The Rationale for E-voting in Brazil

Electronic voting in Brazil was introduced to reduce fraud in the results-tabulation process and increase voter accessibility to the ballot. Such problems had consistently compromised the integrity of elections, and electronic voting was seen as a method of combating previous shortcomings attributed to the Brazilian paper-ballot system. 

The adoption of electronic voting in Brazil was initiated by the Superior Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Superior Eleitoral or TSE), the judicial body charged with implementing Brazil’s electoral laws. While outside actors had some input, the move to electronic voting was largely an autonomous process carried out by the TSE; and consequently, actors within the judicial institution made most major decisions.

The primary reason for adopting electronic voting machines was to combat endemic fraud in the paper ballot tabulation process. Due to the complex electoral environment created by Brazil’s electoral rules, where voters would regularly have to choose among thousands of legislative candidates, the tabulation of votes was a complex and lengthy affair. Vote tabulation was also a huge logistical challenge, involving hundreds of thousands of vote counters who were often government employees from the state-owned banks or the postal service. In the 1994 national elections, for example, vote tabulation required about 170,000 people. Because of the scale of the task, vote counting could take weeks, and the post-election period was a time of great uncertainty and tension. 

Most importantly, the lengthy tabulation period increased the opportunity for vote counters allied with candidates to manipulate the vote count. While representatives of political parties could observe the vote count, the lengthy vote count period made it difficult for partisan and other civil society actors to fully monitor the process. The most common type of fraud was manipulation of the tabulation sheets, where vote counters who were allied with candidates would subtract votes from some candidates’ tallies and add them to their favored candidates’ counts.

A secondary motivation for switching to electronic voting was accessibility problems in the paper system. Because of the large number of candidates that ran in legislative elections, the TSE used paper ballots that required voters to write in the names or identifying numbers of their preferred legislative candidates. Because of the difficulty of casting and counting hand-written ballots, the fraction of blank and invalid votes approached 40 percent in legislative elections in 1994. For the approximately 20 percent (according to the 1990 census) of the electorate that was illiterate, writing a five- or six-digit sequence of numbers was not a trivial task. This was compounded by the fact that, in legislative elections, voters vote for multiple offices and would have to fill in a total of 16 to 19 numbers if they were to cast votes for all offices. Furthermore, voters had no way to verify that the numbers they wrote on their ballots actually corresponded to the candidates or parties they intended to vote for. 

Electronic voting machines have been able to eliminate some of these significant problems, delivering results much more quickly and eliminating many of the means by which the results were previously manipulated, although they clearly brought new challenges to the conduct of elections.

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