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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Calderon Harvests Votes From Mexico's Heartland

VALLE DE SANTIAGO, Mexico -- Before last week, this rural region in the heartland state of Guanajuato was famous for producing some of the biggest vegetables Mexico has ever seen: a 40-kilogram cabbage and onions as big as volleyballs.

Now Valle de Santiago has produced another bountiful harvest, this one for conservative presidential candidate Felipe Calderon. The overwhelming margins of victory for Calderon in towns across Guanajuato -- a victory of almost 3 to 1 in Valle de Santiago, for example -- were essential to his narrow nationwide triumph.

Backers of his rival, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, call those margins a harvest of fraud. They produce precinct tally sheets with numerous inconsistencies to back up their claims. The inconsistencies are enough to justify reopening the ballot boxes and recounting the votes, they say.

Calderon's supporters argue that the documents show nothing more than simple human error. They say their candidate won big because he and his National Action Party are more popular here than anywhere else in Mexico.

A review of precinct tally sheets in Valle de Santiago found ample proof of sloppiness in the vote counting, including many mathematical and typographical errors, but no evidence of fraud.

In Guanajuato's District No. 13, one of 300 electoral districts across Mexico, Calderon piled up a 44,000-vote margin, equivalent to almost one-fifth of his nationwide edge over Lopez Obrador, candidate of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD.

Lopez Obrador's supporters express disbelief over that margin.

"I've been in politics for 25 years, and my gut feeling tells me that the will of the people here was not expressed in the tally of the votes," said Miguel Luna Hernandez, a PRD congressional deputy who won election here three years ago. "Double voting and a double reporting of precincts took place."

Such irregularities should have been grounds for having numerous ballot boxes opened and votes recounted in the presence of district election officials when the final tally was prepared Wednesday, PRD activists say.

All the ballot boxes from the district vote in Valle de Santiago remain locked in warehouses. As elsewhere, they are awaiting a decision by the Federal Electoral Tribunal on whether they should be recounted.