The literature on democratic accountability assumes that alternative institutions can make state practices more transparent and thus enhance accountability. In this paper, we problematize the celebration of alternative institutions by comparing the cases of Mexico and India. Why, we ask, given the popular support for a caste census and a rights-based approach to poverty alleviation in India and Mexico, respectively, did these initiatives lose steam soon after political elites conceded to civil society demands? In answer, we argue that alternative institutions may become conduits to undercut accountability under the guise of expertise through a mechanism that we call the “retreat to method,” in which political elites channel substantive public debate into abstruse disputes over methodology. As the task of measuring poverty and caste retreats into backrooms, vertical accountability between the state and civil society in our two cases has weakened. Horizontal accountability mechanisms—in which one arm of the state (e.g., the bureaucracy) provides checks and balances on another (e.g., the legislature)—may be exploited to undercut vertical accountability in cases where expertise is valued over democratic deliberation.