urgent need to strengthen the tie between citizens and their representatives. From our perspective, the generation and use of information to shrink this gap is a priority for governance and for strengthening our young democracy. The formation of electoral boundaries is key to achieving a better political representation. It is a highly complex task that involves several challenges —geographical, statistical, computer technicalities, among the most recognizable— and thus, it is easy to delegate it to specialists and lose sight of how important it is for political representation. The public mapping project offers the possibility to make redistricting a more transparent and inclusive process. It offers a web-based, open source, platform to anyone who is interested in boundary delimitation to participate in the process. It is as simple and intuitive as the mapping technology offered by Google maps.

Boundary delimitation requires a big amount of information that comes from different federal and local  agencies, as well as from autonomous institutions, both centralized and decentralized. In the case of Mexico, for instance, the census data to determine where Mexicans live and the administrative cartography of the national territory is generated by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI); information on roads, highways entities, and municipalities to estimate travel times comes from the Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT); and information on the location and concentration of indigenous population to comply with Article 2 of Mexico’s constitution  is generated by the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI). Although this information is public, not all of is at the disposal of citizens and, the one that is, lacks an accessible format that facilitates its use and citizens’ to participate in the process. As a result, citizens interested in the process face many obstacles when trying to evaluate, analyze, reuse, or share such information. In sum, the boundary delimitation process is not up to the standards of open government. With such limitations, the boundary delimitation process in Mexico is characterized by its lack of transparency and inclusiveness.   

The paradox is today, using the developments in information and mapping technologies,  it is possible to meet the goals set out in the global agenda of open government. Each of the guiding principles found in Mexico’s “Decree that regulates Open Data in Mexico” is perfectly compatible with the principles behind the idea of promoting transparency and citizen participation in boundary delimitation processes. Both projects seek to actively promote: a) an open data catalogue, free and open information structured to be automatically readable by digital equipments; b) data that is structured and linked together; c) new sources of information explaining public data and available resources; d) digital public data that is easily accessible online, and that can be used, reused and redistributed by any interested party; and e) available data in an open format, where the set of technical characteristics that corresponds to the structure utilized to generate and store the data in a digital file is also available to the public.

¿How can we accomplish it?

The public mapping project Mexico (PMP-Mexico) seeks to create a public space where anyone can participate freely in the redistricting process at the federal and local level. On one side, the platform invites civil society to get involved in the design of federal and local electoral boundaries and, on the other side, it seeks  to increase transparency in the redistricting process. Through a digital platform that can be hosted by the electoral authority, a nongovernmental organization, or academic institutions, citizens can have access to the information related to the redistricting process (standards, stages, concepts, indicators), they can draw their own districts, evaluate the current scenarios, compare proposed plans offered by different actors (electoral bureaucrats, courts, parties or other citizens), and make  their suggestions to the electoral authority. By making use of new information and mapping technologies, this project helps society interact with public institutions, improve the quality of representation and promotes the development of democratic culture. In sum, the PPR-Mexico looks to enrich the democratic life in Mexico by shrinking the gap between its citizens, its representatives, and the institutions in which they coexist.

The electoral map of the State of Mexico at the municipal level in the District Builder

¿Why is it important to connect the redistricting process with the open government strategy?

The PPR-Mexico is a digital platform that is capable of being hosted by any institution (public, academic, or nongovernmental) through the use of a website.

  • It allows citizens to have more and better information. At the same time it opens a window that allows citizens and minority groups to get involved and participate in the redistricting process.
  • It brings transparency to the process and forces electoral authorities to adopt clear and consistent redistricting criteria, procedures, and rules.
  • It allows citizens, vulnerable groups, communities, local authorities, and political parties to manifest their interests through a public platform that guarantees access for all users.
  • It allows electoral authorities to have more and better information regarding local and community interests throughout the country. It allows authorities to be aware of social needs at different levels (blocks, neighborhoods, counties, states).
  • It gives electoral authorities the opportunity to receive feedback from the community and mapping proposals that could improve their own scenarios (based on their own criteria) using an automated ranking system.
  • It offers certainty to the different actors involved in the process (parties, authorities, citizens) by providing a tool that allows them to evaluate, compare, observe and follow different plans in a public context.

 

The electoral map of the state of mexico at the census tract level in the the District Builder

About the Authors

Alejandro Trelles, MA.

Alejandro Trelles (lat44@pitt.edu) is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests are the organizational design of public institutions, democracy, and governability in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. He has worked for the National Electoral Institute (INE) in Mexico and as an independent consultant in constituency boundary delimitation for the Organization of American States (OAS). He served as advisor to the General Council and the Technical Committee on Redistricting the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE ). He has fieldwork and boundary delimitation experience in Mexico, Venezuela, Ghana, Kenya, and Suriname, and St. Kitts and Nevis. Moreover, he has published different works related to the redistricting and the use of algorithm optimisation in the distric stroke.  He is a co-principal investigator in the Public Mapping Project. Contact Information: The University of Pittsburgh, 4600 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, PA, 15260. Tel: +1(412)9790715. http://alejandrotrelles.com/

Micah Altman, PhD.

Micah Altman (escience@mit.edu) is Director of Research and Head/Scientist, Program on Information Science  at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In turn, he is an external consultant at the Brookings Institution in Washington , DC. He previously served for over 15 years as Associate Director of the Harvard -MIT Center Data Archive Director Henry A. Murray, and Principal Investigator at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. He has been awarded for developing various tools and technological applications for research in the social sciences and is recognized in the international academic community for his work on the issues of information science, redistricting, computer science, statistics, computer science, political science, among other disciplines. He is a co-principal investigator in the Public Mapping Project. Contact Information: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), E25-131, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02139. Tel: +1(585)4664224. http://micahaltman.com/

Eric Magar, PhD.
Eric Magar (emagar@itam.mx) Eric Magar is Professor of Political Science at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM). He holds a PhD in political science from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD ) and specializes in the comparative study of political institutions and electoral processes . His work has appeared in prestigious research journals as American Political Science Review ( PRCA ), the Journal of Politics ( JoP ) and Electoral Studies ( ES), among others.

Contact Information: ITAM, Ri­o Hondo #1, Progreso Tizapan, MExico, D.F.,  01080. Tel: +52(55)6284000.

Michael P. McDonald, PhD.

Michael P. McDonald (michael.mcdonald@ufl.edu) is Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Florida and an external consultant in the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. Additionally, he is a doctor in political science by the university of California in San Diego (UCSD) and has performed as a specialist and witness to different redistricting  processes implemented by diffrent legislature of the United States of America. At the same time, He has served as consultant to athorities incharge of  the district line in different states, and has published several academic articles on redistricting and statistical computing programs in the social sciences. Conctact Information: The University of Florida, Gainsville. 234 Anderson Hall, Gainesville, Florida, 32611. Tel: +1(352)3920262. http://polisci.ufl.edu/michael-mcdonald/